Before he went out and nailed his short program, Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan made an observation about his presence in Moscow.
“It all feels a bit unreal,” Chan said. “Like we’re living in a dream.”
Indeed it does feel unreal, but in a very good way.
Walking to the magnificent Ice Palace, which houses the world figure skating championships, one encounters the faithful who arrive from all parts of the gigantic city on foot. There are actually scalpers outside the building hawking tickets for the best seats in the house. Women of all ages are elegantly dressed and men wear suits and ties to watch the action rinkside.
There is pomp and ceremony on and off the ice. It all seems to make sense in a place where figure skating is a beloved part of heritage.
World and Olympic champions populate the grandstand. Each is treated with a reverence reserved for treasured artifacts of the national folklore.
In the midst of it all, Vladimir Putin, the wildly popular prime minister of Russia, speaks to the fans.
“We are so proud to host this beautiful and challenging sport and the world championships,” Putin declares.
It is widely known that the leader himself was at least partly behind the effort to have Russia take the torch from the failing hands of the Japanese, who couldn’t host in the face of last month’s natural disasters.
“We know more than anyone else what this kind of calamity means,” Putin acknowledged, referring to the Chornobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.
When the Russian pair of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov compete there is genuine adulation and the fervent hope that they indeed might be the next in a long line of greats who have given this discipline so much history here.
The crowd is not disappointed and one can detect an emotional investment made in the young duo made by everyone in attendance.
Evgeni Pluschenko, the great world champion, is in the building to watch Chan skate the lights out and even he cannot fail to recognize the brilliance of another competitor from another country that also loves skating.
Not long after, Putin declares the championships officially open.
“So many people here have turned this sport into a genuine art form,” Putin says.
He means it and that’s why Russia is the fitting host of a skating summit that almost never happened.
It’s also why Chan is aware of something very real.
That he is in the process of becoming the champion in a place where his sport has tremendous mystique and is held extremely close to the heart.