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Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan thanks the crowd after competing the men's free skate at the Sochi Winter Olympics. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan thanks the crowd after competing the men's free skate at the Sochi Winter Olympics. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Figure Skating

Patrick Chan comfortable away from the grind Add to ...

What Patrick Chan wants to do is go backcountry skiing. And surf. And drive race cars. And golf.

“Doing things that a guy wants to do, a 23-year-old guy wants to do,” said the star figure skater, who won two silvers – but fell short of gold – at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

What people want Patrick Chan to do is return to the ice, to get back in the severe grind of training and competitions, to skate and aim for a moment four years away.

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The lure is tempting, almost addictive. Chan, after the searing pressure of Sochi, knew he had to decompress, get away, sit on a couch. He decided to skip the World Championships but watching Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who beat Chan for gold in Sochi, win the world title grated. It had been Chan’s podium each of the previous three years. It was hard to watch someone else stand there.

But as much as Chan is compelled back towards the ice, he is comfortable to say, for now, no thanks. The pain of coming so close to Olympic gold has faded. He takes pride in his two silvers, for men’s singles and the team event. He has found respite touring with Stars on Ice, the travelling caravan of elite skaters that has visited Japan and Canada, when skating is more good times and less crucible.

There were, initially, some sleepless nights, when his mind couldn’t let go of the series of mistakes that turned a sure gold into silver, that mid-February Friday night when he could feel it slipping away on the ice.

He left Sochi at peace, relatively, with his result, having enjoyed the Olympics and the experience of the games after his event was over. But in the moment, when gold was there for him to seize, he cracked. It is not an experience he is in a hurry to repeat.

“I need a mental break,” said Chan, speaking Wednesday morning in Vancouver after a visit to promote sponsor Aspac Developments Ltd.

“The pressure, that moment I spent on the ice by myself at the Olympics was pretty daunting and pretty scary. Now I have to ask myself if I can do that again and what do I need to do to improve my mental toughness, so that the next time I step on that kind of stage I can be comfortable skating in those circumstances.”

What he knows for sure is he won’t compete this fall in the annual grand prix skating season. He might skate in the Canadian national championships in January and thereafter the World Championships in Shanghai. But Chan is quick to stamp an asterisk on the sketch outline.

“That’s all tentative, it’s not really for sure.”

Letting go is not easy. After he returned to Canada after Sochi, he was at an event with fellow Olympians, including hockey player Caroline Ouellette. Chan admitted pangs of jealousy, seeing her gold. And he has said that “in his heart” he wants another world title, his fourth.

The 2018 Olympics in South Korea are a lot farther away. “A huge commitment,” Chan called it, and one he has no plans to make soon.

First, he has to rediscover what he loves about skates on his feet, leaping from the ice, spinning at fantastic speed in the air. Stars on Ice – and possibly more events this fall – has been as much a way to make some money and enjoy time with peers outside competition as a chance to think about how to make skating work for him, if he’s to skate again. The sport, said Chan, has become overly rigid, stifling creative flourish. He’s looking for little things that make shows like Stars on Ice so much more enjoyable, and how he might transpose that, effervescent as it might be, to competition.

“I am,” Chan said, “trying to figure that out.”

Follow on Twitter: @davidebner

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