Follow The Globe's SOCHI LIVE for the latest from the Winter Olympics as Patrick Chan goes for gold.
Patrick Chan compares it to going all-in at the blackjack table.
When he takes the ice Friday for the final performance of the men's figure skating competition in Sochi, there will be no do-overs, no second chances, and hopefully no regrets.
It will just be Mr. Chan and his nemesis, Yuzuru Hanyu, in a two-man fight for gold. Time to show your cards.
Mr. Chan is a 23-year-old from Toronto who laced up skates as a boy to play hockey, then re-engineered himself into one of the best figure skaters Canada has ever produced. Mr. Yuzuru is a 19-year-old from Japan who is coached by Brian Orser, a man who got as close to Olympic figure-skating gold as a Canadian ever has.
The allotted time for their long programs will be a mere 4 minutes and 30 seconds, but there is enough history, significance and drama packed into that short span of time to make even the most casual observer's head do a flying sit spin, or any other such dizzying element the two skaters will attempt.
Neither country has ever won gold in men's figure skating before.
This will be a momentous first for either Canada or Japan - and it's likely more records will fall.
That is because Mr. Hanyu racked up a stunning score of 101.45 during his short program on Thursday. No one had ever smashed through the 100-point barrier until now. And yet Mr. Chan isn't far behind. His score in the short program, which is the first of the two skates being contested, was an impressive 97.52 - not his best, but pretty close.
Mr. Chan's first jump Thursday night - a quad-toe-triple-toe combination that is his opening salvo - showed why he is Canada's greatest hope yet for men's gold. It was power, grace and precision. A later stumble while trying to land a triple Axel was his only blemish.
Mr. Hanyu, meanwhile, seemed flawless, landing everything he attempted, but not with the same risk element that Mr. Chan peppered into his program. So even though Mr. Hanyu obliterated his own world record, the margin between them is exactly 3.93 points. It's not razor-thin, but it's not impossible to overcome either, particularly if Mr. Hanyu falters.
Although impressed with his rival's score, Mr. Chan said he's made up a four-point difference before in the long program, where there are more elements being attempted, and therefore more points on the table. Simply put, the long program is a higher-stakes game.
"You can blow it, or you can have a successful long, and you can win it all," Mr. Chan said. Which is exactly why he compares it to blackjack: it's gold or bust.
However, it's a game Canada's most revered men's figure skaters have been burned playing before.
Mr. Orser arguably came the closest in Calgary in 1988 when he was narrowly beaten by American Brian Boitano in the long program. Elvis Stojko lost the gold to Russian Alexei Urmanov at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, and again in Nagano in 1998, this time to Russian Ilia Kulik. And despite four world championships, Kurt Browning never got this close on the Olympic stage.
So what makes Mr. Chan potentially different? Each of these skaters could soar. In fact, it was Mr. Browning who landed the first quadruple jump in competition. But Mr. Chan has taken their game and raised it another level. Put him on the ice with his predecessors and Mr. Chan's jumps and attention to footwork would stand out.
Four years ago, he went into Vancouver as a 19-year-old with a reputation for speed, skill on his edges and a lofty vertical. He placed fifth there. Now he is a more mature skater who has figured out how to harness all those things. If he can do it in the most pressure-packed skate of his life, Mr. Chan will cross a threshold that Mr. Orser never did, with the latter watching from the sidelines.
But with Mr. Hanyu's jaw-dropping score on Thursday, Mr. Chan enters the long program as the underdog now. And with third-place Javier Fernandez of Spain - also an Orser pupil - sitting in distant third, it is up to Mr. Chan to reel in the Japanese skater. It's an unusual spot for him, but Mr. Chan said he likes it.
At recent world championships, Mr. Chan has typically been the skater who leads after the short program, and it's been rivals like Mr. Hanyu who have been doing the chasing. Now it will be Mr. Hanyu, an Olympic rookie, with the target on his back.
Mr. Chan said he's interested to see how Mr. Hanyu performs in that role, since it's not a position the young Japanese skater is familiar with at this level. "I wish him luck for sure," Mr. Chan said. It will be "real proof," he said, of "who's really trained and who's really comfortable with their program."
If Mr. Chan sounds confident, he is. He has to be: This is no time for self-doubting. He's been waiting too long for this moment. But for Mr. Chan to beat Mr. Hanyu, he'll need to skate the long program of his life.
Both skaters admitted they were nervous Thursday, on a day that also saw the sudden withdrawal of Russian superstar Evgeni Plushenko, who pulled out due to a back injury, further winnowing the field of contenders. "My legs were shaking," Mr. Hanyu told reporters. "Going into the first 10 seconds, it kind of hit me, I'm at the Olympic Games," Mr. Chan said.
The nerves will be no different for the long program. Except this time, Japan and Canada will be jittery along with them: One country will write a new chapter of figure skating history for itself.
Mr. Chan, who owns the last three world championships in figure skating, is primed to make a run at Olympic gold. "I have quite an arsenal for the long program," Mr. Chan said. "It's going to be a whole new day... a whole new competition."Report Typo/Error
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