Patrick Chan and the savage beauty of figure skating
Silver medallist competes in most elegant, brutal sport
I’m writing this having just returned from the International Broadcast Centre in Sochi after watching and broadcasting a portion of the men’s final in figure skating.
It would be an understatement to say that I am still stunned by what has transpired here in Russia.
Yuzuru Hanyu, a 19-year-old, has just become the Olympic gold medallist, the first for his country, in this individual discipline.
Meanwhile, the three-time and reigning world champion, Patrick Chan of Canada, has taken the silver medal. Neither skated perfectly, far from it, but the drama of it all was breathtaking. And although I might have forecast a different result, I find myself unable to quibble with the bottom line.
Someone came first and someone came second.
The only call I took when I got back here to the hotel was from an old acquaintance and colleague named Dave Campbell at CHED radio in Edmonton. I had run into him during my Hockey Night in Canada days covering the Oilers. But tonight Dave didn’t even mention the score of the Canadian men’s hockey game versus Austria, a 6-0 shellacking by the maple leaf men. He wanted to talk figure skating.
“You know, we were discussing Chan and the result in the office, and we were disappointed,” he said. “But then again we thought that figure skating must surely be the most difficult of the Olympic sports.”
I would have to agree.
Personally speaking, I cannot fathom what it must be like to go onto a sheet of ice in front of 12,000 people and to perform what appears to be a series of impossible acts without an overwhelming fear of failure.
There is nowhere for these young people to hide. There is no mulligan for a bad jump, or second chance to eliminate the sting of a fall on one’s ass. You cannot skip a shift and survive in figure skating.
It is what it is.
These athletes accept that they are required to stand and deliver and when the dust settles they must live with the result.
In the end, they must go it alone.
The thing is, I felt completely helpless for Patrick Chan as he skated with a chance to be the Olympic champion. I have followed his career since the time he first won the national title seven years ago. I’ve been there for each of his three world championships. He has never dodged a question and never given an excuse for something less than a perfect performance.
He is, in my experience, a conscientious and hard-working young man who is supremely talented.
Tonight, he came up short, and I know he wishes he could do it all over again … but he can’t.
Dave Campbell may have been right when he suggested that figure skating is the most difficult of the sports. I’m convinced it is simultaneously the most beautiful and brutal.
The judges reward you lavishly when you succeed, and they punish you ruthlessly when you don’t. And they make you sit by yourself to await your fate on a giant-sized television screen so that everyone in the arena and around the globe knows what they think of you.
Those are the facts when it comes to figure skating.
And while I’m disappointed for Patrick Chan and happy for Yuzuru Hanyu, I’m astonished that the result has affected me the way it has. It’s not like I haven’t witnessed something like this before.
“It’s just so thrilling,” Dave Campbell said. “And it’s causing me to lose sleep, but I can’t get enough of it.”
I feel the same way.
It’s the savage beauty of sport and the incredible attraction that the brave hearts who dare to venture onto the Olympic field of play hold for me.