Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 9, because Patrick Chan is a winning machine
In France at the end of March, Patrick Chan, the 21-year-old figure-skating phenom, successfully defended his world championship title in spectacular fashion. Near the beginning of his long program, he executed two flawless quad jumps, only to fall toward the end on a relatively easy double Axel. That he won anyway is a testament to his supreme talent. Chan is the perfect skating package: strength and athleticism combined with artistry and grace. Kurt Browning called him the best skater he’s ever seen.
He has won the Canadian championships five years running, and yet he isn’t a household name. Unfortunately for Chan, he’s at the top of his sport just as it’s grappling with plunging popularity—at least in North America. At its peak in the mid-’90s—a rise that began with the battle of the Brians (Orser and Boitano) and culminated in the soap opera–esque rivalry between Americans Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan—skating was one of the most watched sports on television. Orser, Browning and Elvis Stojko formed a Canadian dynasty, ruling the international podium over a 13-year period. They turned their on-ice success into lucrative off-ice endorsement deals and TV specials. But a judging controversy at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics confirmed fans’ suspicions that the sport was rigged, and the result of that controversy—a new scoring system—has made it more difficult for individual skaters to dominate. With a different world champion every year, it’s harder for skaters to build their fan base and attract big sponsorship dollars.
Chan may be the guy to change all that. Currently, his family struggles to cover his training costs, relying heavily on online grassroots fundraising. When Chan is in Toronto (he now trains in Colorado), he lives with his parents in a one-bedroom condo. But with his awesome skill and aw-shucks charm (he won over the crowd at the World Championships in France when he spoke perfect French in a post-competition interview), he’s just the type of athlete a breakfast cereal or car company could get behind. Especially if he manages to stay on top of the podium right through the Sochi Olympics in 2014, as is his goal. The International Skating Union should follow the example of other sports federations and start promoting the hell out of its top athletes. If they do, it’s hard to imagine a better ambassador than Patrick Chan.