On Monday night in PyeongChang, Patrick Chan stood atop the podium with six teammates, proudly wearing an Olympic gold medal around his neck.
Emanating happiness and joy, he had left behind the skater who had the worst performance of his career at Skate Canada International in late October.
Earlier in the day, Chan had delivered a first-place free skate, helping to lock up the gold medal that had been a season-long goal for not only him, but also Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Kaetlyn Osmond, and Gabrielle Daleman.
But the journey to get there wasn’t an easy one.
In the months that followed his disastrous free skate in Regina, he withdrew from his second Grand Prix event and left his longtime training base in the Detroit area, instead settling into Vancouver and the peace that the surrounding mountains provided.
In January, he claimed his record 10th national title. But there was still work to be done if the three-time world champion wanted to become an Olympic champion.
“The stages of getting the national title, making the team, and then getting to the team event seemed so daunting and so far away and now standing here after all of that, I survived and I get to enjoy a gold medal,” Chan said. “It’s amazing how when you surround yourself with the right people, you can find a way to get it done and I think that’s something I can be proud of.”
In addition to his girlfriend Elizabeth, who has been there when he wanted to “rip things apart”, there are also his teammates, many of whom he has grown up alongside as they came up through the ranks together. After his short program didn’t go exactly as planned – he fell on both his triple Axel and quad toe loop – it was seeing his teammates smiling in the kiss and cry that kept him from over-analyzing what had happened.
That support followed through in the athletes’ village on the day before he would be getting back on competition ice.
“We were in the dining hall and (Eric) was like ‘I want you to know you do not owe us anything’ and that’s the best thing a teammate can say,” Chan said.
When he stepped onto the ice for his free skate, he was admittedly more nervous than he had been in a long time. But a conversation with himself calmed him down and he opened with two beautiful quad toes. Even when a couple of mistakes did happen, he was able to shift his elements around and add in the combos he needed so no points were left on the table.
“Patrick, I think proved something to himself today. Pretty special. I don’t want to rub it in everyone’s face, but I called that yesterday,” said Moir. “I’m really proud of Patrick because he didn’t have the fall (season) that he wanted and a lot of people have counted him out and then I think with that skate today, he puts his hat back in the ring.”
The bond between Moir, Virtue, and Chan is particularly special. It goes back before they earned the many accolades that have made them household names. In the mid-2000s, they were travelling the junior international circuit together, showing the promise of their great futures in the sport. In 2009, when Chan won his first world championship medal, Virtue and Moir were right there with a medal of their own. They became Olympians together at Vancouver 2010.
“We grew up together, we were teenagers together and it’s pretty special to be able to have teammates like that and share this experience with them,” said Moir.
“Outside of figure skating and outside the Olympics, we’ve lived our lives together for so many years. I’ve grown up and they’ve taught me so much as a person,” said Chan. “Look at where we are now, it’s quite a beautiful thing.”
For three years, Chan was the dominant men’s skater in the world; the first to successfully meld artistic presentation and technical excellence in the new quad age that followed Vancouver 2010. But when he came home from Sochi 2014 with two silver medals, there was that little bit of unfinished business.
It is unfinished no longer.
“At the end of the day, a medal is a medal. I’m going to hold this medal tight to me and it’s going to be as good as the individual event,” he said to anyone who might lessen the importance of the team gold. “We all worked really hard. We are a very tight knit group here in Canada as figure skaters and to me, that means more than winning a medal individually. We can now embrace each other and know that we collectively did something amazing.”