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Patrick Chan finds peace with final Olympic skate upon him

GANGNEUNG, South Korea— It’s funny to hear Patrick Chan say, "Look, skating is just a small part of my life now, and the Olympic Games, too," while he’s standing here in his mostly black costume, still wearing his skates after performing in his short program, now one free skate away from ending a competitive career that stands among the best in the history of his sport.

"I think we forget that just because of five rings, it’s not going to determine the rest of our lives, and we have amazing skates, we have bad skates," Chan adds. "You have to remember, it’s sometimes a little ridiculous, we’re dressed up a little bit, like, in really fancy clothes, and then going out there and one mistake and you’re like, ‘Oh, you’re not a champion.’"

Chan was a champion on this stage already, earlier this week, when he won gold in the team event. But he won’t be again. On Friday in his short program, he did make one mistake, and barring complete disaster, it took him out of the medal hunt. He’s in sixth place.

Chan started strong with a quadruple-toeloop and a triple-lutz triple-toe combination, but then fell on his triple axel—again. He has yet to land it in competition here. It’s the jump he calls "the challenge for me my entire life."

The skate to Dust in the Wind earned him a score of 90.01, shy of his 94.43 season’s best. When he saw his mark flash up on the screen, Chan said: "That’s fine. That’s good."

He swears it took just 10 minutes to get over the disappointment of that fall. He has a new perspective here, at his third and final Olympic Games, in part because he’s grown up. He’s 27 years old.

"It’s a really hard environment," the three-time world champion explains. "So to counter that I just have to be like, ‘You know what? It is what it is. I have 40 to 50 years to prove I’m better at something else.’

"I think I’ve done quite well so far and tomorrow is another day to just prove that I am one of the best."

On Saturday night, Chan will skate his long program to Jeff Buckley’s rendition of Hallelujah, and it will be his final rip on Olympic ice. Any disappointment he felt Friday paled in comparison to the devastation he dealt with in Sochi, when he was the favourite to win Olympic gold and he fell twice in his free program and settled for silver. It took him two years to get over that.

Growing up in the four years after and having a strong network of friends and family has helped keep things in perspective, he says. Chan’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Putnam—a former national team skater herself, who is here watching, along with his parents—has been especially helpful in that department.

"She’s been there every single day, watching me train and watching me go through the bad days and the good days and being there for me when I want to rip things apart and I hate my life," Chan says. "She’s just like, ‘Perspective. Remember what this all means.’

"She’s my root and she just reminds me what life really is. Because it’s hard when you’re in this environment, you can get caught up in it."

Chan’s goal here now is to skate a clean program, which he’s yet to do at his third Winter Games. It means conquering his nemesis. Following his free skate in the team event, he declared he was determined to "smoke a triple axel at the Olympics." And nice as he is, Chan admits he does hate that jump.

He’s been doing it in practice, just not when it counts. Chan says he can "go for hours" reviewing what he did wrong on Friday. He knew that axel was off when he took flight, because he didn’t push off the toe of his blade, and consequently he got very little height. When he watched a replay of the jump in the kiss ‘n’ cry area, he noticed his arms were already out and ready to rotate before his first leg even came through. "It’s a lack of patience and trust in that left leg, that forward takeoff leg," he says.

"But tomorrow’s another day, another challenge. I get two more chances to do it. I look forward to that."

Chan’s final skate at the Olympics is upon him, and he’s not quite sure how he’ll feel as he steps on the ice, or the emotions that’ll pass over him once he’s done. He’s confident about how he’ll feel once his career is over, though.

"I’m pretty sure, 90 per cent sure, my life isn’t going to be much different," he says. "I’m going to wake up the next day, brush my teeth. That’s it." (He’s also going to shave, if he can find shaving cream—the reason he had a slight moustache on Friday is because he couldn’t find any.)

"It’s kind of funny," he adds. "Like, ‘Oh my God it’s the day, it’s going to be the last skate.’ I’m going to be still skating after this. And I’m still going to be around. I’m not falling off the face of the earth."

Chan made peace with retirement last year, when he moved to Vancouver.

"I kind of got to that point where I was like, honestly, the Olympics isn’t my life. I can easily say I’m good, I’m going to move on, I’m going to walk away," he says. "When you get to that point, everything else looks amazing and brighter."