LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — He may be a three-time world champion, but there was little about his comeback that came easy for Patrick Chan.
Uncertainty nagged at him all summer, right up until the moment he stepped onto the ice Saturday night.
And the morning after he made his return to competition with a massive exclamation mark, winning Skate Canada International, the 24-year-old talked about the past few roller-coaster months.
"A lot of frustrating weeks and days,'' Chan said. "There were times I would tell Kathy (Johnston, his coach), I'd just get off the ice, and be like 'I don't want to do this. Screw this. I don't want to do it.'''
Chan walked away from competition after the Sochi Olympics, where he won silver. But a few months into his hiatus, he began missing the sport, its camaraderie and the day to day routine.
But regaining his big jumps — the quad and triple Axel — was tough. Other than fooling around in practice on show tours, he hadn't done a serious quad in more than six months. His body had changed, he was a good 10 pounds heavier than when he'd competed.
Then there was that familiar weight of expectations.
"We'd talk and I'd say 'You can always walk away, nobody is forcing you to do this. Why do you want to come back?' and it was always for the right reasons,'' Johnston said.
"We got through it.''
But between the six-minute warm-up at the Enmax Centre on Saturday night and the moment he had to perform, Chan had a tearful emotional meltdown. The weight of the moment, he said, was overwhelming.
"Kathy and I were talking, I'm like 'Why did I make this choice? Why do I make myself do this? Why do I fear competing so much, and why do I put myself in such an uncomfortable position?''
He laid down for a few minutes with his legs propped against the wall. And after a pep talk from Johnston, he went out and performed a beautiful long program to Chopin, opening with a huge quad-triple combo, followed by a textbook triple Axel.
He tripled his second planned quad, but it was the only blip on a program that saw him score huge marks across the board.
When the music ended, he buried his face in his hands.
"I got overwhelmed with emotions,'' he said. "I felt like I owed people something, felt like I wanted to prove something to people, that I'm back and I wanted to skate well for them.
"Maybe breaking down into tears kind of opened up that path to letting go of all the pressure. I really did feel a lot lighter mentally going into the long, having let out all those emotions and realizing, 'Alright, I'm just going to go out and do what feels good.'''
His victory capped a triple gold medal performance for the Canadian team. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won the ice dance, and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford captured the pairs title.
Moments after Chan's victory, social media lit up with the outpouring of support.
Retired skater Jeremy Ten tweeted: "Just so happy to see @Pchiddy out on competition ice again. Nice to have you back buddy. We missed ya!''
Chan did a quick scroll down his Twitter feed between competing and rushing to the skaters' banquet.
"My phone blew up obviously . . .people were so happy for me, and basically the main theme was like 'Oh, you're back. So glad to see that you're actually back and you're taking this seriously.'
"That's what made this competition really challenging is that I really wanted to show people that I was serious when I said I was coming back. . . making sure I wasn't (kidding them), right? I really wanted to be serious and be honest with people that I was working hard and that I wanted to take this comeback seriously.''
Chan is considered the world's best all around skater. While he pushed the envelope by including two quads in his program — the rest of the field followed suit — his strength stretches beyond the jumps, and it shows in his marks. And his absence last season left a void in the men's field.
"He has the big arsenal, he proved last night, he still has a beautiful quad, and he's got a great triple Axel now,'' Johnston said. "But what was missing (last season) was everything in between.
"Most of the top guys in the world can do all of the big jumps, and they have all of the technical stuff, but Patrick really shines in edge work, and his speed and his power, and the way he moves his body. . . That's what people love.''
Chan will compete in the Trophee Bompard Grand Prix in two weeks in Paris. The Grand Prix Final is in Barcelona in December, and the world championships are in March in Boston, where he'd like nothing better than to add a fourth world title, tying Canadian Kurt Browning.
Chan plans to compete until the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.
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