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How Patrick Chan’s teammates helped him rebuild his confidence at the Olympics

Patrick Chan competes in the men’s team figure skating event in Gangneung, South Korea, on Feb. 12, 2018.

ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

Patrick Chan was scared.

He admits it now, after helping Canada win a gold medal in the team figure skating event at the Pyeongchang Olympics – but only now.

The three-time world champion, one of the most experienced and decorated figure skaters Canada has ever seen, had been reduced to a bundle of nerves after he opened the team event with a mistake-filled short program earlier in the Games.

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Now he was slated to perform his long program, and Canada's chance at a team gold medal, where countries put up skaters in four different disciplines to earn as many total points as they can, hinged on Chan delivering. If he faltered again, Canada could lose to the Russians.

So, in the days between his two skates, Chan's teammates set about to rebuild his confidence.

Sitting in the dining hall in the athletes village, veteran pairs skater Eric Radford turned the conversation from casual chit-chat to something more serious. Canada had a chance to win and claim its first gold medal at these Olympics, avenging a bitter loss to the Russians in the same event four years ago. But Radford told him to forget about all that.

"I know Patrick and the thought was probably going through his head that he really needed to do a good job and he was probably putting more pressure on himself," Radford said.

"So I just told him, 'You owe nobody anything. You just go out there, you pretend you're at home and you just have the best skate that you can, and we're going to love you no matter what.'"

Chan had effectively been given permission to fail. Radford just wanted him to skate like the Patrick Chan he had known since the two first met as kids and began working their way up the ladder of Canadian figure skating, both becoming world champions.

But Radford wasn't the only one working on Chan behind the scenes. Every time ice dancer Scott Moir saw Chan in the hallway, he hugged him and told him how good he was.

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"I've probably annoyed the hell out of him in the last couple of days," Moir said later. "Every time I see him I just give him a hug and I have something to say to him."

Moir, who has also known Chan since they were young, had a good idea what was going through the skater's mind.

"I knew he was pissed off," Moir said. "I know the competitor that Patrick is."

Fast-forward to Monday's gold-medal showdown. Canada went into the final day of the three-day event with a six-point lead over the Russians. First place in each discipline – men, women, pairs and ice dance – is awarded 10 points for both the short and long programs, while second receives nine, and so on.

With three events remaining, including Chan in the men's skate, there was more than enough room for Russia to catch up if any of the remaining Canadians faltered.

Canada's world-champion ice-dance team of Moir and Tessa Virtue, slated to skate last, boarded their bus for the 25-minute ride from the athletes village to the rink knowing that the competition might come down to them. They began to prepare accordingly.

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But as the bus wound its way to the rink, the news hit their phones: Chan had just turned in the highest score of the men's long program. It wasn't a perfect skate, but as Radford put it, his most complex jumps, a pair of quads, "were amazing." After struggling on his landings in the short program, Chan was a different skater.

"When I watched him, I didn't move. I just sat there like a statue," said Radford, who was rinkside. "His skate was probably one of the most important in the competition; it was really important for him to have a great skate and not leave us too far behind in the points … For him to go out there and do that, with that pressure – that's amazing."

In defeating Russia's Mikhail Kolyada, Chan widened the Canadians' lead to seven points. Instead of losing ground, there was now even more room between them. With just two events remaining, including Gabrielle Daleman in the women's skate, and Virtue and Moir in the ice dance, all Canada had to do was keep pace with the Russians and the gold would be theirs.

"When his marks came up was when it really kind of hit me for the first time," Radford said of Chan's performance. "From that point, we were very confident that Canada had it."

It was a study in teamwork, in a sport that's not normally known for it.

The team competition is only four years old, having been introduced in Sochi.

For the 106 years prior, figure skating was strictly a solitary endeavour. Skaters won on their own, or with their pairs or ice-dance partners – and they lost on their own.

Technically, Chan's difficult performance in the short program didn't hurt the Canadian team in terms of points, because most of his competitors also faltered, leaving Chan relatively unscathed in third place.

But it threatened to erode his confidence for the final skate.

Rather than let that happen, the rest of Canada's skaters set out to remind Chan that he wasn't skating alone.

"Feeling that support in a sport where you feel so alone usually is super important," Moir said.

It also helped that most of Canada's skaters had come up in the sport together.

"We're pretty lucky to be able to have the relationships that we have," Moir said.

"We've toured together a lot, we've grown up together. I mean, I went to Junior Worlds with little Patrick Chan, before he was a three-time world champion and whatever else is in his trophy room."

Now, because of a pivotal performance from the 27-year-old Chan, who is in the twilight of his career, the Canadians have some more hardware of their own.

In doing so, Chan has become the only Canadian men's figure skater to win a gold medal, something he waited his whole career for.

That the elusive gold medal finally came in the team event, and not the individual competition he coveted for so long, is fine with him.

"I'm happy to have done it with this group of people," he said.

And he can finally admit it – he was scared.

"It's okay to be scared," Chan said. "But it's important to power through it."

Snowboarder Mark McMorris says he’s less stressed about competition after a crash left him with life-threatening injuries last March. McMorris captured bronze in Olympic slopestyle on Sunday, while teammate Max Parrot won silver. The Canadian Press
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