Chan's time to face Canadian Olympic figure skating curse 0
Patrick Chan performs during team men's short program at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 6, 2014. (BEN PELOSSE/QMI Agency)
Patrick Chan will skate for himself, his country, uphill against a torrent of history and circumstance in his attempt to mine Olympic gold.
It can’t and won’t be easy.
Nevermind the difficulty of his routines and his jumps, Chan is attempting what no Canadian man has accomplished before. And the numbers are, in fact, both astounding and daunting.
Fourteen men have won the world figure skating title for Canada. Not one of them has won an Olympic gold medal.
Kurt Browning won four worlds: He has no Olympic medals. Elvis Stojko won three world crowns: He never won gold at the Games. Brian Orser won the 1987 world championship heading into the Calgary Olympics. By boxing terminology, he lost a split decision and ended up with silver.
Chan is the Toronto Maple Leafs on figure skates, forever reminded of a curse not of his doing, the difference being there is no 1967 for him. There is only forever.
And now, as defending world champion in each of the past three years, he skates against the best in the world of figure skating, including out-of-retirement Russian legend Evgeni Plushenko, in an attempt to alter history.
“This is a real pain-in-the-ass coincidence,” said Browning, talking about all the world champions who came up short when it mattered most. “Really, it has nothing to do with being Canadian.
“We’re all great guys. We’re all competent fellows. Elvis skated great at his Olympics. Whether he got beat that day (in 1994) is the question. I think he won but they didn’t give it to him. Brian skated great (in Calgary). And I had those weird things happen to me.”
Browning went to the Olympics right after winning world championship, twice.
“I used to think, ‘What is it about me and the Olympics?’ ”
In Albertville he had two slipped discs. “I probably should have stayed home,” he said.
In Lillehammer in 1994, he knows where it went wrong: “I lost it in the warmup,” he said. “I had 60 seconds to kill and I figured I’ll just a do a double flip. I don’t know why I did that. I never did double flips. I never even practiced it.”
He did the warmup move, not properly concentrating, and crashed to the ice. “I laughed it off,” he said, looking back. “I made a joke. But I wasn’t the same after that. It put a seed of doubt in my head. I never got it back. That was enough to throw me off.”
At the time, Stojko walked by Browning and said: “It’s OK buddy.”
But it wasn’t OK then, isn’t OK now.
“What do countries expect from their athletes? The best. When I didn’t give my country my best, it just felt so bad,” Browning said. “I had such a good opportunity to make a mark on the medals for Canada. And I didn’t do that.”
Stojko at least won medals. He could have won gold in Norway had the judges warmed to his athletic ways. Four years later, as defending world champion entering the Nagano Games, an injury prevented him from reaching his own great heights. He was probably gifted a silver medal, which gave him silvers in two straight Olympics.
“Albertville should have been my year but I was injured. Elvis should have won in ‘94 and then he tried competing with an injured groin in Nagano,” said Browning.
There is always a story.
Orser, who is coaching Chan’s rivals here, was thought to be Canada’s best bet for gold in Calgary. And he almost got there.
In the now famous Battle of the Brians, the term coined for his clash with American Brian Boitano, Orser was scored as gold medal winner on four of nine judge’s scorecards. Boitano received more points on three scorecards. Two scorecards ended with Boitano and Orser tied.
With the way ties are now broken, Orser would have won the gold medal. But the tiebreaking formula in 1988 gave Boitano the victory. By a mere technicality, Canada missed on a gold medal in Calgary and Orser lost out on the opportunity of a lifetime.
And now it’s Chan’s time.
“He has to defeat the demon,” said Browning. “It has nothing to do with me or Elvis or anyone else. Patrick has to be in the air 12 of 13 times. You have to defeat that demon every time you jump. And the skating has to look natural, like you’re not trying. It’s those mini battles he has to get through. Each jump, because you can’t miss any of them.
“I think he’s very singular in his thinking, very internal. I don’t think he looks at me as anybody other than his friend. I don’t think he sees me who left unfinished business for him to do.”
And Browning, having watched Chan all week in training, believes the Canadian figure skating curse, if there is such a thing, will end here at the compact Iceberg Skating Palace.
“Patrick knows if he gives his best, he’s probably going to be Olympic champion,” said Browning. “It’s right there for him. His jumps are landing with no effort. He’s skating so well you can barely hear him on the ice. I think he’s looking really good.”