VANCOUVER - Patrick Chan says the pressure to win the Olympic gold in Russia four months hence will be a fraction of what it was in Canada in 2010.
And it’s good that he thinks so, because if he still feels this way in February, perhaps he will sail through his programs without labouring under its weight.
But like the Canadian hockey teams, like the curlers -- and unlike any other Olympians we send to Sochi -- to be a Canadian male figure skater, a world champion, let alone a three-time and reigning champion heading into a Winter Games, is to experience the kind of expectation of greatness that never goes away until it’s over, for better or worse.
Whether it’s balmy Vancouver or balmier Sochi, the venue is incidental.
Our guys good at this -- 12 world titles since 1987 says so -- and they’re supposed to produce.
Lose the luge, too bad. Imbed the bobsled, so sad. Come up short in short track, muff the moguls, err in aerials, ski off-course, lose a pole in cross-country, life goes on.
But the Brian Orsers, the Kurt Brownings, the Elvis Stojkos, the Patrick Chans of figure skating fame get no such free pass.
No Canadian world champion male figure skater has ever followed up on the big stage. Not Donald Jackson or Don McPherson. Not Orser or Browning or Stojko or Jeff Buttle.
Browning had won three in a row leading into Albertville in 1992, hurt his back, missed the Olympic podium, then won his fourth world title in 1993, the year before the Lillehammer Olympics, but finished up the track in Norway, too.
Stojko won three titles in a four-year span leading into Nagano in 1998, and finished second on a torn-up groin.
And as time goes on, and the carnage mounts, the compulsion to bust the jinx becomes more insistent.
Orser stared down the barrel in 1988 at a home Olympics and skated beautifully; just an ounce less beautifully than Brian Boitano, who won the gold.
And so it’s Patrick Chan’s turn to look it in the eye and try not to flinch.
Deep down, Chan -- the 22-year-old who won his third consecutive world title last March in London, Ont. -- knows that Russia isn’t really going to be less pressure, just a slightly less virulent strain.
His quest resumes next week in Saint John, N.B., at Skate Canada International, the second stop (his first) on the ISU’s 2013-14 Grand Prix circuit -- and an early for-real test of Chan’s short and long programs.
“Honestly, Sochi’s a whole different type of pressure,” Chan said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “Vancouver ... I put that pressure on myself, like it would be the dream of all dreams to win an Olympic gold medal at home, and hear your anthem played in your home country.
“Sochi’s different. I’m going in as the three-time world champion and you put those expectations on yourself. You hear all the talk: Is this the year he’s not going to put it together and be dethroned, or is this year he stomps down and makes a statement and says yes, I deserve to be a world and Olympic champion?’
“I think I have many more tools going into Sochi to overcome those pressures. Not to say I won’t be nervous; of course I’ll be nervous. But hopefully doing these Grand Prixs -- Skate Canada and Paris and the Grand Prix final -- will kind of get me in the groove.”
Chan’s run-up to the 2010 Olympics was, let’s say, fraught with a combination of bad luck and awful timing. A month before the Games opened, his longtime coach Don Laws informed Skate Canada that owing to a new opportunity at a skating complex in Florida, he would be unable to train Chan properly for the Games.
Chan, then 19, was out of his comfort zone with the biggest competition of his life a few weeks away.
“It was a combination of things. In Vancouver I was inexperienced, No. 1, and had come back from a calf injury that took a lot of time from training -- then of course the coaching change going from Don to Christy Krall was a huge, unexpected change. It wasn’t like it was my choice, I was kind of thrown into that situation.
“So a lot of new things came in at the wrong time and, looking back on Vancouver, I think coming fifth at a home Games was really, really good considering all the circumstances I had to weave my way around.”
Which is why he has chosen to simplify his life, sharpen his focus, eliminate as many distractions as he can, all in pursuit of the one bauble no Canadian man has ever worn around his neck.
The Detroit Skating Club -- where he trained in the weeks leading up to last year’s worlds, because he felt “unmotivated” in Colorado Springs -- is home now. There, instead of “25 people on the ice at the same time, which was insane,” he’s skating with perhaps seven others. Surrounded by the photos of former world champions Todd Eldredge and Tara Lipinski, he’s got company current elite skaters like American Jeremy Abbott, Elladj Balde, who was fourth at the last two Canadian championships, Valentina Marchei of Italy and Canadian ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.
He’ll stick with his world-record short program from last season -- Rachmaninoff’s Elegie in E-Flat Minor -- and will do a medley of pieces from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for his free skate, reprising some favourite moments from his skates in 2008 and 2009.
Nothing outrageous, no new jumps.
“This isn’t the year to do that,” he said.
“The summer’s been pretty uneventful compared to the last couple of years. Kathy (Johnson, his coach) and I really decided not to take any vacations, really tone down on media, train in one place for several weeks consecutively, and just focus on being in the right mental space and let the body do the rest.”
That was part of what Sidney Crosby told him when they talked on the phone prior to Chan’s skate in Vancouver.
“We train every day to build an automatic pilot,” said Chan, whose trainer, Andy O’Brien, also works with Crosby. “And in order to initiate that auto pilot, you have to know this isn’t the end of the world.”
It will only feel that way, if it goes sideways in Sochi.
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