A little-known fact about Patrick Chan is that when he takes the ice, he usually does so wearing socks dappled with holes. It's not intentional – like a good-luck charm he clings to – he just never seems to remember to grab new socks when his old ones wear out from training.
"I always have holes in my socks. It's so annoying," Chan says. "Every time I put my socks on, I'm like, god, I've got to get new socks because this is annoying. My toe's sticking out, it's so uncomfortable. But then I put them in the skate and move them around and I'm like, okay. I'm okay."
When Chan took to the ice this weekend for the Skate Canada International Grand Prix, the first major competition of the figure skating season, the holes in his socks were the least of his concerns.
In the minutes before his long program in Saint John on Saturday night, Chan was more focused on finding the holes in his program.
With just over three months to go until the Sochi Olympics, there is precious little time for skaters to work out any wrinkles in their routines. And the long program has always given Chan problems, especially last season. So even though he carried a convincing lead after Friday's short program, Chan admits he felt nervous before the free skate.
His routine is heavy on complex jumps and footwork – two of his strong suits. But after suffering through an inconsistent season last year, Chan couldn't help wonder if this season, the year he seems destined to challenge for Olympic gold, will be different. If he is to become the first Canadian male figure skater to win the gold, it is the long program he must conquer.
"I kept thinking about the long programs I have had in the past, and I don't have the best track record with the long program," Chan said. "I was nervous, honestly."
It took mere seconds for Chan to prove his self-doubt wrong. He nailed his first quads in the first minute and he went on to a near flawless routine, missing only on a triple axel, which he under-rotated. Chan's total score for the weekend of 262.03 points took first place easily, well ahead of his closest competitors, Yuzuri Hanyu and Nobunari Oda of Japan, who scored a distant 234.8 and 233 points, respectively.
"I could just feel like my breath slowed down and my shoulders dropped," Chan said of the moment he nailed the two jumps. "I felt much more relaxed."
If Chan exhaled this weekend, so did the Canadian figure skating team as a whole. The sight of some of Canada's biggest gold medal contenders winning their events will no doubt help ease some of the pressure of the next few months. Nearly all of Canada's teams responded to their first big test of the year as hoped. Defending Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir placed first in the ice dance, followed by fellow Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who barged their way up to second place.
The only rough patches came in the pairs event, where Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, expected podium contenders in Sochi, slipped to third place after missing a lift in their free skate. And Kaetlyn Osmond, who at 17 is the youngest member of the contingent for Sochi, was forced to pull out of the long program because of a hamstring injury. She sat fifth after the short program.
"I'm obviously disappointed," said Osmond, who had a breakout season last year, putting her on the radar for Sochi. "It is an injury that I've had before, a few years ago. And it sometimes comes back, but not this badly."
Osmond's injury is a concern, particularly since she has also battled an ankle problem in recent weeks. But the sense of relief around Canada's squad was palpable, now that the first test of the year has been passed. After the ice dance, Virtue called the performance reassuring. "How we performed our free dance... was just about where we want to be for this point in the season. It really sets the tone for the Grand Prix circuit," Virtue said.