Toronto • When Patrick Chan was a young boy, the first thing he’d do when he arrived for skating lessons at Toronto’s Granite Club was scan the rink for his coach.
Chan always half hoped Osborne Colson wouldn’t be there. His heart sank every time he was.
More than a decade later and now a three-time world champion, Chan thinks back fondly to the eccentric coach he calls "scary strict," the man he credits with making him a complete skater.
Colson died in 2006 with the Chan family at his bedside. But the coach’s presence is felt in every powerful push of Chan’s blades against the ice.
Sitting in the dressing room of a Toronto rink, Chan laughs about how much he used to dread his lessons with the crusty coach who died at 90.
"I’d think, ‘I hope I don’t get the first lesson,’ because if you were the first lesson, there was a lot of pressure riding on you," Chan told The Canadian Press. "If you put him in a bad mood, if you didn’t skate well, if he wasn’t happy with you, then everyone else’s lesson would be miserable. I got used to being under a lot of pressure and being in scary, nerve-racking situations."
There will be plenty of pressure at the Sochi Games, where Chan will be seeking Canada’s first Olympic gold in men’s singles. Brian Orser and Elvis Stojko each won two Olympic silver medals; Jeffrey Buttle and Toller Cranston each won bronze.
Chan is the Olympic favorite. Colson is one of the biggest reasons why.
"The way that Patrick is able to edge and turn and then suddenly go into a jump and come out, and do this and do that, his agility on the ice, that is all Mr. Colson," said choreographer David Wilson, who was also coached by Colson. "Patrick was literally trained by Mr. Colson from (the beginning), so his entire vision and evolution was poured into this boy.
"I said to Patrick, ‘You know, you were the skater that we all tried to be for Mr. Colson but we weren’t good enough.’ Finally Mr. Colson found someone that was good enough to manifest his vision."
Chan’s free program, which opens with two quad jumps, is a nod to the man who molded his skating career. There are signature Colson movements "that I hated, absolutely hated when I was younger," Chan said. "But now that I’m more experienced and more mature, I’m able to do these movements much better."
The 23-year-old skater originally had visions of being a hockey player. His mom enrolled him in speed skating in Ottawa at age 4, then signed him up for figure skating at 5 when the family moved to Toronto.
"There have been times that I’ve got mad at my mom for not putting me into hockey," Chan said. "But my mom wanted me to keep my teeth, so that’s one bonus. And I’m not big enough to be a hockey player; if I was 6-feet tall, maybe.
"Basically that means I was born to do what I do. My body was built to be a figure skater, and not a hockey player. I don’t think I would be at the highest level if I had been a hockey player, so you just identify what’s best for you, and figure skating was my path."
Chan won Canadian titles at pre-novice, novice and junior levels with Colson as his coach. He finished seventh in his first Canadian senior championship in 2006, then fifth. He has been unbeatable in Canada since, winning seven consecutive national crowns.
He finished fifth in 2010 in Vancouver. In the months leading to the games, Chan injured his calf and changed coaches, from Don Laws, whom he first met at Colson’s funeral, to Christy Krall. Chan also couldn’t execute a quad then. He has since added the four-revolution jump, which has made him virtually unbeatable when he lands it. And he almost always does.
He switched coaches again, from Krall to Kathy Johnston following the 2012 worlds, then last spring abruptly moved from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Detroit. He grew up on the drive east.
"That drive," he said, "was my bridge from being a dependent athlete to being an independent athlete who is responsible."
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