VANCOUVER — Patrick Chan continues to earn his place in the spotlight.
The Toronto teen who inherited the lead role as Canada’s top male skater when world champion Jeffrey Buttle retired last fall, captured a gold medal at the ISU Four Continents figure skating championships Saturday.
Skating an elegant performance to Rachmaninov, Chan scored a season’s best 160.29 points for his free program — despite singling a planned triple Axel — and earned standing ovation at the Pacific Coliseum, winning gold with an overall score of 249.19.
Now, he’d like nothing better to follow his predecessor to the top of the podium at next month’s world championships in Los Angeles, and this weekend’s performance shows he’s within striking distance to do it.
"I just have to go to worlds and skate two clean programs like Jeff did, I think Jeff was a good example of an overall package," Chan said. "It’s so far ahead, I didn’t want to guarantee anything, I’m not that type of person that wants to predict something and say, ‘yes I’m going to win.’ There’s still many weeks and anything can happen.
"But yes, I believe with both triple Axels and all the other triples as well as a clean short, I think I can get a gold medal at the worlds."
American Evan Lysacek won the silver with 237.15, scoring 155.50, while Japan’s Takahiko Kozuka took the bronze with 221.76, scoring 145.15 in his free program.
Vaughn Chipeur of Calgary was sixth, while Jeremy Ten of Vancouver finished seventh.
Chan’s podium performance boosted Canada’s medal total to four at the Four Continents– one in each discipline.
The Canadians picked up a trio of silver medals earlier in the competition that was used as an official test event for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics: Joannie Rochette of Ile-Dupas, Que., in the women’s singles, ice dancers Tessa Virtue of London, Ont., and Scott Moir of Ilderton, Ont., and Jessica Dube of Drummondville, Que., and Bryce Davison of Cambridge, Ont., in pairs.
Chan, who turned just 18 on New Year’s eve, took a huge lead into Saturday’s free program after decimating the field in Thursday night’s short program. He recorded the second highest score ever in the short program under figure skating’s new scoring system implemented in 2003 — only Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko scored higher en route to his gold medal at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
The two-time Canadian champion didn’t have quite the performance he’d hoped for in the long program, bothered again by that triple Axel that troubled him earlier this season.
"I was a bit upset because all of a sudden when I didn’t do the second triple Axel, it was like `Oh my god, great, I have another full minute to go without a second triple Axel,"’ he said. "Because really the second triple Axel is my hump. If I do it, then I’m not cruising, I’m fine. It was a bit of a fight but I just kept myself composed and everything else was fine."
While Chan’s program isn’t packed with massive jumps, he earns big marks for the overall package, with his impeccable footwork and a graceful ease.
Lysacek, meanwhile, opened with a quad toe loop, one of just a couple of quad jumps in the competition.
"Last season I landed a quad in each competition I was at, this was my first one this season to successfully land in the competition, so it was kind of starting to be a monkey on my back this year," he said. "They had been going great in practice and great in warmups but just weren’t happening in the competitions."
Lysacek marvelled at the depth of the field at this year’s Four Continents.
"The men’s events this year have been really intense competition and Four Continents, I remember it used to be a passover competition that only half the guys would go to," he said. "Look how strong. . . this is probably the top contenders for the world championships that are here, minus Brian Joubert (of France)."
Chipeur and Ten both had season’s best performances, earning huge praise from Skate Canada officials.
"To go out and have two skates like that. After Jeremy finished, we’re thinking, Vaughn is going to have to lay it down to keep ahead of Jeremy and not only did he lay it down he stepped it up a little bit more," said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s high performance director. "That’s that competitive fire that we’re starting to see in Canada where you don’t want to be outdone by your teammate. It’s been great seeing the success of our skaters."
Added Ten: "I’m just so proud of our Canadian team and how far and how deep our field has become."
Just over a year out from the Vancouver Olympics, the Four Continents was one of several official test events held recently at the Vancouver and Whistler venues.
The event was held on NHL-sized ice, slightly smaller than the Olympic-sized version that will be in place next winter. But otherwise everything from the judges platform to the sound system to the timing and scoring was meant to mimic the Games.
"I took the time to walk around the whole building," Chan said. "The change rooms are comfortable and I know where everything is. I’ll be prepared when the Olympics hit next year."