Stephanie Jenzer - Wednesday Feb. 5, 2014 06:45

Patrick Chan, chasing Sochi gold and an end to 'the curse'

Brian Orser, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko weigh in

Clockwise from bottom right, Brian Orser, Elvis Stojko and Kurt Browning all have sympathy for Patrick Chan as he heads into the Sochi Olympics as the favourite to win. (Getty Images)

It’s one of those facts that makes you want to check the world and Olympic record books over and over again. And believe me, I’ve done that more than a few times.

Just consider some of the names on this list of champions: Brian Orser, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko.

Including the man who has most recently stood atop the podium – and Patrick Chan has done it for three consecutive years – Canada boasts seven World Champion male figure skaters. Over the years, they’ve claimed 14 world titles. Fourteen!

Yet, in the history of men’s figure skating, a Canadian has never been Olympic champion.

Stojko told me those stats “boggle the mind.” Browning described it as “the curse.” Orser just shook his head, raised his hand and said with a sheepish grin, “Guilty.”

The Olympic gold medal, Chan’s “holy grail,” has eluded Canadian men’s world champions since the early 1960s.

Donald Jackson won the title in 1962; Donald McPherson in 1963. Orser, Browning and Stojko dominated headlines because of victories through the 1980s and 1990s. A decade later, Jeffrey Buttle took a world title.

But none of them reached the pinnacle, though Orser and Stojko came close.

Some would say if today’s judging system had been in place at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Orser would have broken the “curse” a long time ago. But it was the other Brian, American Brian Boitano, who claimed gold.

For Stojko, Nagano in 1998 was probably his best chance, but a bout with the flu and a lingering groin injury meant he could barely skate. It seemed like only near super-human effort carried him through to an Olympic silver medal.

In a series of very candid interviews, Orser, Browning, Stojko all opened up about what they went through chasing and falling short of Olympic gold.

Orser told me he couldn’t watch a video of his long program for years; it was simply too painful. He thought he had let down his family, his country and himself. The struggle went on for 10 years before he says he matured and realized he had skated his very best.

Browning spoke with real honesty about the injuries that dashed his Olympic hopes in Albertville, how he didn’t enjoy a moment of those Games. And about the “crazy fall” he just couldn’t shake off in Lillehammer, sending another pile of great expectations crashing to the ice.

In Japan, Stojko faced so much pressure from the media and himself, and so much physical pain, that if he had fallen during his long program, he told me, he doesn’t think he would have been able to get up. As it was, by the time he was finished his routine, he was shattered. He says he felt something break inside of him, and a wound opened up that took a very long time and a move to another country (Mexico) to heal.

Each of these men can recall their Olympic experiences, every nuance of every warm-up, every spin, every jump of their competitions, with incredible detail. Every emotion, too.

Each of them also have some sense of what Patrick Chan is facing right now, the reigning world champion heading into the Olympics.

Along with Buttle, who is now his choreographer, they all have some pretty sage advice to share with Chan as he gets set to face the competition in Sochi.

You’ll hear some of that and more in an upcoming CBC special, Chasing Gold, for The National and CBC News Network.

In it, Chan himself shares his feelings on facing the pressure to become Olympic champion. And even knowing the history, how he views it more of a mountain to climb, rather than a burden to carry.

But he predicts gold is within his reach.

“I think it’s time,” he says.

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