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After Olympic heartbreak, Chan unsure of future in figure skating

Patrick Chan of Canada sits in the results area after the men's free skate figure skating final at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

Ivan Sekretarev/AP

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Patrick Chan is unsure of his future, uncertain whether he can handle any more heartbreak like he has suffered in Sochi.

The day after the three-time world figure skating champion had to settle for Olympic silver, Chan said he's not sure if he'll continue competing.

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"Do I enjoy competing, do I enjoy those minutes leading up to stepping on the ice? Am I so fearful that I don't enjoy it anymore? Or am I enjoying the fear and do I (thrive on that)?" Chan said Saturday.

"I'll have to take time and think about that — if I want to relive moments like I lived yesterday. Can I take that experience again? I have to really think about it."

The 23-year-old from Toronto arrived in Sochi shouldering expectations as heavy as that on any Canadian athlete. The most dominant skater on the planet for the past three years had the chance to rewrite history by becoming Canada's first-ever Olympic men's champion.

But it wasn't to be on a night Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu virtually handed Chan the gold and he couldn't grasp it. The 19-year-old Hanyu won, leaving Chan second.

While Canadian men have won 14 world titles, Olympic gold continues to elude them, and when Hanyu's coach Brian Orser embraced Chan after Saturday night's event, the coach knew exactly how Chan was feeling.

Orser finished second to Brian Boitano at the 1988 Calgary Games in the famous "Battle of the Brians" and has often talked about how it took him years to get over it.

"It may seem ridiculous that we're so tough on ourselves for winning a silver medal, but you train day in and day out to do that perfect skate, and you want it so badly and you think about it," Chan said. "I couldn't sleep last night. I probably had four or five hours of sleep because I was so busy thinking about those moments, those split second moments that could have changed everything."

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"Like Brian said, it's hard. It's going to take years for sure for me to go to bed and not think about it, not think about those split seconds that could have changed everything."

Chan said he could feel the pressure growing over the past three years — "maybe winning three world championships didn't help," he said with a half-hearted laugh.

He's had restless nights since arriving in Russia, lying awake and dreaming about what might be, fretting about what might never be.

"It's hard to sleep because you're constantly thinking, you're imagining the glory of winning gold and changing history and also you're fearing the possibility of not achieving that," he said. "But at the end of the day life goes on, I woke up this morning fine and I woke up alive and well."

Chan, who has had his sights set on Olympic gold since he finished fifth at the 2010 Vancouver Games, hasn't talked about whether he'll retire after Sochi. At just 23, there is potentially more room for improvement.

Right now, however, he's physically and emotionally drained. He can't even think as far ahead as next month's world championships, and whether he'll compete there.

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"Figure skating is a tough tough sport, competing is tough, days like yesterday sure don't make it easy in making a decision," Chan said.

He hasn't watched his long program from Saturday night — an uncharacteristically messy four-and-a-half minutes that saw him put his hands down on two jumps.

"Even when it's a great program, I don't tend to watch it right away," Chan said. "I don't know if I would be able to watch it seeing those mistakes and knowing those mistakes cost me the gold."

Chan is friends with American Jeremy Abbott, they train together in Detroit. The four-time U.S. figure skating champion praised Chan on Saturday night, saying "He's one of the hardest workers I've ever seen in my life. It's kind of intimidating watching him train. . . he's a beast."

Abbott suffered a similarly heartbreaking Olympics, falling hard in the short program to put him well out of contention. He finished well back in 12th, and afterward lashed out at reporters when asked what he would say to people who say he has a pattern of falling apart under the pressure.

"You know I just want to put my middle finger in the air and say a big, 'F-U,' to everyone who's ever said that to me," Abbott said. "Nobody has to stand centre ice in front of a million people and put an entire career on the line for eight minutes of their life when they've been doing it for 20 some years.

"And it you think that's not hard then you're a damn idiot. . ."

Chan said he agreed with Abbott's comments — "I don't know if I agree with the middle finger."

"We're looked at with a magnifying glass. It's very easy to watch from the outside and criticize. Once you're on that ice, you're by yourself. I wish everyone could experience what it feels like to be on that ice by yourself. You feel lonely and it's tough.

"It's very easy to say words to blast someone or say they're a choker or whatever, but I don't think it's fair to do that to us athletes who work so hard for so many years."

Chan said he's looking forward to being a fan for the remainder of the Games, and said being with his friends and teammates will help him deal with the disappointment.

"Just having people tell you they love you no matter what, and they have your back. . . that's how you get through it."

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