Patrick Chan of Canada celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's singles competition at the 2013 world figure skating championships in London, Ont., on Friday, March 15, 2013.
Photograph by: Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
LONDON, Ont. -- From the short end of the judging stick at Salt Lake City in 2002 -- after the conspiracy, but before the ISU owned up to it -- Canada's David Pelletier shrugged and said of the mysterious ways of figure skating: "You know, we can't control what we can't control. If I didn't want this to happen, I'd have gone down the hill on skis."
An American writer reminded me of this Saturday, as some papers in the United States were scathingly ripping the judges and mocking the "home-cooked" world championship Patrick Chan won Friday night.
The word "Chanflation" -- an old Internet chestnut first applied several years ago to the consistently high marks the 22-year-old Canadian gets for his program components -- actually appeared in headlines in some editions of the Los Angeles Times, and in a number of stories.
The kind of inflation Michelle Kwan could always count on, the 5.9 and 6.0 artistic marks, back in the day, my writer friend said, before memories got short.
So maybe not so much has changed, after all. Except that back then, nobody was drawing a parallel between the malfeasance of judges and the popularity of the sport. American women were strong, and so were attendance and TV ratings. All was ducky.
It wasn't killing figure skating when an American was the beneficiary.
Even in the new scoring system, the judges can still fudge the second set of marks. If it's not along nationality lines so much any more, they can still be carried away by their hearts, by the connection they feel with a skater, by the "soul" -- as Chan put it Saturday -- of the program.
It was evident in the propping up of Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, four-time world pairs champions, who had two poor performances here and still finished second.
And it was a factor, if not the deciding one, in Chan's win.
Did he wake up, on the morning after the night before, feeling guilty about having hung on by his fingernails to a slender 1.3-point victory over Kazakhstan's Denis Ten, avoiding what surely would have ranked among the greatest upsets in figure skating's history?
"I went to bed a bit bummed," he said, in a gathering with a handful of media people. "I can't imagine if I didn't win a gold medal, how much worse I'd feel. But I truly believe I deserved to win."
Chan, who skated magnificently in the short program Wednesday, setting a world record for points, took a seven-point cushion into the free skate and needed almost all of it to withstand the challenge from the 19-year-old Ten.
After opening with two perfect quads, the first in combination with a triple toe loop, Chan had a series of mistakes, including falls on a triple Axel and triple Lutz, and barely survived to win his third consecutive world title.
"I deserve it," he said. "I'd be more than happy to explain why. I think people ask because they don't understand figure skating. That it's not all about jumps.
"It's totally understandable that people have their doubts. You look at hockey, it's simple: score one goal more than the other team, you win, while figure skating is a little more subjective."
Asked if he was the kind of guy who chafed at negative reviews, he said:
"I think people forget that it's a two-part event. Why would someone say something like that? It's the most ignorant thing you could say.
"It's easy to judge what we do as athletes when you're sitting in front of computer writing an article as opposed to being there. It's really humbling, standing out there by yourself in front of thousands of people, it's very vulnerable, and I don't think any journalist can experience that.
"I would for sure admit that I didn't skate my best but ... Chanflation? I don't believe in it. I think if they have a problem with it, they should talk to the judges and not blame me. I'm just going out there trying to do my job.
"If I gave my own marks, I definitely would criticize myself a lot more, but that's just the perfectionist in me. But I deserved every point that I got, and worked hard for it.''
Those who defend Chan's victory say he won it on the strength of the seven-point cushion, and the opening quads in the long.
"If I go back and study it, I think that the amount of time I've fallen, and combine both the short and long programs, and count the number of mistakes I made, I don't think I made more than Denis did or Javier (Fernandez, bronze medallist) did or anyone," he said.
"I think they're just looking at the long program by itself and just the mistakes I made on that day."
He said that he left the door open, and the onus was on his opponents to take advantage.
"Obviously, I gave them the opportunity. I skated third (in the last flight). Denis could have won it, and I think he made one or two mistakes in his program and (the winning margin) was one point -- he could have done it. And I'm sure he's kicking himself today.
"It was one point. There was no inflation. If there had been inflation, maybe I'd have had a 10-point lead after the (short). I had a great skate in the short program, and yet Denis had it. He just didn't capitalize."
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