When Denis Ten first started skating, the only rinks in Kazakhstan were outdoors. His mother would bundle him up before sending him out, often putting him in three pairs of pants so he would stay warm.
"I looked like a cabbage," he said, drawing laughs.
Now he looks like a champion. Or pretty darn close to one.
The men's title at the World Figure Skating Championships on Friday night may have gone to Patrick Chan. But the night belonged to the little-known Ten. After never finishing better than seventh at a world championships or the Olympics, he came within one jump of knocking off the guy who has dominated men's skating since the Vancouver Olympics.
Ten won the free skate, but finished 1.3 points behind Chan because the three-time world champion had such a big lead after the short program.
"I feel like I had (come) a long way (from) being a kid skating like a cabbage. Now I skate in a good costume at the worlds," Ten said. "I'm glad I've got this medal."
It was the first medal for Kazakhstan. It also was, by far, Ten's best finish at a major international competition. The 19-year-old was fourth at junior worlds twice, and fifth at both Skate America and Skate Canada last season.
"It's my best performance of the year," Ten said, "and maybe of my skating career."
Javier Fernandez was third, giving Spain its first medal, too. U.S. champion Max Aaron was seventh and Ross Miner was 14th, ensuring the Americans will have two spots in Sochi.
Chan's biggest competition this week was expected to come from Fernandez, the European champion, or Japan's Daisuke Takahashi and Yuzuru Hanyu. Kevin Reynolds was considered a darkhorse and maybe, just maybe, U.S. champion Max Aaron could surprise a few people.
But Ten? He wasn't even in the conversation. Just last month he'd been 12th at Four Continents, a competition that doesn't include the Europeans or, this year, Chan.
"When I came back after (Four Continents), I was like really, really disappointed. It was hard for me to start all over for me again and to get fresh thoughts and pump up my motivation," Ten said. "At the same time, I felt worlds is coming and ... I realized that the game is not over. I realized how much I wanted to prove to everyone that I'm still playing."
In addition to his regular training sessions with coach Frank Carroll, Ten would work out in his garage until 10 p.m.
"I'll let it be a secret," he said when asked to describe his workout routine. "You can imagine what I can do in my garage."
Whatever he did, he ought to keep doing it.
Continuing a story he'd started with the short program, Ten was a revelation. He didn't so much as skate to "The Artist" as he did pick up where the Oscar-winning movie had left off - minus Uggie. He was a silent film star on ice, pantomiming and using every other inch of his body to talk to the audience - and judges - without ever uttering a word.
His skating was flawless, with centered spins and complex footwork. His quad was big and solid and the rest of his jumps were strong. But it was the landings that were most impressive, with his blades carving the ice like a diamond cutter.
Had he not doubled the first jump in his triple flip-double toe combination, he - not Chan - would have been standing atop the podium.
"My dream came true," Ten said. "I still cannot believe that it all happened."
Chan might say the same.
With the Sochi Olympics a year away and these world championships in his own country, Chan wanted this title badly. Maybe too badly.
"I definitely was disappointed in myself because I really wanted to go out there and have another short program moment," said Chan, whose short program score was a world record. "It's kind of selfish of me, but I really wanted to enjoy it. ... The moment wasn't as good as it could have been but, nonetheless, it was very special."
He got off to a spectacular start, doing a quadruple toe loop-triple toe combination and a solo quad toe that were so technically perfect, coaches all over went running for their DVR.
Then the downward spiral began. He splatted on a triple lutz, a jump that's simple in comparison to those quads, and fell on an underrotated triple axel. He flipped out of the landing on the last jump of a triple flip-single loop-triple salchow combination and watered down a triple lutz-double toe combo.
Chan slapped his forehead several times when he finished and again as he waited for his marks. When the camera focused on him, he gave a sheepish smile.
"I'm a little disappointed I wasn't able to do a great program in front of such great audience," Chan said. "But you know what? I'm going to take the win, put it in my back pocket and really learn from it next season."
Fernandez feared he had dug himself too deep of a hole after a flawed short program. But few skaters can sell a program like Fernandez, who oozes charisma and swagger.
At 21, he's way too young to recall Charlie Chaplin. But Fernandez's portrayal of him was so spot on, no one could take their eyes off of him.
Early in the program, he did an old-fashioned royal curtsy, rolling his hand down from his nose to the ground. He started one footwork sequence by stuffing his hands in his pockets, fixing the audience with a flirty smile and shrugging his shoulders.
He even managed a little duck walk. That's tough to do in street shoes, let alone figure skates.
The flaws in his program, hard as it may be to believe, were with his jumps. Fernandez has always had great hops, and he did two quads - one salchow and one toe loop - that were very nice. But he popped both jumps in what was supposed to be a quad salchow-triple toe combination into doubles, and singled the opening lutz in a planned triple lutz-double toe combination.
"When I finished my program, I knew it was going to be really hard to be on the podium. I knew I did some big mistakes," Fernandez said. "But I still did a good program. ... I was hoping to have a little bit of luck."
He watched the final skaters with Chan, his hopes of a medal climbing with each performance.
"I was getting a little bit more excited, a little bit more excited, a little bit more excited," Fernandez said. "When (the last skater) finished and I saw I was in the third position, I didn't know what to do. Jump. Cry. Hug Patrick. I didn't know what to do. I was really happy. So happy. So, so happy."
The people in Kazakhstan surely are, too.
"I'm feeling very proud, and I'm realizing that the whole country now is very proud of my little win and my little victory," Ten said. "It feels great."