In the span of just under three minutes, Patrick Chan learned what it's like to skate with the weight of a defending champion.
The 21-year-old from Toronto is on pace to claim his second consecutive world figure skating title after winning the short program Friday.
But for all the cool confidence that has carried the Canadian star to a string of victories that spans more than a year, nerves got the best of him at the Palais des Exhibitions. Skating to jazz piece Take Five, Chan scored 89.41 points — about four points off his world-record score for the short program — wobbling on his quad jump and losing his balance twice on his footwork.
“This is first time I've kind of paid attention to (being the defending champion) because I think people have been mentioning it. I guess if you guys never mention it, I never think about it,” Chan told reporters after his skate.
Luckily for Chan, he wasn't the only skater to have a rough day.
Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Friday, is second with 87.67 points, while 2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, who came within a couple of inches of falling on his triple toe loop, scored 85.72 to leave him third.
Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., is 12th with 72.95 points.
Chan won last year's world championships in Moscow in spectacular fashion, setting three world scoring records en route to obliterating the field. He's utterly dominated the men's event for the past 16 months.
But Chan admitted he felt a sense of obligation Thursday, to skate as if he owned the place.
“When I step on the ice, I have to have that presence, I feel I have to skate as if I've been here before,” Chan said. “But I really haven't (been there), this is a whole different environment.
“I'm glad this is done,” he added, with a look of obvious relief. “I really got the taste of it and (Saturday) I'll be hopefully settled.”
His most unsettling moment Friday came late in the program when he arched backwards, nearly toppling over twice on a bracket turn. The crowd laughed at the look of shock on Chan's face during the slow-motion replay.
“The footwork was kind of funny. I loved the face I made in the footwork,” Chan said. “I started going forwards and I lost my balance. Changed to backwards, trying to see if that would help but it didn't help. But it was fine. It's like muscle memory kicking in, and body core strength as well.”
His coach Christy Krall made light of his missteps.
“Always (an adventure) with Patrick,” Krall said. “As he often says, if you're not on the edge, you're taking up too much space. That was one of those moments.
“I think he needs a figure lesson. Back to the brackets. I don't believe he had enough speed going into that, he came out of the camel (spin) slow, he didn't get his momentum coming around, and once you get that kind of deep edge and you don't have any speed, you're going to fluff, and he did.”
Chan is trying to become the first skater to win back-to-back men's titles since Switzerland's Stephane Lambiel (2005 and ‘06). No Canadian has won two in a row in any discipline since Elvis Stojko in 1994 and ‘95.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who claimed ice dance gold for Canada only a night earlier, understand the pressure of being defending champions.
“It's a different kind of pressure, I think it's great that he has the chance to experience it, especially before (the Sochi Olympics in 2014),” Virtue said. “It's absolutely a different feeling when you step on the ice and you're defending your title.”
“He's handling it great,” added Moir, who's won two world titles and an Olympic gold medal with Virtue. “The other thing is, and it's a different situation than us, he's dominated the sport, he's dominated men's figure skating the last two years. He's been untouchable and that's a lot of pressure, but he seems to be handling it pretty well and I'm proud of him.”
The 21-year-old Reynolds, skating to the jazzy Chambermaid Swing had one of the cleanest programs of the afternoon, in that he managed to stay on his feet. The Canadian landed a quad jump but didn't receive full marks as it was slightly under-rotated.
“It felt a little bit borderline to me, it definitely wasn't one of my best attempts, I was a bit nervous at the start of the program and it probably showed,” Reynolds said. “But I got into performance as it went along. (Saturday) I'm going to have to focus on getting those quads fully rotated in order to get the big points.”
Reynolds' finish Saturday is key to Canada claiming three berths in men's singles at next year's world championships in London, Ont. The total result of Reynolds and Chan can't be more than 13 — so if Chan wins gold and Reynolds finishes 12th, Canada will have three skaters in the discipline next year.
Brian Joubert of France thrilled the hometown crowd as the early leader with his clean quadruple jump and score of 83.47. He pumped a fist and leapt in the air after his performance, but the 2007 world champion and three-time runner-up eventually fell to fourth place.
Last year's silver medallist Takahiko Kozuka of Japan fell twice, winding up well back in 13th. Americans Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon finished ninth and 10th.
The pairs free program was scheduled for later Friday.
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