QUEBEC CITY, Que. - Patrick Chan insists he's never considered switching allegiances to China, and any disparaging remarks about figure skating in Canada were made in a moment of emotion after visiting his parents' homeland.
The 20-year-old from Toronto apologized to fans Thursday for his comments that were perceived as comparing Canada unfavourably to China, remarks that have landed the reigning world champion in hot water at the ISU Grand Prix Final.
Chan told Reuters in an interview conducted last June, for a story that was published this week, that he feels skaters aren't appreciated in Canada and that he is becoming increasingly drawn to his Chinese heritage.
"First of all I'd like to apologize, it's not very me to say those types of things, and I know that it was a mistake and it was certainly taken out of context," Chan told about two dozen reporters Thursday at Pavillon de la Jeunesse.
"I had just come back from China at the time when that interview was taken. I spent the entire month of May in Asia, it was only my second time there and I really got a chance to see where my parents came from. I had lost touch being in Canada for so long. I was kind of caught up in the moment and I was just expressing my opinion just fresh from experiencing something magnificent."
He also expressed disappointment that the sport doesn't enjoy the spotlight like it did back in the 1990s when Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko were household names, and that it's disheartening the sport will always take a backseat to hockey in Canada.
Six months later, Chan said he didn't even remember the June interview, and that he couldn't recall exactly what the intended meaning of his comments were. He said he was to blame for not explaining himself better.
"Regret or not doesn't really matter, whatever was said was said, the only thing I could have done was be a little more precise in what I had said," Chan said. "Unfortunately people will have their own opinion. It was my mistake, I should have been a bit more precise and a bit more professional."
Chan, who set three world records en route to winning gold at the world championships last spring, said he's proud to compete for Canada and never considered competing for China.
"It's a quick conclusion that people made and that was my fault because I wasn't giving very detailed comments on the interviews, it was very general what I said so it gave (readers) the chance to take it out of context and interpret it themselves," he said. "It's a learning experience."
The defending Grand Prix Final champion and said he doesn't believe the controversy will affect his performance on the ice, and as if to prove it, looked rock solid in training Thursday. He received a healthy dose of applause when he pushed on to the ice for his practice, and then laid down several stunning jumps, including a huge quadruple toe loop followed by a triple.
Chan said he can use the distraction as a good lesson on remaining focused.
"You always have some kind of distraction whether it's your girlfriend or your family but once I step on the ice it doesn't really matter," Chan said. "I'm there by myself, I'm just skating to be kind of free. It's kind of cliche, but it's time to let everything go and focus on feeling, feeling the ice with my feet. . ."
The young Canadian skater, who turns 21 on New Year's Eve, admitted he was hurt by some of the scathing comments posted about him on the Internet. Someone offered to pay for his plane ticket to China. Another writer was surprised Chan might side with a country accused of human rights violations.
"I try not to (read comments) because I get really upset, I get sad, I'm the type of person who likes to please everybody so when I can't please everybody, it's a bit of downer," Chan said. "But I can't do anything about it, that's opinions and there's a lot of people with different personalities out there who read something and think about it in a different way than let's say my parents.
"I just hope I gain their trust again sometime. The trick is to forget what's happening off the ice, and on the ice you appreciate what I'm doing, not who I am."
This wasn't the first time Chan has raised eyebrows by something he's said. At the world championships in 2009, he was embroiled in a war of words with Brian Joubert of France over the quad jump, and found himself in the middle of that controversy again at the Vancouver Olympics.
Chan lamented the lack of attention for the sport in Canada, saying it doesn't enjoy the spotlight quite like it did in the 1990s when Canadian fans toasted Stojko and Browning, and Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan provided high drama.
"I hope we do see it again, it was quite amazing back then from what I hear," Chan said. "Look what we talk about nowadays, we talk about when Elvis skated, when Kurt skated, that says something, it says that was a time skating was at its prime and it was exciting to watch, and it still is exciting to watch.
"The quality of skating I would say is even better than it was back then, but we don't have the audience to promote it."
Chan, who earlier Thursday was named athlete of the year by Sportsnet, said it's a shame that not all Canadians embrace the sport, noting he wished Olympic ice dance gold medallists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir received more attention.
"Tessa and Scott are such special skaters, when they step on the ice it's magic and it doesn't just take lifting weights in gyms, and I wish everyone could experience what it's like to be in a rink when they're skating," Chan said. "It will take awareness, but obviously I've failed at that. I'll just have to keep doing what I do and hopefully the right crowd starts to see it."
Skate Canada officials stood by the skater Thursday, saying he had every right to be proud of his heritage.
"This story will go in circles, it's been taken out of context," said Skate Canada's high performance director Mike Slipchuk. "There's nothing we can do about that. We know his intent, those that know him