OTTAWA â€” Patrick Chan was just 16 years old the last time he skated on the TD Place Arena Ice, finishing seventh at the Canadian figure skating championship.
He won gold two years later, the first of eight Canadian senior titles he would reel off as one of the country’s most decorated and dominant skaters.
Chan laughingly said his 16-year-old self could never have seen it coming.
“Not at all, it’s gone by very fast. That’s the first thing,” Chan said. “It’s the perfect example of: you never know what can happen. And it’s not so much I imagined being here defending my title for this long, it’s more the amazement of having kind of overcome some real downs and ups and downs and ups, and realizing that’s all part of the process.
“When you’re 16, you’re riding on a real high, and everything seems to be working perfectly.”
Chan is poised to tie the Canadian record of nine titles won by Montgomery Wilson between 1929 and 1939. He has stayed away from setting performance goals this season, although admits the Canadian championships are a different story.
“I don’t like to plant the seed of: I’ve got to win this event. Or any event, in particular. It’s really against my philosophy for this year,” Chan said. “But nationals, I do hold myself at a higher standard.
“And nine titles would be really nice in order to set myself up for the even number of 10, it would be cool to have that going into the Olympics.”
Thinking back to the 2006 event, Chan found himself pining for the younger version himself. Competing was certainly more carefree.
“I see this with some of the younger skaters internationally,” Chan said. “That’s the best time to compete, when you’re 16, 17, because you’re not as aware of the expectations and what everything feels. You’re just so more self-aware as you get older, that it actually hinders you when you go to competition. You lose that liberty and the freedom of just going and not caring about results and what you look like or what you do.”
He sees it in his training partner Nathan Chen. The 17-year-old American won silver at the Grand Prix Final in December, while Chan fell three times in the long program to tumble down to fifth place.
“He’s the perfect example of that,” Chan said. “Shoma (Uno, of Japan) is a great one too. I use the example of Grand Prix Final. Practices kind of falling all over the place. And then long program just nails it, like nothing happened. I’m trying to tap into that. Back to my 16-year-old self I guess.”
The Toronto skater made the crowd gasp in his practice session Friday, when he hit the boards. The collision sounded worse than it was though, as he skated on as if nothing had happened.
“I lost track of space. But that’s what practices are for, to get your bearings,” he said, laughing. “It hasn’t happened since I was like 16.”
He fell hard on a quadruple toe-loop, but bounced back to unleash a huge quad Salchow less than a minute later.
The three-time world champion, who stepped away from the sport for a season after his heartbreaking silver-medal performance at the Sochi Olympics, returned in hopes of capturing gold next year in Pyeongchang.
He was asked about leaving a legacy in the sport, and of the skaters such as Brian Orser, Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko before him.
“They’re like mythological gods to me,” he said. “I remember watching in my living room, watching Elvis, that’s etched in my mind, Nagano when he kind of fought through the long program (to win silver at the 1998 Olympics). He was in tremendous pain. And that sticks in my mind.
“I hope that I don’t have a dramatic ending to the Olympics like Elvis, but I hope that somehow I can affect the younger skaters, the younger generation in a positive manner as Elvis did for me, and Kurt.”
One of those young skaters is Nam Nguyen. The 18-year-old won the world junior title in 2014, but struggled the last two seasons as he sprouted up almost a foot in height.
He left Orser, his coach, last summer and relocated from Toronto to San Jose to train with David Glynn. But he recently moved back to Toronto, and is training at the York Regional Skating Academy with coaches Tracey Wainman and Gregor Filipowski.
“It was fun (in San Jose), but it was definitely difficult for me. I don’t think I felt ready to be out there by myself,” Nguyen said.
He’s optimistic that he’s stopped growing.
“Yeah I’ve stopped growing, I’ve stopped. . . Even if I’m still growing I’m going to believe I’ve stopped because physically I feel great right now, and mentally I’m in the right place,” Nguyen said. “I just really want to be my best and show everyone I’m confident and that I want to show them there’s something different about me, but in a positive way obviously.”
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press