Skip to content

Men’s figure skating preview: Can Patrick Chan end ‘Canadian curse’?

Feb 13, 2014, 9:15 AM EDT

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwmzyte5zgm3otg3yjq3ymfinjkxota5ywe1zdrkowu51 AP

SOCHI, Russia – If the pressure to win an Olympic gold medal wasn’t enough for 22-year-old Patrick Chan, the Canadian has a long-standing curse that many are expecting him to break here Friday night in the men’s free skate, as well.

Four Canadians before him have won a combined nine world championships gold medals, but none of them have come away with that coveted Olympic gold, dating back to Brian Orser’s infamous loss to American Brian Boitano in 1988. The “Canadian curse,” it’s called.

That Chan is the three-time reigning world champion should make things easier, not harder, but his wins bring Canada’s world gold haul to 12 in total, but can he be the first to come away with an Olympic gold?

RELATED: Chan: Plushenko has ‘earned his spot’ in Sochi

“Chan is the heavy favorite because he’s won everything up to these Games,” said 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, a contributor for the “TODAY Show.” “So we’ll see if he can keep it together. But they always talk about the curse on the world champion going into the Olympics, and that could weigh on him. I sure hope not, though.”

Chan hopes not, as well. Below, a breakdown on the men’s singles event, from Chan’s chances to a rising star known as Yuzuru Hanyu, Spain’s unlikely star, a Russian legacy continued and two American longshots.

Chan’s Chances
Pressure was mounted on the slight shoulders of an 18-year-old Chan at the 2010 Vancouver Games after the Canadian had been a silver medalist at the World Championships the year before. But the teenager was hobbled by injury, and later admitted to being hobbled by the pressure of the home crowd. He finished fifth.

Since then, however, the quad-jumping, Detroit-based skater has been virtually unbeatable, winning the World Championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and capturing gold in 11 of 16 international competitions he’s entered. The Ottawa native set a world record score in November, but has otherwise struggled over the last twelve months, including at the most recent Worlds, where he fell twice in the free skate and barely hung on to gold, a win that detractors pinned to the “Chan-flation” of his scores.

He again struggled in the short program of last week’s team event (in which Canada won silver), placing third behind Hanyu and Plushenko in that segment of the event.

“Chan knows that his team short program score was reflective of the errors that he made out on the ice,” said Lysacek, who ended his attempt at a comeback for Sochi in December. “That was uncharacteristic for Patrick, especially in the short program. It might be good for him in the sense that he feels like he didn’t waste it, or leave his best skating in the team event. Chan has been very vocal about the individual medal – he wasn’t worried about the individual event – he wants that gold on his own.”

Brian’s Boys
The pair of skaters who are most likely to challenge Chan for the gold medal happen to train in Canada, where Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and Spaniard Javier Fernandez live and work in Toronto with former world champion Orser, who helped Yuna Kim to her record-breaking gold medal at the Vancouver Games.

Hanyu has been a teenager on the rise over the last two years, the world junior champion in 2010 capturing his second straight national gold this past year and, at 19, winning the all-important Grand Prix Final in December, winning a gold over Chan for the first time in his career.

RELATED: Hanyu wants to make history | Fernandez skates for Spain

“Hanyu has burst onto the scene in a big way by beating Chan at the Grand Prix Final,” Lysacek said. “But he’s been very consistent and was far and away the best in the team short program and has been looking the best in practice. He’s young. I don’t know if he’s not feeling pressure or he’s just so good at dealing with it but it’ll be interesting to see how he takes that momentum from the team event into the individual competition.”

While Hanyu had the team event to get warm, two-time European champion Fernandez did not. The 22-year-old has been a breakout star for Spain, moving to the U.S. five years ago to train in New Jersey before joining forces with Orser – and in effect, Hanyu – after placing 17th at the Vancouver Games.

“Javier is in that mix,” Lysacek added. “There are just so many top-ranked guys, this is a deep field. This is going to come down to who can perform on the Olympic stage.”

Plushenko’s Final Push
A skater that has proved himself time and time again on the Olympic stage is 31-year-old Yevgeny Plushenko, who helped Russia to a team-event gold medal by performing solidly in both programs, particularly the free skate – which he won.

Petrenko has a record-tying four Olympic medals to his name, including individual podiums in Salt Lake (silver), Torino (gold) and Vancouver (silver). While he’s not favored to nab a medal here, he checked off every box he needed to in the team event, hitting his quadruple jumps and bringing the Russian crowd into his performances.

RELATED: Olympics’ opening night belonged to Yevgeny

“Everyone is talking about Yevgeny Plushenko and speculating whether he’ll be able to keep his condition up through the team and individual events,” said Lysacek, who beat Plushenko for gold in Vancouver. “In the team event he won the free skate, and you can’t really argue with that because it’s the more physically demanding of the two.”

American Longshots
At 28 and 19, American hopes Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown at the opposite end of the Olympic spectrum, Abbott saying he’ll call it a career after this season and Brown expressing hope to skate in not one but two more Games.

While Abbott has all the tools to be in medal contention, but has famously froze on the international stage. The four-time national champion was ninth at the Vancouver Games and hasn’t placed inside the top five at the World Championships in four appearances.

RELATED: Abbott moves out of Village for ultimate focus

“Jeremy had a really good skate at Nationals,” Lysacek said. “A short program like he had in Boston would put him in the mix; it would put him in the skating final group.”

