Farewell to Patrick Chan
The lion of early 2010s men’s skating capped off his career at the Olympics, a successful one of accomplishments and artistry.
With the roster for the World Championships now out, we have a much better idea than we did of who’s going and who finished their season at the Olympics. Also who finished their career at the Olympics. That includes a good deal of the Canadian team. That’s not a surprise. We knew, going into the season, that it would likely be the last one for their top man, their top pair, and their top ice dance team. The top pair, Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford, were the first to confirm it, if only because their competition was the first to end. The top ice dance team, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, actually declined to use “the r word,” but did admit to a lack of plans to compete in the future.
Unlike these two teams, Patrick Chan’s final skate did not get him an Olympic medal. Not that anyone had expected it to anyway. He himself had earlier said he was focused on the team event, in which he still had a chance to win a gold medal, and did. In the individual event, he came in only ninth. But he still called it his best Olympics as he also confirmed his retirement, which is now official with his withdrawal from Worlds.
So concludes the career of one of the biggest figures of men’s skating in the 2010s. Patrick Chan was a man who pushed the field artistically, setting a standard of skating quality the current generation has since worked to match. He takes with him a highly decorated record, and leaves behind that standard as his legacy.
A Climb to the Top
After a strong junior career, Patrick Chan announced his arrival on the scene in his first senior Grand Prix series in 2007, winning one event and making the Final. Over the following decade, he would make it seven more times, and win in both 2010 and 2011. Then at Canadian Nationals, he shocked Jeffrey Buttle, who would win the World title that March, to win there too. When Buttle retired that summer, Chan would go unchallenged at Canadian Nationals ever after; the only time he hasn’t won it since was the season he took off. From the beginning, his sheer quality of skating was so strong, there was talk of him taking over and winning Olympic gold as early as 2010.
Rising took a little more time than that, however, because throughout his career, Chan would also struggle with inconsistency. Various mistakes would result in his first two World medals, in 2009 and 2010, being silver instead of gold. More painfully, he would have enough trouble at the 2010 Olympics to finish off the podium in fifth. But he got better and better, and at that time was on the frontline of the technical content too, landing two quads in a time when not all the top contenders did that. In the post-Olympic season, it started to come together, culminating at the 2011 World Championships. There he set World record scores and won the first of three straight titles. A particular highlight was his short program, which was him at his expressive best:
This was a period of dominance for Chan, complete with an undefeated streak that went straight through the 2012 season. At the 2012 Canadian Championships, he even broke the 100 in the short, 200 in the free, and 300 overall scoring barriers, at a time when this was remarkable even at a generously scored national competition.
Trouble and Fall
Chan’s time at the top was not without controversy. In fact, his first World title was the only one where no one disputed he deserved it. For the 2012 title, one can argue for either him or silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi. It probably did not help that in his younger years, he engaged in some unfortunate displays of arrogance that turned many fans against him. It would even lead to an unflattering portrayal of him in the hit anime Yuri on Ice, where the Canadian character of Jean-Jacques Leroy was obviously based off of him, but emphasized and exaggerated all his worse qualities.
And there is no dispute that he won on reputation at 2013 Worlds, where gold should’ve gone to silver medalist Denis Ten, the only guy to skate decently in both programs. Indeed, he was lucky that time that no one else did. By then he wasn’t unbeatable anymore, having lost twice that season, including to young upstart Yuzuru Hanyu, who had emerged as someone who was only going to get better and might even pass him.
The two of them went toe to toe three times the following season. The first time, at the Trophée Eric Bompard, Chan won. The second time, at the Grand Prix Final, Hanyu won. Trophée Eric Bompard was also one of Chan’s finest performances, and included the highest overall total he ever got, with the last world record he managed to set:
The third time was at the Olympics, when Chan took the ice with Hanyu having already had enough trouble to leave the door wide open. But in one of his most painful moments, Chan failed to walk through, blowing it and only taking silver behind Hanyu; he would leave Sochi with that and silver from the team event.
An Extra Few Years
After the Olympics, no one was sure if Chan would continue on, especially after he skipped Worlds. That September, Skate Canada announced he was taking the season off, an act that often leads to full-out retirement. But after spending a year of performing on tour, Chan did indeed return. By then the field had advanced far enough technically he struggled to keep up with them, but by then, his priority wasn’t the results anyway. The year of show skating had taken him to entire new level artistically, and now he just wanted to skate well.
Sadly, his inconsistency issues were still around, and often they wrecked what would’ve otherwise been beautiful performances. But when he did deliver, he could sometimes still win, and even when he didn’t, he was often still the best thing to watch on the ice:
Even when his programs had mistakes, they were often still worth watching. This was true at both his final Nationals, and at the Olympics, where three of the four skates he did were good enough for at least that. If his team event short wasn’t, nor were most of the men’s team event shorts, and he would win the men’s team event free, which helped Canada win that gold.
While he’s winded his career down, he’s also been trying to move to Vancouver, where he’s been trying to build a skating complex. Now that he can finally settle there for good, he may become a prominent figure in the development of skating there. But there are shows to do and skates for us to see out of him yet, still enchanting us with every turn of his blade on the ice.