Canada's Patrick Chan declared one thing on Wednesday night: he's back.
The two-time world champion delivered an outstanding short program at the world championships Wednesday night, landing a quadruple toe loop, a triple toe loop and earning a world-record score of 98.37, giving him almost a seven-point lead heading into Friday night's final. He was pitch perfect on a night when his biggest rivals left big points on the table, letting lesser known challengers, including Canada's Kevin Reynolds, surge into the spotlight.
The crowd at Budweiser Gardens arena roared as Chan clenched his fists and shook them with joy after the program, which provided some redemption after a tumultuous pre-Olympic season.
"It was so inspirational," Chan told reporters afterward. "When I got into my last spin, it was like this rush of tingling, a cold rush through my body, and it was amazing. You only feel that once in a lifetime."
Reynolds earned a season-best score of 85.16 with a sensational short program that put him into third place. The result continues a breakthrough season for Reynolds, a Coquitlam, B.C. native who recently won the Four Continents championship in Japan. He was one of a handful of men to successfully land a quad in his short program, foreshadowing the flurry of quads that will be on display in Friday's free skates.
"When I first came [on the senior circuit seven years ago], I had the jumps and not much else, so it's been quite a process to get where I am no. Patrick is a big role model for me," Reynolds said.
The last time two Canadian men were on a world podium was 1993, when Kurt Browning won gold and Elvis Stojko won silver.
In many ways, Wednesday night was a reminder that in figure skating, anything can happen.
Coming into the competition, analysts projected a four-man battle for gold, with Chan fending off Japanese veteran Daisuke Takahashi, 2010 world champion and Olympic bronze medalist, and two skaters coached by Canadian Brian Orser: Spain's Javier Fernandez, the current European champion, and Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning world bronze-medalist, who is coming back after a recent illness.
After the short, Takahashi sits in fourth, Fernandez trails in seventh and Hanyu in ninth.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was Denis Ten of Kazakstan, finished in second place with a huge score of 91.56. Ten's best result at a world championships was last year, when he finished seventh.
"I'm shocked," said Ten, who trains in the United States, noting that he's struggled with ankle injuries this season.
Chan started the season with new coaches and choreographers and had mixed results: he lost for the first time after going undefeated for nearly a year and a half. He was runner up at Skate Canada International and finished third at the Olympic preview event in Sochi.
The 22-year-old from Toronto also skipped his most recent opportunity to compete at Four Continents in order to work with his trainer in Calgary, and made a sudden move to Detroit three weeks before the world figure skating championships. The move puzzled some onlookers but Chan said he needed the switch, because it put him closer to other skaters and boosted his morale.
"If I hadn't put in the work that I did that last three weeks, I would have fallen on the quad-toe and triple axle," he said, referring to his most important jump combination of the night.
"Figure skating isn't arbitrary. I think a lot of us believe that it is. I struggled with that yesterday…Today is proof that it's not. It's not a matter of luck, it's a matter of how much work that you put in and how much confidence you have."
A world victory this week would make Chan the first male skater to win three in a row since Russian Alexei Yagudin began his three-year reign in 1998. It would also signal he's back on track for the Sochi Olympics less than a year from now.