SAINT JOHN, N.B. – Patrick Chan got an email from his mom Saturday night, wishing him good luck in his skate.
“I was like ‘I already skated,’” Chan said, laughing.
Chan’s mom Karen was travelling in Europe when he won his fourth Skate Canada International title Saturday. The trip was her way of “coping with the separation” the skater said, after he moved to Detroit without her — a split that wasn’t a mutual decision.
“At the same time it was a transition of locations, and also a transition in my life, where I turned 22, (and thought) this is time for me to take ownership,” Chan said. “At the time I didn’t realize it, but it was a step I had to take for these Olympics even moreso.”
Chan’s dad Lewis, a lawyer, was in Saint John to see Chan win gold, landing two huge quads in virtually demolishing the field.
But the absence of his mom was remarkable considering she’d basically been the boss of Team Chan for his entire career, acting as everything from his manager to his chauffeur and his cook.
The two lived in a hotel room together in Florida when he trained there, and when he changed coaches just prior to the Vancouver Olympics they moved together to Colorado Springs where they lived until his move to Detroit last spring.
“I think any mother, especially with an only child and an only son as a child, it’s very tough for them to let go, especially my mom who has played a huge role in my career,” Chan said, emphasizing ‘huge.’
“She still does. It was very hard for her, if it was her choice, she would definitely want to live with me. It was tough, I had to really draw the line. But my parents have been extremely supportive.”
The Toronto skater lives alone in an apartment in Detroit, and is learning to cook his own meals, rattling off a list of dishes he’s perfected: quinoa, wild rice, gluten-free pasta, rib eye and chicken.
“I have to take ownership, I have to pay bills, I have make sure I can write cheques, that’s stuff my mom did my whole life,” he said.
Learning to fend for himself, he said, will help him Sochi, after he found himself alone and a bit lost in the athletes village in Vancouver.
“I needed someone to guide me, and tell me ‘Yes I should eat this, no I shouldn’t eat this,’” he said. “Now I’m in control of everything.”
He’s diligent during the week, maintaining a strict training schedule and diet, but he “lets loose” on the weekends. He eats what he wants, and makes a point of enjoying his time off the ice. He golfs or works on his car. It helps him cope, he said, with the grind of training.
He didn’t allow himself that luxury before the Vancouver Games, where he finished a disappointing fifth after having his sights set on a medal.
“I was narrowly minded: ‘It has to be this way or I’m going to lose the medal.’ It had to be this perfection in life and perfection in skating,” he said. “This Olympics I’m approaching differently, I’m teaching my body to adapt in different situations, so that when I get to Sochi I’m not so focused on, ‘Oh my god, because I ate pasta that’s not gluten-free, I’m going to lose this competition.’”
“It’s ridiculous, I have to trust that my body is adaptable. Sure Monday will be really bad and really uncomfortable and I’ll be suffering through my long program, but it doesn’t matter because I can still get through it.”
Chan has also learned to wield a mean monkey wrench, to the point where he can do most of his own car repairs.
He drives a 2011 charcoal grey BMW, that he bought used. His mom took some convincing though first.
“When I was in Colorado, I was begging my mom to get a car,” Chan said. “The first year I won worlds, I was like ‘Mom I won worlds, can I get a car?’ She said ‘No, if you win the second one, you can get a car.’
“Then I won the second one, and I said ‘Can I get a car?’ And she’s like ‘No.’
“So finally, I did all the research and looked online and found a used car online, and bought a used one.”
Chan said he’ll likely go for a fourth world title this March in Tokyo, although he hasn’t made a definitive decision.
“After the Olympics, I’ll have a huge weight lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “I want to see how I compete after I’ve been training my whole life for the one moment and see how I compete after that.”
Chan’s next Grand Prix event is the Trophee Eric Bompard, Nov. 15-17 in Paris.