Published On: Sat, Jan 13th, 2018

Patrick Chan leads five-man race at Canadian figure skating championships

VANCOUVER—Five men separated by seven-and-a-half points.

Any one of them could emerge as Canada’s male figure skating champion on Saturday evening.

Any two of them could be going to the Olympics next month.

And any — several — from a cluster of teenagers just below the Alpha pack, already quad-cool, could put their stamp on the next generation of Canadian men’s skating.

When for certain it won’t be Patrick Chan and Kevin Reynolds one-two in the standings anymore, as they were on Saturday night after the short program competition; as they have been seemingly forever, or at least in a decade-long memory.

Not that they’ve worn out their welcome. Chan always brings the crowd to its feet, though he was unable to stay upright on his during the quite lovely “Dust in the Wind” program.

And Reynolds, the local boy, was given a warm welcome as he approaches what will surely be his competitive goodbye.

For Chan, these national championships are merely his second event of the season after he ditched the balance of Grand Prix campaign following a disastrous Skate Canada performance. Then he dumped his coaches. Then he moved out to the West Coast. Happy Patrick, to hear him tell it — happy off the ice anyway. Except his raison d’etre is still on the ice, at least for a few weeks longer, assuming the 27-year-old gets his ticket punched for Pyeongchang, a third Olympic Games, looking as quite something other than what he’d envisioned for a comeback.

Of course, rusty Chan, botchy Chan, is still compellingly watchable and worthy of high composition scores: 90.98 for the night’s work, comfortably clear of Reynolds’ 86.20 and Keegan Messing’s 85.65, yet well within catch-up range in the free skate. Ditto for Elladj Balde and Nam Nguyen, sitting fourth and fifth.

“It felt . . . different,” said Chan afterward. “If I look at it compared to Skate Canada, the feeling I had within my body was very different. Even the simple things like triple-Lutz/triple-toe, those things need to be automatic.

“But I think it’s just getting out to compete more. I’ll just make the best of today and tomorrow. I’m excited about tomorrow as opposed to dreading it.”

Reynolds, meanwhile, who’s always been a quad savant, was clearly over-pumped in front of a home audience and tripled his opening quad Salchow, though he reeled off a quad toe later in the “Moanin” routine.

“Neck-and-neck,” observed Reynolds of the heap atop of the men’s standings. “It’s the short program. You can lose in the short program but you can’t win it, for sure.” Meaning, the whole enchilada.

Messing, not often seen around this apex of the standings, was thrilled with an interim bronze showing, if annoyed about tripling down his own opening quad toe combination.

“I went into it very powerful, I had high hopes,” he said. “Right off the bat I tripled my quad and just from there I fought. Every performance aspect of my whole performance was then amplified. I wanted to make up every point that I possibly could after that major mistake.

“When I finished my program, the crowd started standing up and they really just made me feel at home.”

That crowd was wildly amused too by Nguyen, the former ’tweener phenom who has been fighting hard to elevate himself back into the elite mix after a foot growth spurt and deadened sensations about the sport he once loved so deeply.

The Ottawa-born 19-year-old, who now skates out of Richmond Hill, put together a beautiful performance, skated to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, tossing off a gorgeous quad Salchow-triple toe and good amplitude triple Axel to start. But he fell out of a triple Lutz. That’s why, at the end of the music, taking his bows, Nguyen made a pistol gesture out of each hand and put them to his temples.

“Just me being stupid, because of the Lutz. I was skating so well. I felt a little bit slow going into the Lutz. I thought I could muster it with a little bit of an extra push before it. In practice I could do it with no speed at all but competition is always different. I’m happy with everything but the Lutz.”

And sitting not so bad heading into the free.

“We’re all pretty close together in terms of points. So I’m not going to give up. Usually, to be honest, if I had a terrible skate after the short, I’d be like, ‘Why am I here?’ But I have motivation and this burns more fire in my stomach.’’

Some people call that an ulcer.

Postscript: Three teens turned clean quads: 13-year-old Stephen Gogolev, 16-year-old Joseph Phan and 18-year-old Roman Sadovsky from Toronto, who actually landed a pair of them.

The post-Chan era suddenly doesn’t look so bleak.

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Patrick Chan leads five-man race at Canadian figure skating championships