If there were any Winter Games when Canadian men's figure skating star Patrick Chan was going to bring home a gold medal, it was these 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
All of the signs were there.
Following his 2010 fifth-place finish in Vancouver as a 19-year-old under immense pressure to perform in front of his home country, Chan went on a tear. He recorded three straight World Figure Skating Championships from 2011 to 2013 and kept building late into this past year.
But he came up short on Friday with a great chance to win the gold.
After Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu suffered two early falls during his free skate program, Chan needed a score of 182.58 to win the gold. With a personal record of 196.75, it seemed like something completely in his range.
Alas, he also stumbled during his routine and his score suffered. His mark of 178.21 brought his two-day total to 275.62, just short of Hanyu's 280.09 points.
Following his tough defeat, Chan was understandably emotional, per Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star:
“It was a disappointment at first, to see it on the board,” the 23-year-old from Toronto said afterwards — long afterwards, because he’d clearly spent a great deal of time composing himself before facing reporters in the mixed zone. The rawness of failure — again, it can be stated no other way — was already retreating, at least for public consumption.
“At the end of the day, I have two heavy metals around my neck and they’re silver medals. Nobody can take that away from me. Nobody can also take away the fact that I’ve had an amazing journey as a figure skater. I’m a three-time world champion, two-time silver medallist at the Olympics. Not many Canadians have achieved that. Unfortunately it wasn’t a gold, but I’m not going to let that affect my whole career and how amazing it’s been.”
There was an interesting turn in late 2013 that served as a harbinger for the Olympics, where Hanyu became the second-youngest gold-medal winner in men's singles.
It's not that Chan was getting worse; it was that Hanyu was getting better.
In a November Grand Prix event in Paris, Chan broke his own world record with a score of 98.52 in the short program, as detailed by Jerome Pugmire of the Associated Press, via the Toronto Star:
The Toronto native warmed up with a perfectly executed quad toeloop-triple toeloop jump, nailed a triple axel and a triple lutz and rounded his program off with a lightning fast step sequence to score 98.52 points. That bettered his own mark of 98.37 set at the worlds in March.
“I was ecstatic at the way I skated,” Chan said. “I didn’t even know I broke the record. If I can make a world record at the Olympics it would be amazing. I’m looking at the Olympics so I’m really focused on that. A world record is a nice thing to say and a nice thing to have”
The routine propelled Chan to a first-place finish in the event as he posted a total score of 295.27, well ahead of second-place Hanyu (263.59).
But a month later at the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, Japan, Hanyu raised the bar with a score of 99.84, pushing him to a winning total of 293.25. Hanyu kept elevating his game in Sochi, becoming the first man to ever crack the 100-point barrier in the short program with his world-record mark of 101.45.
Looking back, that Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka might have been the beginning of the end of Chan's reign as the world's top figure skater. With his gold medal on Friday, Hanyu is set up to be the dominant force in the sport in the future.
At 19 years old, Hanyu is four years younger than Chan and will still figure to be in his prime when the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea come around. Not to mention he has been working with renowned coach Brian Orser for less than two years, in what's already been a very successful partnership.
Chan's legacy as a figure skater is still tough to match as a three-time world champion, but in a sport where the greatest ones are judged by gold medals, it's too bad he couldn't win one in Sochi.
From here, Chan still has a very bright future. Two silver medals are nothing to scoff at, as he also helped Canada place second in the inaugural team competition in Sochi. While Hanyu might have the upper hand in the rivalry, Chan is definitely right there in terms of talent, and no other skaters seem to be in their stratosphere.
But considering that the average age of the past five gold-medal winners is 21.4 years old and Hanyu's current rise, the odds seem stacked against Chan, who will be 27, to win a gold in 2018.
At least the Canadian will have a chance to prove himself in March, when the World Figure Skating Championships take place near Tokyo in front a crowd that's sure to be jazzed up about Hanyu's gold medal.
Winning a fourth World Championship would certainly be an amazing accomplishment if Chan were to pull it off next month, but it's just not the same as an Olympic gold medal. Looking at everything, it seems like his window has already closed.