Barely 24 hours after flying home from Japan, Patrick Chan was in a Toronto rink inspiring young skaters.
The three-time world champion wasn’t thrilled with his silver medal performance at the Grand Prix Final last week in Fukuoka, and spending time with kids was perhaps just what he needed.
“It’s great, it’s awesome,” Chan said with a wide grin. “It’s funny because this season for me is all about going back to my roots, and kind of finding the inner kid in me. In order to deal with the pressures of this Olympic year, I kind of had to go back and identify why I skated, and why it’s so much fun and why I enjoy it.
“I never really knew, I just really liked the feeling of skating, but I could never identify why I’ve done it for this long. So it’s great to go back to communities like this, it brings back memories from when I was that age and learning to skate. I can’t even imagine how exciting it would have been to have had Elvis (Stojko) come and talk to us, or Kurt (Browning).”
Chan was a surprise guest at the evening skating practice, part of his new role as an ambassador for active living for Coca-Cola Canada, a new sponsor. Coca-Cola announced Wednesday it was sponsoring Chan, plus Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos and short-track speedskater Marianne St-Gelais.
Chan talked to the young skaters about keeping it fun, and answered questions on everything from how he stays motivated, to when he landed his first Axel (he was nine or 10, he can’t quite recall), to how he keeps from getting nervous (he still gets nervous).
When asked how old he is, he told them he was born on Dec. 31, 1990 and instructed them to do the math. (He’s 22).
Afterward, he posed for posed for pictures, signed autographs, and then watched practice where a line of tiny girls did bunny hops down the rink.
“That’s a part of my career I want to explore a little more, to give back,” Chan said. “Athletes, that’s the whole reason — I hope — we do what we do. To me, it’s about: how do you go beyond just winning medals, and kind of use what you’ve been given, and the opportunities you’ve been given to create more great skaters, more of me, more of Kurt, and more Elvis Stojkos in Canada?”
The Toronto skater will carry huge expectations into the Sochi Olympics. He’s a favourite to win Canada’s first ever Olympic gold in men’s singles.
Chan, who was fifth four years ago at the Vancouver Games, said part of him is already thinking past the Oympics — more specifically, about what he can give back.
“It’s that time of my life, I’m almost 23 years old, I’m not that kid anymore who has no responsibility, I have responsibility, I’ve represented Canada for a long time internationally, and how can I take that next step to mature even more, and grow as a person, grow as an athlete, because there’s only so much you can grow in training and on the ice,” Chan said. “How can you make your career even better, after the Olympics?
“People ask me what I’m going to do after the Olympics and I don’t know. So right now I’m just exploring and having fun and seeing how I can affect other skaters in Canada and the youth in Canada.”
Three days earlier, Chan had to settle for silver at the Grand Prix Final, the biggest pre-Olympic event of the season.
Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, who had a 12-point lead on Chan after the short program, won gold, eclipsing Chan by 13 points overall.
Having some time to look back on the weekend, the Canadian said he was pleased he was able to pull out a strong free program on what wasn’t a great week all around. He said he was feeling the effects of a busy season.
“It was a tough one, it was not as easy as Paris (Trophee Bompard three weeks earlier, where he set three world-record scores in winning),” Chan said. “Paris was like a walk in the park, I felt good, I didn’t feel tired at the end, my legs weren’t dying.
“Japan, I was barely able to stand after my (final) spin, then sitting in the kiss and cry, I was cramping like crazy. I had to have Barb (MacDonald, of Skate Canada) and Kathy (Johnston, his coach) hold me when I was walking to the press area.
“It was weird, maybe it was the jet lag, it’s been a long season, my knees were hurting, I got a lot of physio and had to ice my knees and I never have to do that. It’s been such a long season, I’ve only had a week and a half between my Grand Prixes.”
Chan has a couple of days off then will head back to Detroit to prepare for the Canadian championships in early January in Ottawa, and then the final push to Sochi.
He won’t take a Christmas vacation this season.
“No Hawaii this time, I won’t have a suntan at nationals,” he said. “I think all the skaters are staying in Detroit for Christmas, like Kaitlyn (Weaver) and Andrew (Poje). It will be great, we’ll make our own little Christmas party or New Years party.”
As part of their Coca-Cola partnership, Chan, Stamkos and St-Gelais will be featured in in-store and digital marketing campaigns, as well and cinema and TV advertising.
Stamkos has won the NHL scoring title twice, but a broken leg suffered last month has put his Sochi Olympic hopes in question.
St-Gelais, meanwhile, won two silver medals at the Vancouver Olympics, in the 500 metres and 3,000-metre relay. She has also won five world championship medals.