The easiest assumption to make about Patrick Chan is that he’s returning to competition to win an Olympic gold medal.
It might be the assumption you want to believe and it’s simply not true.
“I’m not really coming back because I want to win, the only gold medal that I’m missing is the Olympics,” said Chan who will compete in this weekend’s Skate Canada International, his first competition since winning silver at Sochi 2014.
“I’m not going to make a decision to come back just because of that, that’s the worst circumstance in which I come back,” said Chan, who wasn’t sure about the whole thing in the first place.
For 15 months after Sochi the 24-year-old was given what elite athletes crave: freedom from the confines of an arresting schedule.
For a time he skated much less and explored a lot. He went skydiving with Joannie Rochette and surfing in Costa Rica. “It taught me to just go for things and enjoy the moment,” he says, even adding a business project by lending his name to an ice wine.
Life knocked him around a little; in December of 2014 a long-term relationship ended. “There’s nothing worse than holiday time to realize how alone you are. During Christmas and over my birthday I had times where I felt very much alone and very much lost,” said Chan, born on New Year’s Eve.
“If I had to deal with the things I had to deal with…if it was a competitive year, the way I would have done competitively would have suffered quite a bit” – Patrick Chan
Sometimes personal crises evoke a dialogue about more than the source of the turmoil and Chan leaned on his coach Kathy Johnson. “We talked quite often over the phone just about what my purpose was, including am I going to come back next year or not,” he said.
And Patrick Chan is coming back, not for a gold medal, not out of loneliness. “I really missed structure,” he says, trying to describe a desire which is probably too subtle for words. “I wasn’t ready to just pack up my bags and leave competitive figure skating,” he attempts.
In the spring he joined Stars on Ice and living “out of my suitcase” performed almost 40 shows across Japan, the USA, and Canada. It was “so much fun” and “like a vacation”, it was pure performance, no points, no pressure.
By June, he was training full-time. He went to Toronto to develop his programs with renowned choreographer David Wilson. He lost weight and had to re-learn his quad and triple Axel.
“There were definitely moments where I’m like ‘What the hell am I doing? Why am I even trying to come back?’ I’ve achieved enough accolades and awards and won enough competitions in my career,” says Chan.
Which again stirs the question why, in late-October, the three-time world champion is preparing for a full schedule including Skate Canada, Trophee Eric Bompard in November and the national championships in January, at the very least.
“I want to be so successful that I can change the sport for the better and make people know figure skating and understand figure skating better,” he answers.