Patrick Chan didn't deliver the skate of his life Friday night. But he still delivered victory.
Chan skated to gold at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships, becoming the first Canadian man since Elvis Stojko to win three world championships, now within striking distance of Kurt Browning's four.
Chan came out with guns blazing in his free skate to La Boheme, landing two quadruple jumps just as he planned, his quad-toe-loop, triple-toe-loop combination, followed by another quad toe-loop. He tumbled on two triple jumps that followed and touched down once as well, absorbing two points worth of deductions. But with the padding of his world-record setting short program score in hand from Wednesday, there was no catching him. His 267.78 points took the competition.
"It wasn't easy but I'll take the win," said Chan. "I'm a little disappointed that I wasn't able to do a great long program like the short program in front of an audience that was so special, but I'll take the win and put it in my back pocket to learn from it for next season."
Following Chan were two men winning their countries' first-ever world figure skating medals. Denis Ten of Kazakhstan won the free skate but earned silver with 266.48 overall points, continuing to stun the competition with another electric skate. The rising star collapsed to his knees to kiss the ice when he was done. Spain's Javier Fernandez took bronze, roaring back with a technically difficult, quad-heavy and free skate after a seventh-place short program.
"I'm feeling very proud of this medal, and realizing my whole country will be proud of my little victory," said a beaming Ten, who made a remarkable turnaround after a very average start to the season.
Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C, who was third after the short program, finished fifth.
Chan and his competitors attempted four-spin jumps all night long on Friday. Of the 24 men in Friday's long program, 17 attempted at least one of the explosive four-spin jumps. Compare that to just a handful who tried a quad at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and nine who attempted them at worlds last year. It seemed impossible to imagine that just three years ago, American Evan Lysacek won Olympic gold while not attempting a single four-spin feat in Vancouver.
It's harder yet to believe that Chan was just landing quads occasionally in practice back then, opting against the gamble of adding the mighty four-rotation jumps into his 2010 Olympic programs. The 2010 Russian Olympic silver medalist, Evgeni Plushenko, felt slighted for not winning with his quads back then, saying men's skating must include more of them. Plushenko plans a comeback for the Sochi Games. If Friday is any indication, Chan and the quad-happy field he has pushed for the past three seasons will be ready to throw down with him.
Chan didn't rush ahead with quads in Vancouver, refusing to sacrifice seamless transitions and stunning footwork for big jumps. He took command of them shortly thereafter and has dominated men's skating since the 2010 Games, and the ISU has since encouraged more men to try quads by reducing the penalty charged if a skater falls while attempting a quad. Chan's rivals have been pressed to push the envelope with quads or get off the podium.
"The quads today were the best of my season, and really helped me today get past all of the mistakes and make a mark," said Chan. "Today is proof that figure skating is about having a good overall week."
The Canadian-flag waving crowd was on its feet at the first glance of Chan on Friday. They winced at his falls, but cheered him through it. The Toronto native's season had been rocky, starting the year with a shaky competition. But this week, imperfect free skate and all, he still got to do his victory lap with a Canadian flag, still became the first man since Russia's Alexei Yagudin (1998-2000) to claim three straight world titles.
When asked this week, many skaters and coaches at the world championships were extremely guarded about what kind of off-ice workouts they do to help combat the increased stresses that the quad causes the body, hesitant to share training secrets. Chan, though, said that much of the reason for his pre-Worlds visit to trainer Andy O'Brien in Calgary was to battle the burning he would experience in his legs a minute into his programs after his effort-intensive quads. O'Brien helped Chan build his anaerobic cardio with lots of hard biking and intense interval training.
He still felt the work pay off this week in London, even if he wasn't perfect.
"I really wanted to have another moment like I had the other night," said Chan. "The moment wasn't as great at it could have been tonight, but it was nonetheless very special."