If he could, Elvis Stojko would reach out to Patrick Chan, put an arm around his shoulder and say, “Dude, just worry about your skating.”
Call it “veteran’s advice” from a former three-time world champion figure skater to the 20-year-old current world champ whose recent comments on Canada, China and not feeling so appreciated have set off a thunderclap of reaction.
From a three-month-old interview with Reuters that was reported Wednesday, Chan was quoted on how involved the Chinese government is in supporting its athletes, how things would “have been very different” had he skated for China and that he has better recognition in South Korea than he has in Canada, the country of his birth. Chan also said he was “slowly feeling more Chinese,” his family’s heritage.
From his home in Mexico, where he lives with his wife, Gladys Orozco, a figure skater herself, Stojko took stock of Chan’s remarks and summed them up as inexperience.
“It takes time to build a persona and a connection,” said Stojko, who was also a two-time Olympic silver medalist and a seven-time Canadian champ. “Winning once doesn’t do it. The problem with [what Chan said]is that he can’t blame the fans, he can’t blame the people. Just because you’re not being embraced the way you expected, to me it means you’re not really doing it for the right reasons. I think he needs to be really careful in what he says. It looks like all he wants is recognition and appreciation.
“If you do it for the love of the sport, then the support will come.”
Ken Read, the former Crazy Canuck alpine skier who now serves as the winter-sport director of Own The Podium, believes Chan’s feeling that Canadian athletes are undervalued by their countrymen is common but wrong-headed.
“My take on it would be this: Olympic and Paralympic athletes train in an environment that often has them out of the country a lot, often in very isolated [circumstances] … And so as a result, sometimes you feel forgotten,” said Read, who insisted figure skating and its stars, such as Chan, are extremely popular at home. “He’s just not here enough to experience it.”
Read pointed out Canadian athletes are appreciated in other countries because of Canada’s multicultural mix. Canada, he said, was the second favourite in most European nations on the World Cup ski tour because so many athletes in Canadian uniforms have European roots.
Chan told Reuters he wished he could represent China and Canada when he skates. That prompted immediate comparisons to athletes such as boxer Lennox Lewis, tennis player Greg Rusedski along with figure skaters Tanith Belbin, Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay, all of whom left Canada to compete internationally for another nation – for various reasons.
Chan issued a statement Thursday from Quebec City, where he’s competing in the ISU Grand Prix Final as the defending champion, apologizing and proclaiming he was very much a proud Canadian. He said he “never intended to suggest any negative feelings toward Canada, nor our country’s proud figure skating tradition, the way in which I have been supported by Canadians.
“At the same time,” Chan continued, “I value the heritage of my parents’ country of birth … While my sentiments may have been better expressed, they make me no less Canadian, and no less dedicated to the success of Canada’s sports and figure skating programs.”
Stojko acknowledged there was truth in some of what Chan had to say about their sport, how it has changed from Stojko’s day, how it will never be as big as hockey and how the current scoring system has come at the cost of creativity on ice.
“The system doesn’t allow skating to be as epic as it used to be, as Patrick said,” said Stojko, who was critical of the judging at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics figure skating events. “People understood the 6.0 system. That was perfection. Now it’s just math. It has no meaning. With Patrick getting two world records, which was phenomenal, people are saying it’s just a number.
“Right now, China, Japan, Korea, skating is their sport. It’s like it was in Canada and Europe in the ’90s. There is a difference, but don’t blame the people for that. Patrick was building momentum. It’s harder now since skating isn’t shown as much on TV. He has to be very careful how he presents himself.”