Chan, normally the hunted, now becomes the hunter 0
At the last two world figure skating championships, Canada's Patrick Chan felt as though he had a target on his back.
The Toronto skater won his first worlds in 2011 in Moscow and established himself as the man to beat, the man being hunted by the world's top skaters.
But now, after a stunning performance by 19-year-old Japanese sensation Yuzuru Hanyu in the Sochi Games short program Thursday, it's no longer Chan wearing the target. Heading into Friday's long program, it's Hanyu with the target, and Chan doing the hunting.
It's a situation that, even though he sits in second heading into the long, the Canadian champion doesn't mind at all.
"I like being in second, I like being in the chase," said Chan. "It's exciting for me. Now I can go out and enjoy my program and enjoy being at the Olympics, whereas I think Yuzuru has a bit of target that he's not quite used to having. And at the Olympic stage the target's kind of doubled in size. So we'll see how he handles it. But I'm going to focus on what I have to do."
Hanyu, who is coached in Toronto by former Canadian world champion Brian Orser, electrified the Iceberg Skating Palace crowd by earning a world record score of 101.45 points for his program skated to Parisian Walkways by Gary Moore -- the first skater in history to break the 100 point barrier.
Chan, skating to the moving Elegie in E Flat Minor by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, finished second with a solid score of 97.52 and has to skate the long program of his life Friday to become the first Canadian ever to win the Olympic gold in men's singles. Canadian men have won 14 world singles championships, but not an Olympic gold.
Needless to say, the pressure on Chan at these Games is considerable and he looked nervous at times during the team event last weekend. But he is also confident that his freeskate -- performed to the Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi -- is a gold-medal winning skate and believes that he can make up the four-point difference.
"I've been having really great practices with this long program, pacing it well, and strategizing it well, all those things will hopefully pan out (Friday)," he said. "I've had a really good track record with this long program. I love skating it, I love the music."
Chan, 23, opened his short with a spectacular quad toe-triple toe jump combo, but then stepped out slightly on his triple Axel, a jump he has struggled with all season. He also nailed his triple lutz and all his exceptional step and spin sequences.
"I'm ecstatic with the 97 at the Olympic Games. I've done it before at the world championships three times, now I can finally say I've done it at the Olympics, and that's a big accomplishment for me and a big relief after the team event, a bit of a shaky event," he said.
As for Hanyu, the Japanese skating idol was just about perfect, his jumps gigantic, particularly is his opening quad toe. He also did a huge triple Axel and triple lutz-triple toe combo, receiving a standing ovation.
"I was very nervous and my legs were shaking," said Hanyu. "I was certainly feeling the atmosphere of the Olympics out there."
Hanyu and Chan were both surprised by the Japanese skater's score.
"I'm not going to criticize the judges, they know what they're doing, and I didn't see how he skated," said Chan. "I'll have to look at how he skated (but) I was surprised for sure. 101? No one's broke 100. To do it at the Olympics is quite the accomplishment for him."
On the other hand, Chan wasn't shocked that Hanyu nailed a huge program.
"He's grown tremendously," said Chan. "I remember when I saw him at the Cup of Russia two Grand Prix seasons ago and that was his first Grand Prix event. He was young and really inexperienced and he's already, in less than two years, gained so much experience and he looks really comfortable out there. But then again Friday's a long program and the long program can change a lot of things."
Chan set a world record for a long program at the Trophee Eric Bompard Grand Prix in November (196.75), so he certainly has the goods. Now it's just a matter of skating it, and hoping that Hanyu isn't quite so perfect.
Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., who skated well in the team competition short, where he landed three quads, had a disastrous short, falling on his quad salchow. He landed a second quad in combination with a triple toe, but then fell on his triple Axel and touched during a step sequence. He is in 17th (68.76) heading into the long. In third is Spain's Javier Fernandez (86.98) another Orser-coached skater. The competition was marred by the withdrawal of three-time Olympic medallist Evgeni Plushenko of Russia, who suffered a back injury.
CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE
Toronto is a lot of things -- some good, some bad. But the figure skating capital of the world? Who knew?
The way the Olympic men's singles figure skating competition is shaking down, all three medallists may be throwing a party in T.O. after the Games are over.
Sitting in first place after Thursday's short program is Japanese skater Yuzuru Hanyu, who is trained by Brian Orser out of the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club.
In second is Toronto skater Patrick Chan.
And in third is Javier Fernandez of Spain, also coached by Orser in Toronto.
In fact, Orser, a two-time Olympic medallist and former world champion, had to be quick on his feet during the short program competition Thursday. Orser donned a Japanese team jacket for Hanyu's skate. The very next skater after Hanyu was Fernandez. So after giving his skater a hug when Hanyu left the ice following his world-record short program (101.45 points), Orser had to pull off the Japanese jacket, run to grab a Spanish one and throw it on.
It was some of the best choreography of the night.
Orser coached South Korean superstar Yuna Kim to the women's singles gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Kim also trained in Toronto.
Not that Orser only coaches foreign athletes out of the TCSC Club. One of his best young skaters is 15-year-old Nam Nguyen of Toronto, who finished fifth at the Canadian championships in the senior competition.