The 22-year-old from Toronto shattered the world record in winning the short program at the world championships on Wednesday, three weeks after he packed up and moved from Colorado to Detroit in a seemingly-desperate measure to turn his shaky season around.
It certainly appears to have worked.
"I started from scratch with a clear mind and a clear body — and I think that was a good choice," Chan said.
Chan scored 98.37 points for his elegant performance to music by Rachmaninov, landing a huge quad toe loop in a combination, followed by a clean triple Axel. He had the crowd at Budweiser Gardens on its feet long before he finished the final turn of his last spin.
"Exhilirating," said Chan, who shook his fists and then wiped eyes in gleeful disbelief. "I got into my last spin and there was this rush of tingling, just a cold rush through my body. It was amazing, you can only feel that once in a lifetime ... or if you're going to jump off a building."
Denis Ten of Kazakhstan heads into Friday's free skate in second with 91.56 points.
Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., the perennial national runner-up to Chan, is third with 85.16. One of the world's biggest jumpers, Reynolds was the only skater in the field to do two quads — the second one with a wobbly landing — scoring 85.16 points.
Earlier in the day, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford laid down a pairs short program good enough to leave the Canadians in second place.
Chan topped the world mark previously held by Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu by more than three points.
His mouth fell open when the score was announced — a look of pure joy that had been absent for most of this season. Chan was second at Skate Canada International, his first loss in a major international event in nearly two years, and then had to settle for bronze at the Grand Prix Final.
Speaking candidly about his mental state this season, Chan said he suddenly felt weary from his 16 years in the sport.
"That was the first weird thing I thought about: 'Why did I hate it so much?'" Chan said. "There was something wrong. It's not that I don't like being active, it's not like I wanted to be a couch potato. I had to be in a better environment."
Upon some heartfelt talks with coach Kathy Johnson, the two decided Detroit was that better environment.
"I for sure had my doubts," he said. "But the reward was very high obviously."
A victory this week would make Chan the first male skater to win three in a row since Russian Alexei Yagudin (1998-2000).
Reynolds, who has long skated in Chan's shadow, wasn't sure he'd even be able to compete here this week after a cyst behind his left knee ruptured 10 days ago.
"So to have a performance like this on home ice, it's just an incredible start to this week. It feels great," Reynolds said.
The 22-year-old did a little improvising in his program to the toe-tapping "Chambermaid Swing," turning what had been a scheduled triple Lutz into a second quad.
"I went for here, it wasn't perfect, but it worth it for the points," Reynolds said.
For Duhamel and Radford, second place in the pairs short program is the highlight thus far of a partnership just three years in the making.
"I felt sick to my stomach all day," Duhamel said through a wide grin. "We were so nervous all morning, we put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves, our whole lives have been geared toward being on the podium but more so in the last year."
Duhamel, from Lively, Ont., and Radford, from Balmertown, Ont., scored 73.61 points for their virtually flawless skate to music from La Boheme. Duhamel left the Budweiser Gardens crowd laughing at her exuberant celebration at centre ice.
Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia are the leaders, scoring 75.84 for their sultry skate to music from "The Godfather." Four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany scored 73.47 for an uninspiring performance to leave them third.
Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., and Dylan Moscovitch of Toronto, are fifth with a score of 69.25.
Duhamel and Radford, who teamed up three years ago, were fifth at last year's world championships in Nice, France, and said that every day since they'd been aiming at the podium in London.
"We had so much pressure, I felt so sick," Duhamel said. "I thought: 'What if I go to jump and my legs just don't do it?' I felt like I was just going to collapse. But soon as the music started it felt great."
The 27-year-old Duhamel, in a red sequined dress, and 28-year-old Radford, wearing a khaki shirt and suspenders, had the most ambitious program of the afternoon. They landed huge side-by-side triple Lutzes and then went straight into a textbook throw triple Lutz that had Duhamel grinning until the final seconds of the program in front of a crowd dotted several dozen Canadian flags.
"It was really exciting to land the triple Lutz in our short program, and when we landed it, the look on everybody's faces down in the corner in the stands, they were all really excited," Duhamel said. "Going into the throw which came like five seconds later, we just looked at each other, took a deep breath to make sure we didn't lose our focus, and the crowd was amazing.
"In the side-by-side spin, I was worried I wouldn't hear Eric call to change (feet), because the crowd was really loud. We loved it."
In pairs, no Canadian twosome has been on the world podium since Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison won bronze in 2008. Canada hasn't had two teams in the top five since 1986.
If the final results of Canada's pairs teams total 13 or better, Canada will get a full slate of three berths in pairs at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"I think it's so great for Canadian skating," Duhamel said. "There's so many pairs at home waiting to see if we're going to get them a spot. So that's definitely another one of our goals."
Moore-Towers and Moscovitch also had a clean program to "Motley Crew" by Raphael Beau.
"The second we stepped out the Canadian crowd was unbelievable, flags waving everywhere, it was probably the most memorable skate for me of my career," Moscovitch said.
Moore-Towers and Moscovitch didn't make the world team last year after finishing a disappointing third at the Canadian championships.
"After last year not going to worlds, hats off to them, because to step back into the game after a year out is not an easy thing," said their coach Kris Wirtz. "Usually it takes a bit of build, but they just came in, hit the hammer down, and they're right in there with the top people in the world."
Volosozhar and Trankov, who've won every competition they've competed in this season, outscored the Canadians by more than three points in components — what was known as the artistic mark under the old scoring system.
"One more day to show our best," Volosozhar said. "The key to winning is to just skate, show our emotions and our elements."
There's just 2.23 points separating the Russians and Canadians going into Friday's free skate, and the perennial world champs from Germany are only 0.14 points behind.
"We just have to skate clean," Szolkowy said. "Then the others have to do their job."
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version listed Chan's score as 93.37.