MONTREAL — Canadian figure skating great Patrick Chan still remembers the feeling of competing at a world championships on home soil.
“It's the closest thing to competing at the Olympic Games in Vancouver,” Chan said.
Skate Canada announced Thursday that Chan and fellow former Olympian Joannie Rochette will be event ambassadors when the World Figure Skating Championships return to Canada next year in Montreal from March 18-24.
It’s Montreal’s first time hosting the world championships since 1932 after the 2020 edition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's the first event in Canada since 2013 – when Chan won gold for a third consecutive year in London, Ont.
"Canada has produced so many legendary figure skaters, Elvis Stojko, Kurt Browning, Brian Orser," Chan told The Canadian Press in a recent interview. "To experience that (legacy) in London, in front of a sold-out crowd … you could feel the energy."
Chan says the pressure was high with it being an Olympic qualifier on top of a world championship, but the unwavering Canadian support helped him triumph.
“What makes Canadian fans a bit different than, for example, American fans is that they're there with you,” he said. “They're there to support you on good days or bad days, good performances or bad ones.
“And they remember these moments, just as we do as the athletes, I think the fans really do understand and feel that energy and how different it is being part of an international competition on home soil.”
Chan is Canada’s most decorated men’s figure skater, with 10 national titles, three world championship gold medals and three Olympic podiums. The 32-year-old from Toronto retired from competition in 2018.
Rochette, of nearby La Visitation-de-l'Île-Dupas, Que., is a six-time women’s national champion, a world championships silver medallist and an Olympic bronze medallist.
The 37-year-old won bronze just days after her mother’s death at the Vancouver 2010 Games and was named Canada’s flag-bearer for the closing ceremonies.
“I am thrilled to see the Championships returning to Montreal following the cancellation in 2020. It is exciting to be able to finally step fully into my role as event ambassador and welcome the world to Montreal,” said Rochette in a press release. “Montrealers are known to be welcoming and open to the world and I am honoured to represent Skate Canada and all the athletes participating at this incredible event.”
While most of their duties will revolve around engaging with Canadian fans and the media, Chan says sharing his experiences with athletes is something he’s excited to do.
Keegan Messing, on the men’s side, Madeline Schizas on the women’s and Piper Gillies and Paul Poirier in the ice dance are some of the athletes who could represent Canada next year, and the country will have something to prove.
Canada missed the podium entirely at the 2022 Games in Beijing and won one bronze medal at the 2023 world championships, which falls below the standards set in years past.
Chan gives credit to Canada’s success on the world stage despite the country’s relatively small population, but thinks there’s more that can be done for Canada to have a chance at becoming a powerhouse in the sport again.
One thing he’d like to see is more national training centres across the country, instead of the options being limited to Toronto and Montreal.
“It's actually quite astounding how accomplished we are considering how small our population is, compared to our neighbours to the south,” he said. “And when I look at the States, yes they have that win-or-nothing mentality … They also have they have really great training hubs across the country.
“If you want to be at the top you're looking for the best coaching, you're looking for the best environment. And right now we really just have two in Montreal and Toronto, but I'd love to see one in other parts of Canada.”
A few years removed from his retirement, Chan sees the ambassador role as an opportunity to keep participating in Canadian figure skating.
“It's a wonderful opportunity to kind of give back and still stay involved in the sport,” he said. “I've been very fortunate to have competed for a country that supports their figure skaters and their amateur Olympic athletes. So it's a kind of a celebration and a time to reflect and enjoy kind of the fruits of my labour for the past 20 years.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2023.
Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press