Q&A: Patrick Chan on PyeongChang Olympics, life after skating

Patrick Chan celebrates his gold meda after the men's free skate event at Skate Canada International in Saint John, N.B.

Patrick Chan has a lot going for him. He’s been accepted with early enrollment to the University of Toronto Faculty of Arts and Science. He’s starting a skating academy. He’s still earning money through skating and has become a brand ambassador for companies such as RBC. And he recently announced the launch of his sparkling wine, a 2011 Blanc de Blancs made from award winning Niagara winery, Flat Rock Cellars.

But he still has one big to-do on his agenda — win Olympic Gold at the PyeongChang Games. Baring something unforeseen, the upcoming Games will be the 26 year-old’s third and final Olympics. And although he’s a three-time world champion, a two-time Grand Prix Final champion, three-time Four Continents champion and a nine-time Canadian national champion, the Olympic gold has eluded him.

Yet when I spent some time with Chan this past summer Toronto, he was pumped to check off a different goal: throwing out the first pitch at a Toronto Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre.

While he prepared for the first pitch, I talked to Chan about the pressures of performing on the athletic stage and what life after sport looks like for him.

SN – Is being a figure skater lonely?

PC – I spoke to Jonathan Toews once in Sochi. We were in the cafeteria and it was the highlight of these games. He came up to me and the first thing he said was, “I have so much respect for you figure skaters because you have nobody to fall back on. I have a goalie, a defenceman to fall back on if I mess up, if I lose the puck and it gets stolen away.”

So, it is a huge mental game. I worked with a sport psych a lot last season leading up to this season noticing that I went in to the last two games fearing the competition. Rather than enjoying and just being eager. It’s like the first pitch today. I’m eager to throw the pitch. I’m a little nervous but the excitement takes over the fear.

SN – Does that mindset manifest itself in other areas of your life?

PC – Yeah, because in order to get to a state of mind when you’re competing where you’re chill and excited and confident in what you’re about to do, you have to be confident about your life and who you are and your philosophies and your ideas. You find you have better, more active discussions with your friends about life and sport and life after sports. It’s natural. It’s something that happens when you get older. It’s nice to skate with that level head.

SN – How much of your time is spent preparing mentally in comparison to physically?

PC – More of what I do is off the ice than on the ice now, honestly. I spend a lot of time now not with my sports psychologist officially but reflecting on what I do and also letting go sometimes. I noticed my approach to this Olympic run is very different. Last time I was micromanaging everything. What I was eating, how much I was sleeping to the point I was so scared when I got to the Olympics. Now I’m like, no, I have to let go of some things sometimes. You’ve got to trust your gut. At this age, with his level of experience, I can trust it and know that I can just let go of things and not be looking at things through a magnifying glass.

SN – You’re competing against 17 and 18-year-old kids who can’t even drink. You’re 26 and a veteran, but in every other walk of life you’re still considered young. Is that weird?

PC – Super weird. I tell people I’m old. And they say, “are you kidding me, you’re 26.” But in my sport, I’m competing against Nathan (Chen) who I’m almost a decade older than. It’s frustrating at the beginning because it comes so easy. When I’m 17 I look back and think I didn’t process what I’m doing on the ice I was just feeling. That’s the best time to compete and the best time to be an athlete. As you get older you become more body aware and mentally aware of what is going on. You put expectations and pressures, so that changes. You’re adding so many aspects to competing now so I have to train myself to suppress these thoughts and stop running a million miles an hour mentally and focus on one thing or two things.

SN – Are there reminders for you that they are so young?

PC – TV shows I’ve talked to them about, or just life. I can’t even have a conversation with them about what’s life after skating because they are in skating. They’ve just begun that journey where I am on the latter end of it. I’m looking forward to that. I relate really well to individuals who have a career and explore other adventures outside of skating. That to me is fascinating. That’s just a natural path that you take when you get in to your mid-20’s.

SN – Are you certain life after skating for you is after these games?

PC – I’m already 99 per cent sure what I’m going to do after, no matter the medal, no matter the result in the team event. My best performance I’ve yet to give outside of skating. I’m looking forward to adapting these tools I’ve learned in skating for this beautiful life I have ahead.

SN – What does life after skating look like for you?

PC – It’s different for every skater. For me, I love Canada so I’m definitely coming back to Canada and the people. They’ve been so supportive. I have so much to give to skating in Canada. Looks like I’m going to be creating a skating academy in Vancouver partnering with Hockey Canada to promote just skating. Whether its hockey, figure skating or speed skating we all start from one place. Hopefully we can develop a program where we can all win medals and be more successful in the international scene.

SN – Can you see the influence of figure skating in the NHL?

PC – We already have figure skaters in the NHL. Jeff Skinner who plays for the Hurricanes. He was a very good figure skater even at the national level. Of course, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane. I worked with Sidney Crosby’s skate coach Andy O’Brien. He would talk to me about basic skating skills and I see it adapted to Sid’s skating. I’ll be watching highlights and I’ll be like, “man, that’s a move that I did, that’s really cool.” I see it in hockey a bit more in the younger generation. Their respect for figure skating is a bit more than it used to be when I was just starting. Because we are some of the best skaters in the world we just don’t have the size that hockey players have.

SN – You train in Michigan but you often come back to Ontario. What differences between Canada and the U.S.A. have you noticed?

PC – I’ve had this conversation with many skaters, American and Canadian. Number one is attitude. The attitude is different in the US. I feel like in Canada there is more of a sense of community and more of a sense of, “I’ll take the shirt off my back to help you because you’re my neighbour. There is not many of us, right? So each and every Canadian is very special. We know that we’re part of the greater good and the world doesn’t revolve around us, and I love that. The minute I drive across the border I already feel the energy change. Talking to the customs officers is different. There is just a sense of respect and everyone is a humble in their own way.

SN – Sounds like you could have a run at politics in your post-skating future?

PC – (Laughs) Maybe. I have a good idea of how lucky we are to be growing up in Canada. With everything that is going on in the United States, with the elections and how those turned out, it’s cool to step back and see the comparison. If you’re American and you live in America, you only see it one way. But it’s cool for me to be Canadian to see both very different countries on the same continent. All I can say is I’m proud to be Canadian.

SN – At times we’ve had a bit of an inferiority complex.

PC – Sure.

SN – Do you think our athletic success has helped to change that?

PC – It’s cool to go on the Olympic stage and know that we are the ambassadors of the movement of Canadian pride. I feel it all started in Vancouver, which is where I started. So, I’ve been growing with the country in the amateur world. The amateur world is really making headway in earning respect and earning notoriety for being the best in the world on the athletic stage.

SN – When you walk away from the amateur world of competitive skating what do you want to communicate to your fans?

PC – Thank you for liking me for who I am, not just for my skating. My skating brought me to a level of being well known in Canada, but I’ve grown up having trained in the US. I haven’t lost my roots in Canada thanks to the little reminders again when I come home. People thanking me for what I do and for representing Canada in the world stage. That reminds me when I go back to the US that I’m doing this for myself but I’m also representing the whole country without expectations.