PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Patrick Chan throws a black Canada sweater over his black and white figure skating uniform, and a microphone is thrust in his face.
“Hi everyone,” the three-time world champion says to the gaggle of media here, grinning.
Yes, Chan is smiling. It’s a wonder that he’s flashing those pearly whites, really. Minutes earlier, the 27-year-old had a nightmare of a start here at his third Olympic Games. He fell on his first jump—an attempted quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, of which he only tried the former. When he landed his triple lutz, later on, he was slightly off-balance. He fell a second time after a triple axel. In other words, none of his jumps were clean.
The good news for Canada in this team event is a lot of the men’s skaters fell on Day 1 of these Games—Chan thinks it’s a mixture of nerves, and the fact they had to skate so early in the morning. And so after a solid short program from Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Canada sits first overall through two of eight events in the team skate, three points ahead of the second-place United States.
Coach Ravi Walia, who’s been with Chan only the last three months, stated the obvious following the skate that earned Chan a score of 81.66, far short of his 94.43 season’s best: “He could have done a lot better. It’s disappointing, for sure.”
It is. But despite the obvious problems on the ice, Chan was smiling after that skate because he says it’s the best he’s ever felt between the ears at an Olympic Games. “I felt mentally very calm, and I was able to have a conversation with myself before the quad,” he says. He told himself to relax the upper body, though it sounds like he was a little too relaxed, relying too much on his legs to get him through those jumps.
On the mental note, Chan, who was fifth at the last two world championships, was looking forward to coming to these Games without the expectation to win, which was heavy on his shoulders at the Olympics four years ago. He was the reigning and three-time world champion ahead of Sochi, and a mistake in his long program forced him to settle for silver.
“When I stepped on the ice in the last two Olympics, I felt defensive,” Chan told Sportsnet in a recent interview. “I felt very fearful of making a mistake. The biggest moment in our lives, the biggest stage in our lives, we want to be perfect, right?”
His goal was to come to Pyeongchang without that fear of failure, to know that, as he put it, “if something does go wrong, you just keep going. You pick yourself up and keep going.”
It’s what Chan will have to do here. And while he’s come a long way mentally, this season hasn’t been without its struggles. Just three months ago, he called up Walia, who also coaches Kaetlyn Osmond, and made a coaching change. “I was a bit surprised to get the call,” Walia admits.
The last three months, Walia says Chan has been training exceptionally well. The coach has no doubt the veteran can rebound with three more solid skates here—first, the long program in the team event, and then both programs in men’s singles. “He can put this behind him and be great,” Walia says.
It would be great, to be sure. It’s the last time we’ll see one of the best figure skaters in Canadian history on this world’s biggest stage. Chan’s body of work is so impressive that it seems only right he finish his career happy with his performance at the Olympics.
Skating off the ice on Friday morning after that short program, Chan says he instantly felt better after teammates greeted him with a standing ovation and their Crest commercial-like smiles. Ice dancer Scott Moir gave him a ton of back pats, too. “That really helped me kind of get out of that negativity that we usually have getting off the ice after a bad skate,” Chan says. “I’m looking forward to future performances after today.”
After an afternoon nap (20 minutes top) and spending time with family and friends, he’ll march in the opening ceremony tonight. This is Chan’s third Olympics. He knows what to expect. And he knows how to battle back from tough skates like his debut here.
“I’ve gone to bed every night with a huge smile on my face,” Chan says, flashing those teeth again, just before he walks off, still wearing his black figure skates. “I hope to continue that.”