Brown, however, lacks a quad jump and will need to be near-perfect in both his programs to help him contend. He’d need a near-repeat (or even better) of his viral performance of his “Riverdance” free skate from Nationals last month.

“For Jason, overall, he has the capability to post a high score, but I don’t know if it will be with the top guys in the world,” Lysacek said. “He’s fresh on the international scene and a newcomer here, but either way it’s great experience for Jason.”

Keep an Eye On
Japan has the best depth of any team in the world, with Tatsuki Machida and Daisuke Takahashi joining Hanyu in the men’s event. Takahashi was a bronze medalist at the Vancouver Games, and – like Abbott – has the tools to score big when he’s on.

Yan Han, an 18-year-old from China, could be in the mix, as well, as could Denis Ten, the 2013 world silver medalist who has dealt with injury this season. Michal Brezina is coached by former Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko and Brian Joubert, a former world champion, competes in his swan song competition at age 29.

The Last Word
“If everyone skates their best, it would come down to Hanyu and Chan,” Lysacek said. “They are so different and I think the judges really like that. It’s hard to compare them because they have different strengths and very few key weaknesses. It’s all so complex what the judges are looking for. They’re both aggressive, fast skaters, but I would say that Chan overall has more finesse and valuable experience. If it comes down to the Grades of Execution like it did in Vancouver, in that case I would have to give it to Chan.”

Latest Posts
  1. U.S. flag bearer Kendall Yount wins Youth Olympic gold

    Aug 21, 2014, 6:08 PM EDT

    Kendall Yount Getty Images

    A U.S. Summer Olympic Opening Ceremony flag bearer hasn’t won individual Olympic gold since 1960.

  2. Sam Mikulak leads one of most decorated P&G Championships fields ever

    Aug 21, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT

    Sam Mikulak AP

    Four past U.S. all-around champions are in the field in Pittsburgh.

  3. Allyson Felix beats Tori Bowie in Stockholm

    Aug 21, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT

    Allyson Felix Getty Images

    Also, a rare defeat for Olympic pole vault champion.

  4. Gabby Douglas plans on fall training camp, 2015 Secret Classic

    Aug 21, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT

    Gabby Douglas Getty Images

    Olympic all-around champion says she’ll stay in Columbus through 2016 Olympics.

  5. Katie Ledecky wins 2 Pan Pacs titles; Missy Franklin places 3rd

    Aug 21, 2014, 11:26 AM EDT

    Katie Ledecky AP

    Ledecky nearly broke another world record.

  6. Frenchman wins Youth Olympics dunk contest gold medal

    Aug 21, 2014, 9:53 AM EDT

    Basketball

    NBA legends channeled; Olympic silver medalist on judging panel.

  7. Youth Olympics shooter oversleeps, misses chance at medal

    Aug 21, 2014, 7:49 AM EDT

    Youth Olympics Pistol Getty Images

    Ukrainian’s error costs Moldovan teammate a shot at the podium.

  8. Missy Franklin overcomes back injury to qualify for Pan Pacs final

    Aug 20, 2014, 11:59 PM EDT

    Missy Franklin Getty Images

    U.S. star first suffered back spasms at Tuesday practice.

  9. Simone Biles a tall favorite at P&G Championships; women’s preview

    Aug 20, 2014, 5:44 PM EDT

    Simone Biles Getty Images

    Defending champion feels no added pressure despite seeing her face all around Pittsburgh.

  10. Jennie Finch, Lisa Fernandez weigh in on Mo’ne Davis

    Aug 20, 2014, 3:56 PM EDT

    Jennie Finch Getty Images

    Would Davis excel in softball if she tried it?

  11. France, Australia win first Youth Olympic rugby titles

    Aug 20, 2014, 9:23 AM EDT

    Rugby Getty Images

    First medals awarded on an Olympic stage in rugby since 1924.

  12. London Olympian wins historic bronze at Youth Olympics (video)

    Aug 20, 2014, 8:46 AM EDT

    Lily Zhang Getty Images

    Lily Zhang scored a breakthrough for U.S. table tennis.

  13. U.S. Youth Olympic swimmers teammates now, college roommates later (video)

    Aug 20, 2014, 8:28 AM EDT

    Hannah Moore Getty Images

    Gold medalists Hannah Moore and Clara Smiddy will go from Nanjing to Ann Arbor.

  14. Pan Pacific Championships men’s events preview

    Aug 20, 2014, 8:04 AM EDT

    Nathan Adrian, James Magnussen Getty Images

    U.S. vs. Australia in sprint head to head; outlook for Phelps and Lochte.

  15. Michael Phelps scratches first two events of Pan Pacs

    Aug 20, 2014, 5:34 AM EDT

    Michael Phelps Getty Images

    Phelps’ debut in Australia pushed back to Friday.

  16. Missy Franklin (back) in doubt for Pan Pacific Championships

    Aug 20, 2014, 5:08 AM EDT

    Missy Franklin Getty Images

    Video of Franklin being gingerly helped away from the pool.

  17. Michael Phelps takes on vocal leader role in Australia

    Aug 19, 2014, 3:06 PM EDT

    Michael Phelps Getty Images

    Phelps also reflects on his first Olympics, also in Australia.