The first gold medal at any Olympics sometimes feels like it's the hardest to win. But while Canada had to wait only a few days in Pyeongchang to reach the top of the podium, Patrick Chan has been waiting his entire career.
In a Winter Olympics expected to bring a considerable medal haul, it was only a matter of time before Canada logged its first victory. But Chan says there were times he never thought it would happen for him. Canada's best figure skater over the past decade had won gold everywhere else in his career – winning three consecutive world championships – but had yet to accomplish such a feat on the sport's biggest and most glamorous stage.
Now, Chan can say he's a gold medalist, after Canada closed out the team figure-skating event by doing something it couldn't do four years earlier in Sochi – shutting down the powerful Russian team. The Americans placed third. It was Canada's fifth medal of these Olympics.
For Chan, who is now 27 and skating in his final Olympics, the victory felt extra satisfying knowing that the long program he skated Monday in South Korea was crucial to the win. He was a key cog in the machine, rather than a passenger on one of the deepest figure-skating teams Canada has ever taken to an Olympics.
With the reality that his best figure-skating days are probably behind him, and having stumbled badly a few days ago in the opening short program of the team event, Chan said he wanted to rebound for the long program, rather than be the weak link.
"I haven't been that nervous in a while – a little more than usual," Chan said after placing first in a performance that wasn't perfect, with a few stumbles on key jumps, but good enough to keep the Russians in second place.
After watching the individual and team gold medals slip away in Sochi four years ago, the medal is especially gratifying. That it came in the team competition, and not in the individual event he was once favoured to win, didn't matter, Chan said.
"I'm going to hold this medal tight to me and it's going to be as good as the individual event," he said."
"That's how I'm going to see it, that's how I'm going to enjoy it, and that's for me to decide. I worked really hard for this, we all worked really hard. We are a very tight-knit group here in Canada as figure skaters, and to me that means more than winning a medal individually."
Heading into the final day of the three-day event, ice dancer Scott Moir said the squad wanted to win gold for Canada, but also suggested that they especially wanted to secure the medal for Chan, who has been the face of Canadian men's figure skating for three Olympics now, but has been forced to settle for two silver medals – in the individual and team events in Sochi.
"We're kind of a family," Moir said, trying to place into context where Chan fits in with regards to Canadian figure skating. "Patrick Chan – you could make the argument that he's the best skater that ever was. I would definitely support that."
The Canadian team, led by co-captains Moir and Tessa Virtue in ice dance, also included pairs skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Chan, Kaetlyn Osmond, and Gabrielle Daleman. While Osmond and Daleman are the youngest on the squad, the rest have come up together inside Canadian figure skating since they were barely teenagers.
"In a big way, we want to do this for Chiddy," Moir said, using the nickname he gave Chan years ago.
Chan's gold medal was supposed to have come at the Sochi Olympics, where he went into the long program only needing to skate a relatively mistake-free performance after several other competitors faltered. But Chan faltered, too, and the gold medal vanished. After Sochi, he stepped away from skating, needing to take a break. "I kicked myself for two years about it," Chan said.
But when Virtue and Moir decided to come back for one more Olympics in South Korea and Chan made the same decision, the Canadians realized they were probably icing one of the deepest figure-skating teams in the world, and the gold in the team event was theirs to claim, if they could each deliver.
But when Chan fell in the team short program to open the competition, placing third, doubts crept in. During a meal at the athletes village over the weekend, Radford told Chan that he didn't owe the team anything, that he had done enough for Canadian figure skating, and that he should just go out and skate the long program with a clear head.
"That's the best thing a teammate can say," Chan said afterward.
"We've been here for so long, we've been dying to do this together, and to step on that podium with all of us together, having grown up as junior skaters all the way up – no other country has ever had that. That's a special moment."