KINGSTON, Ontario — Patrick Chan was a spectator at the Canadian championships this past week for the first time in his career, and noticed something funny from his vantage point in the stands at the Rogers K-Rock Centre.
People were talking during performances. Or tapping away on their cellphones.
The 24-year-old from Toronto is taking this season off to kick back and contemplate his future, and said the biggest thing he’s learned thus far is perspective.
“When we compete, for us it feels like the end of the world, but it really isn’t,” he said.
“It’s interesting because people do other things while the skating is going on. So when I think everyone’s looking at me, the whole world has stopped to watch me, it’s really not true. Maybe skating isn’t always about life or death, even though it feels like it sometimes.”
The three-time world champion hasn’t completely committed to another Olympic Games, after his heartbreaking silver-medal performance in Sochi last year. But he certainly sounds like he has another Games in him.
“I would love to go to another Olympics,” Chan said.
“And also even to come here and skate at nationals, nationals is always a highlight for me, just the energy and the friends and family that are in the audience. So I miss that. And I miss training. It makes me want to train hard and come back out stronger than ever, and come up with a great new program that really wows the audience. Not to say the men weren’t great this year, Nam (Nguyen, the men’s champion) skated really well. But I just know I can bring something different to the table again.”
While he’ll go down as one of Canada’s most successful skaters in history, he has dreams of leaving an even more impressive legacy.
“I want to go out and skate a program people will remember,” Chan said. “I’m at a point in my career, I’ve accomplished everything, I’ve won almost every event, so for me it’s just about going out and having people get goosebumps… or even watching myself on YouTube and getting goosebumps from that. I’ve never been able to do that to myself. That’s a good personal challenge.”
Chan has thoroughly dominated the Canadian championships for close to a decade, winning the previous seven titles before the 16-year-old Nguyen won Saturday night.
But there was something missing in a men’s field minus Chan, whose best score at the Canadian championships was 302.14 in 2012. Nguyen, who at 16 still has plenty of room to grow, scored 256.88.
“Trust me, I like hearing that (there’s something missing), because I want to bring something great to the table, like when people watch me next it’ll be like an ‘Oh my god, my life is complete’ kind of thing,” Chan said.
Chan said he had “mixed feelings” about being a spectator, but he watched the competition intently. During a chat with The Canadian Press, he intermittently took breaks so he could focus on watching the competition.
He’s also been keeping a keen eye on his international rivals.
“He’s keeping tabs on what’s going on,” said Skate Canada’s high performance director Mike Slipchuk. “He knew after the (Grand Prix) Final what everyone scored, and he was checking his score… ‘What was my high score last year?'”
Slipchuk said he hasn’t had any firm discussions with Chan about the odds of his return, but has a good feeling about it.
“He’ll take the next couple months to assess what he wants to do, but to me, he inclines more that he wants to come back and win another world title,” Slipchuk said.
Chan is busy touring on figure skating’s show circuit, which has kept him as fit as ever. He did compete once very early this season, at the Japan Open — a Pro-Am event — and was as strong as he’s ever been, recording one of the best long-program scores this season.
“He’s at the same level and in some ways ahead of where he was a year ago,” Slipchuk said. “Everything technically is where it was, the quad is where it was.”
Chan said he’s had no regrets about stepping back for a season.
“If I think about wanting to go to the next Olympics, then I feel like I wouldn’t be able to do another four years straight, it’s exhausting,” Chan said.
“My body is enjoying this, my mind is enjoying it,” said Chan. “And gaining the perspective, just realizing that there’s more to life than just skating. It’s hard to think of that, because day in and day out, your whole life as a competitor is training, skating surrounds your life.”
If there are regrets about the past couple of competitive seasons, he wishes he would have kept his cards closer to his chest. He pushed the boundaries of men’s skating, but as he pushed, the rest of the men’s field improved along with him.
“I’ll be smart,” Chan said. “If I could go back in time, when I went out and did the two quads (Chan had a quadruple Salchow and quad toe loop in last season’s program), I wish I’d played that a little slower, a little smarter, kept the second quad under wraps, instead of going out guns blazing. I feel like it made the men progress very quickly, which I guess isn’t a bad thing either. But I think results-wise things would have been a little different.”
“I definitely think I’ll be smarter now.”