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Chan peaking towards the 300-mark barrier

Patrick Chan performs during the gala exhibition at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Ottawa January 12, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Watt
Patrick Chan performs during the gala exhibition at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Ottawa January 12, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Watt

By Pritha Sarkar

(Reuters) - When a five-year-old Patrick Chan took his first wobbly steps on a skating rink, he piled on the warm layers on his skinny frame to escape the chill. Little did he know that over the next 18 years he would have to develop a thick skin - literally.

As the winner of three successive world titles, Chan would have expected to be showered with plaudits and hailed as the man who could finally end Canada's century-long wait for a men's Olympic champion at the Sochi Games.

But whereas compatriots Elvis Stojko and Kurt Browning were treated as rock stars during the 1980s and 90s - when Canadian men glided to eight world titles in 11 years - the skating landscape for Chan is very different.

Chan's gold medal-winning routine at last year's world championships was so shocking, with him being left bruised and bashed after he crashed into the ice more often than a toddler learning to skate, that he came under attack for ending up on top of the podium.

While one incensed critic started collecting signatures to petition the governing body to overturn the result, others screamed that the Ottawa-born native had once again been the beneficiary of 'Chanflation' - getting higher marks than he deserved thanks to his past reputation.

Chan publicly apologised for his performance but he felt rather hard done by with such a barrage of criticism from former champions and fans alike when it was a panel of international judges who had put him ahead of the chasing pack.

"Chanflation? I don't believe in it. If they (the critics) have a problem with it, they should talk to the judges and not blame me. I'm just going out there to do my job," Chan said after being caught up in the storm last year.

In fact what Chan, the son of Chinese immigrants, has shown is that since 2011 no one knows how to work the accumulative scoring system - which replaced the 6.0 format following the 2002 Olympics - better than him.

When it comes to showing off great athleticism, technical ability and sublime artistry over two programmes, he has no equal.

The 23-year-old amassed a record total 295.27 points during a grand prix competition in Paris in November and as he heads into next month's Olympics, breaking the 300-point barrier could become a reality.

"Every time I walk on to the ice for a competition, my goal is to do a clean programme and to perform my heart out," Chan told Reuters.

PERFECT SCORE

"The only reason I would like to reach (the) 300 (point mark) would be to put a benchmark in the 6.0 kind of (way).

"The ease of the 6.0 system was that people could understand what a perfect score is and I hope that if I can reach 300 ... people can understand what is a good score or what is the ideal score for perfection.

"But I'm not going in... thinking I want to break 300 or stack my programmes so that my goal is only to hit 300. I'm more concerned with how I can inspire people and move people rather than (chase) points," added Chan, who won a seventh successive Canadian national men's title this month.

"Skating is more than just points. I'm so emotionally involved in my performances and if I can have the audience feel the same way by watching me then I have won."

Pulling off 'a clean programme' is something that has eluded Chan at major competitions despite his glittering success.

At the 2011 worlds in Moscow, he stumbled out of a triple Axel during his free skate while 12 months later in Nice, his win was greeted with deafening boos and whistles after he crash landed on his bottom following a relatively simple double Axel.

If that was bad, his shell-shocked face turned the same shade as Canada's Maple Leaf flag after he hit the ice twice during an error-riddled long programme in front of his home fans in London, Ontario, at the 2013 worlds.

It was a performance that left him banging his head in frustration and mouthing the word 'sorry' to everyone as soon as his high marks flashed up.

Chan will be keen to wipe out memories of that night and if his performance in Paris is anything to go by, he knows he is capable of captivating the audience.

In doing so, he will be keen to once and for all silence the detractors who accuse him of suffering from stage fright on the big occasions and bring home a prize that escaped the grasps of Canadian greats Brian Orser, Stojko and Browning.

The skater who once created a stir and sparked a backlash for voicing that he might have been better appreciated if he had skated for a less ice hockey-obsessed China - the country of his parents' birth - heads into Russia with only one goal.

"You know what? I'm so proud to be Canadian, so proud to skate for Canada and to go to these next Olympics being seven-times national champion is huge," said the multi-lingual Chan, who is fluent in English, French and Cantonese.

"I've put the work in. I just need to believe in it when I get to Sochi."

(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar; Editing by Julien Pretot)

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