Brian Orser, Elvis Stojko, Kurt Browning, Patrick Chan: Canadian men’s skaters with at least one world championship title to their names. But none ever won Olympic gold, leading to the genesis of a widely-believed Canadian curse.
Canadian men’s figure skaters have won five silver medals and four bronze, but zero gold.
The origins of the so-called curse can trace back to Brian Orser. Canadian men’s skaters had only won bronze medals before Orser got to the Olympic stage. Orser earned a silver medal for the first time in 1984, finishing second to the U.S.’ Scott Hamilton in Sarajevo. Orser came to the 1988 Games at home in Calgary, Canada as the reigning world champion, but finished second to the U.S.’ Brian Boitano in the “Battle of the Brians.”
Next to take on the curse was Kurt Browning. He first competed at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary and finished eighth. Browning went on to win four world titles: 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1993. But at the 1992 Olympics, he finished sixth, and at the 1994 Games, he placed fifth.
Elvis Stojko competed at four Olympic Games in the span of a decade. In 1992, he finished seventh. At the 1994 Games, he claimed a silver medal behind Alexei Urmanov of Russia. Then, he won the 1994, 1995, and 1997 world championships, but faltered on the big stage. Stojko’s second gold medal came from the 1998 Olympics, when he finished second to Ilia Kulik of Russia. He also competed at the 2002 Olympics, but finished off the podium in eighth.
Patrick Chan came to the 2010 Vancouver Games as the 2009 Worlds silver medalist. Skating on home ice, he only managed to finish fifth. He later spoke about the pressure getting to him. Following Vancouver, Chan won three straight world titles in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
Before Chan competed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Canada’s national skating federation president said the curse was a media invention. “We’ve always looked at it in Canada as we’ve had very successful men’s figure skating…and coming to the Olympics is just a different type of an environment,” she said.
Poised on the precipice of breaking the curse leading to Sochi, Chan had two opportunities for gold. The newly-created team event saw a Canadian contingent, which included Chan, claim silver medals. In the men’s competition, Chan earned a second Sochi silver medal behind Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu.
Afterward, he told media “I find it funny that Canadian skaters have been labelled as cursed just because we can't achieve gold at this one event,” Chan said. “I am a three-time world champion and two-time silver medalist at the Olympics now... look at that as opposed to looking at a curse.”
Browning, Orser, and Stojko were all inside the Iceberg Skating Palace the night of Chan’s free skate, which decided the medals.
Orser, who coaches Hanyu in Toronto, called the moment “bittersweet… I got more emotional giving Patrick a hug than I did giving Yuzuru a hug.”
Browning commented that the moment was like “skating my program from 20 years ago all over again.”
Chan has not landed on the Worlds podium since winning his third title in 2013. He took one season off following the 2014 Olympics, then posted back-to-back sixth place finishes at Worlds in 2016 and 2017. But Chan, who won his 10th Canadian national championship in January, is still the country’s best hope for breaking the curse at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
He even says that a team gold medal would mean as much to him as an individual one.