Canada's Patrick Chan ends career with ninth place at Pyeongchang Games

Canada's Patrick Chan performs his men's free skate at the Pyeonchang Winter Olympics, Saturday, February 17, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Canada's Patrick Chan performs his men's free skate at the Pyeonchang Winter Olympics, Saturday, February 17, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — Patrick Chan skated the final four-and-a-half minutes of his celebrated career for himself.

With an Olympic medal out of reach, and nothing left to prove, he wanted to write his own ending. 

"I pushed away from the boards and took my spot. I took a breath (and said) 'This is for me,'" Chan said. 

The three-time world champion closed his remarkable career with a ninth-place finish at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Saturday. While it was far from the finale he'd envisioned when he came out of retirement three years ago, he wanted to go out on his terms.

And that, he did.

"That's quite a command, if you can have so many eyes on you and TV and everything, and so much exposure," said Chan, more thoughtful than sad when he spoke to reporters. "And to be able to be 'You know what? I'm going to silence all of that. This is for me, and I'm going to enjoy every second of it. I deserve to be here. I worked hard to earn this four minutes and 40 seconds of skate time.'

"I was just so proud that I was able to do that."

Skating to Jeff Buckley's haunting "Hallelujah," the 27-year-old from Toronto, who was sixth after the short program, opened with a beautiful quadruple toe loop, but tripled his second in a program that unravelled in parts, earning 173.42 points and 263.43 overall.

Calling this his favourite of his three Games, Chan retires with gold in the team event in Pyeongchang, and a pair of silvers from the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Yuzuru Hanyu, who Chan once went toe-to-toe with, captured gold with 317.85, in his first competition since suffering a badly sprained ankle in November. His Japanese teammate Shoma Uno took silver with a total score of 306.90, while Spain's Javier Fernandez was third with 305.24.

"Just happy. I can't say anymore, just happy," Hanyu said. "I just did my best today. I don't know if this is the best of my skating life, but I can say from my heart that I skated my best today."

Canadian Brian Orser, who coaches both Hanyu and Fernandez out of the Toronto Cricket and Curling Club, embraced Hanyu after the skate, then rushed to change country jackets and be back out at the boards for the Spaniard.

A day after he blew up in the short program, 18-year-old Nathan Chen of the U.S. climbed up from 17th place to finish fifth, landing an Olympic-record six quads in his long program.

Chan has been the face of Canadian skating for a decade, and thoroughly dominated his event globally for three seasons. He had dreams of a lasting legacy that would rival Roger Federer's in tennis. But Chan had to settle for a heartbreaking silver behind Hanyu in Sochi, and then stepped away from the sport for a year.

Hoping to roar back to the top upon his return, the sport changed in his absence. He was largely responsible for leading the quad brigade — he was one of the first skaters to include two quads in a long program — but the other skaters cranked up the quad content in his absence.

Four of the six skaters in Saturday's group planned 15 quads between them. Hanyu landed four.

Chan said he hopes his legacy will be as a bridge between the beautiful skaters he grew up with — Jeffrey Buttle, Stephane Lambiel, Evan Lysacek, Johnny Weir — and the athletic jumping machines that dominate the sport now.

"I hope that people will one day look back at my skating and what I brought to the table (and say) 'Remember when Patrick skated like this? Or remember when skating was like this?' That would be a cool legacy to leave behind," Chan said. "Or maybe the way skating is now is because of me — adding more quads and having a good balance all around the skater."

Four-time world champion Kurt Browning called Chan's skate for CBC on Saturday.

"I started as a commentator, and then halfway through it I became a friend, and at the end I tried to snap back to commentator, but it was really hard to do that," said Browning, who suffered similar Olympic heartbreak — his best finish was fifth. "I started to see the big picture, and said 'There's nothing that a popped quad could dent in his legend.'

"It was a retrospective feel."

Chan's unique talents, Browning said, are incomparable.

"He's just kind of on his own somewhere else, in the way skaters would talk about other skaters when it's just skaters on the bus. 'Who's the best skater?' And everyone goes 'Well, Patrick's up there.' He's already at the tip of the tongue for every skater, so that's maybe the best accolade one could really hope for is when another skater talks about you." 

Chan said the last day of his competitive career was a good one. He had a great sleep, had "a little skip in my step" all morning, and was excited to skate.

"Maybe that was knowing that this is it," he said. "I've worked really hard to get to this point and I survived. I'm looking forward to what I'm going to have to achieve now or whatever's coming up now."

His immediate plans are to move all his belongings to Vancouver, where he hopes to open his own skating academy. He left former coach Marina Zoueva in the fall to move to Vancouver, where his girlfriend Elizabeth Putnam, a former pairs skater, lives. A big outdoors enthusiast, when he was struggling to get to the finish line over the past few months, he'd head for the mountains to ride his bike or hike.

Chan plans to get his commercial real estate license.  

Asked what he'll miss most about competing, he recounted a talk he'd had with Putnam a couple of days earlier about the sometimes wacky world of figure skating.

"You see the skaters . . . you can't help but ask yourself, if aliens came and saw what we do, what would they think?" Chan said, laughing. "We're on the ice and we wear these costumes and we're asking for praise. It's a very funny concept.

"I loved it. It's given me so many opportunities. I've been such a fortunate person. It set my life up. I feel so proud to be a skater. It taught me how to be emotional with myself, more mature, more understanding with my thoughts. I just look forward to not having to expose myself out on the ice in front of judges.

"I just really want to enjoy it as part of the audience."  

Keegan Messing of Sherwood Park, Alta., was 12th, finishing with a total score of 255.43.

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