Patrick Chan’s return about more than elusive Olympic gold medal

Patrick Chan
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Patrick Chan initially felt like his peak had passed after taking silver at the Sochi Olympics, but Canada’s three-time World champion will return to figure skating competition after one year off not necessarily to earn more medals but to expand his skating repertoire.

“Of course, some people may say, oh, you’re coming back because you want to win an Olympic gold medal,” Chan said Tuesday. “Sure, maybe that’s at the back of my mind, but that’s something I want to learn to and teach myself in the next couple of years to not look at coming back and competing because of a medal, just a stupid, little medal.”

Chan quickly corrected himself.

“It’s not very little,” he said. “It’s very big and heavy.”

Chan, 24, said he would have returned to competition even if he became the first Canadian men’s figure skater to grab Olympic gold in 2014. He said any achievements the rest of his career will be “a bonus.”

“For example, after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, I thought I had done the best I could and thought I had already improved as much as I could, but little did I know I still had a lot to improve on and get better,” said Chan, who finished fifth as a teenager under host-nation pressure in 2010. “After the Games in Sochi, I felt like I had peaked, but I spoke to Kathy [Johnson], my coach, and we both decided I still have a lot to achieve, not necessarily results-wise but more personal achievement as in expanding my vocabulary in movement and my vocabulary in skating and choreography and being able to express and skate different kinds of style and become a better, more well-rounded skater.”

Chan said in September that he would return to competition in the 2015-16 season after taking the 2014-15 season off. Expect to see a different skater this fall. For one, Chan said he will add vocal lyrics to his skating, to a type of music he hasn’t performed to before.

Chan’s perspective was molded by activities where his “life [was] on the line” in his season away from competition — such as back-country skiing and skydiving. He also has an ice wine label coming out in June.

The 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Joannie Rochette convinced Chan to skydive while on the Stars on Ice tour in Florida.

“Joannie has jumped many times,” said Chan, who also planned to go skydiving with Rochette and other skaters later Tuesday in Montreal.

Chan said he was very scared and “contemplated life” while skydiving. He compared the feeling inside while ascending in an airplane to the six-minute warm-up before an Olympics or World Championships medal skate.

“Waiting and waiting,” he said. “The anticipation was very similar. But the minute I jumped out, for sure the first two, three seconds were the scariest, but after that such a great rush. … It makes me realize how small I am, and not to bash on the figure skating world, but how small the figure skating world is.”

Chan stayed abreast of men’s figure skating in his absence. He watched some competitions, but not all. The only World Championships event he said he watched live was the ice dance.

Chan said he skimmed through the programs of World Championships gold medalist Javier Fernandez and silver medalist Yuzuru Hanyu on YouTube.

“That in itself says a lot, the fact that I skimmed through it,” said Chan, who won the 2011, 2012 and 2013 World Championships before being toppled by Hanyu at the Sochi Olympics. “It wasn’t because I dislike them. … I admire a lot of elements of their programs, it’s just that that’s what it is. I literally fast-forwarded to their jumps, their biggest jumps, and then that’s it. I stopped watching. … Their skating hasn’t changed. It doesn’t look like it’s any different. They’re skating to the same pieces of music style. Javi has that like a Charlie Chaplin style. It totally works for him. It’s great, but I’d like to see him do a classical piece.

“I found that the men’s event [for the whole season] was, as I expected, nothing too special, no offense. It was very exciting competition. Of course, technically, everyone did all the quads. We’ve had two, three seasons of these quads coming back into the men’s field, so that’s to be seen as to be expected now. I look to the skaters who are pushing the boundaries, program-wise.”

Like the French ice dance couple of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who at 19 and 20 became the youngest World ice dance champs in 40 years. Chan said he got goosebumps watching their “enchanted” skating on his computer on a desk.

“It’s not just the guns blazing, just the jumps,” Chan said. “I like the subtlety of enjoying actual skating that’s actually beautiful and tells the story.”

Chan and his coach had talks about coming back, and the skater summed his mindset.

“I’m still young, I’m still healthy, knock on wood, so why not take advantage of that?” he said. “I don’t want to be 40 years old and look back and say, Patrick, you should have gone for it instead of hesitating.”

Figure skaters recall odd gifts from fans

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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