Patrick Chan's Olympic lessons
World figure skating champion draws on 2010 experience
Patrick Chan, figure skating’s reigning world champion, is banking on his Olympic history not repeating itself.
Chan, 22, was considered a main contender at the 2010 Winter Olympics. But his experience in Vancouver didn't go at all according to the script that he had imagined at the beginning of that season.
The first and maybe biggest obstacle was a bout of H1N1 flu that knocked him sideways, costing him valuable training time; he also faced injury and a change in coaching staff. As a result, his performance peak for that season occurred not at the Olympics — where he finished fifth — but about a month later, when he won his second consecutive silver medal at the 2010 world championships.
Helping Chan to prepare is his coach, Kathy Johnson.
Things have picked up for Chan since then. His winning streak started in 2011, when he won the first of his three world titles. He won his latest in March, at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ont., making him the man to beat in Sochi, at least on paper.
Part of Chan’s success will come down to a number of factors within his control: his programs, his training, his coaching and support team, and his ability to “stick to the script,” so to speak. I think it will also require a certain amount of luck. There is that old adage that luck is simply the moment when opportunity and preparation collide. The preparation for the things within his control has to be Chan’s current preoccupation.
Every Olympian with whom I have ever spoken has said the same thing: the Olympics are different than every other competitive event. Part of the athlete's comfort comes from his or her team. For Chan, that includes not only coaches, trainers and choreographers but also Skate Canada, the national governing body for figure skating.
Running the Skate Canada high performance program is Michael Slipchuk, the 1992 Canadian men’s champion, who finished ninth at that year’s Albertville Olympics. Part of his portfolio of responsibilities is monitoring skaters' progress, and providing support and resources as needed. Slipchuk is a man who knows from whence he speaks:
Chan wanted nothing more than to be on top of the podium in Vancouver. Although there was no shame in finishing in fifth place, it wasn't good enough for him. He is intent on living out his Olympic dream and one of the ways he is helping himself is by using the lessons he learned in 2010.
We already now that the Olympic Games are the pinnacle of amateur sporting events. The goal for every athlete is to time their appearance at the Olympics in such a way as to be able to perform at their optimum.
Are the Olympics an experience to be lived through or are there lessons to be learned that can be carried along with an athlete who has been there before?
Chan told me after the 2010 Games that he had heard from people that the Olympics were different, but that he couldn’t understand what they meant. He gets it now.
He no longer has to imagine what it's like to be on the Olympic ice surface. Nor does he have to think about logistics or what living in the athletes' village will be like. He’s been there and knows the drill.
As an Olympian looking to reach the top of the podium, he hopes knowledge and experience will get help him there.