For Brian Orser, it’s just business coaching against Canada
Olympic silver medallist from 1988 Calgary Games now works against his home and native land
Spain’s Javier Fernandez listens to coach Brian Orser during a practice session at the World Figure Skating Championships on Monday, March 11, 2013, in London, Ont. The competition starts Wednesday.
Photograph by: Paul Chiasson, THE CANADIAN PRESS
LONDON, Ont. — There are no wanted posters up around London, listing Brian Orser as an enemy of the people.
Principally, that’s because he is such a hard guy not to like, his fellow Canadians don’t hold it against the three-time world champion that he’s coaching two skaters — Spain’s Javier Fernandez and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu — who have the potential to beat Canada’s Patrick Chan out of a world title on home ice.
Besides, it’s nothing personal, just business.
And as Orser himself points out, nobody ostracized Canadian choreographer Sandra Bezic 25 years ago, when her programs put American Brian Boitano over the top in the Calgary Olympics, at the expense of the home country’s hope, Brian Orser.
So can’t we all just be friends?
“My point about (Boitano) was ... I’m proud to work with anybody that wants to work with me,” the now 51-year-old Orser said Tuesday, in between training sessions with his two Toronto Cricket Club contenders.
“If they want to work and train and follow my direction it doesn’t matter to me where they’re from. And back in ‘88, Boitano reached out to a Canadian choreographer that really made the difference for him, so ... for me, this is my job.”
And he’s done it damned well, ever since his first high-profile student, Korea’s Kim Yu-Na, delivered some of the finest performances in women’s skating history to win the 2009 world and 2010 Olympic titles.
Now Fernandez, who came to Orser in 2011, has won the European championship, and Hanyu, last year’s world bronze medallist, has since joined the crew at the Cricket Club, where the staff includes Canadian ice dancing icon Tracy Wilson and renowned choreographer David Wilson.
If Fernandez should happen to beat Chan here this week — the men’s short program goes Wednesday, the long on Friday — would Orser lose any sleep?
“Don’t put words in my mouth. I just want Javy to skate as well as Javy can,” Orser said. “Is he a good enough skater to win this? Yes.
“Yuzuru has what it takes, as well. And they’re two different types of skaters. Those two boys are completely different from each other and different from Patrick, and they’re different from Daisuke (Takahashi, last year’s silver medallist), too. Different styles, different approach, different nervousness.”
Indeed, in naming five contenders with distinct styles to a multitude of Japanese media earlier, Orser also threw in the name of Coquitlam’s Kevin Reynolds in what he called a wide-open men’s race.
Reynolds may be a little behind in training due to a ruptured cyst in his left knee a couple of weeks ago, but Hanyu was sidelined 10 days by the flu and a minor knee problem of his own last month, so — as Reynolds’ coach Joanne McLeod said Tuesday — “you take the better NHL players, football players, that’s what it’s about, right? They’re all going on the field or on the ice with something not quite right.
“It’s just staying in a positive zone and regrouping.”
Fernandez’s life, post-European championships, has been “a dream come true,” said Orser.
“He’s had a great season. I think at Europeans, Javier really showed that this new system can be entertaining. I had a lot of officials tell me that was the first time they’ve been moved since Kurt Browning did Casablanca (in 1993). And that was in the old system, so maybe it was a little easier then to play out a character.
“But Javier showed you can still get all the big check-marks for the elements and also have the entertainment value.
“He has never trained like this before, I can tell you that much. This consistently, this regular, this focused on training, compared to a year ago when it was really hard to get him to get to the rink on time and be productive.
“Now he’s grown up and he sees this as a job that he likes, and he sees the potential, and when he was European champion just recently, I think he really liked what came along with that, which was great media, and it was great for Spain, and he got to go see this great football game with Barcelona and Madrid, and sit in the owner’s box and meet the players and have a jersey signed by all of them ... so I think he’s kind of digging this and realizes he has to work hard to keep it.”
The better question than why Fernandez and Hanyu and, before them, Kim have come to Canada is why more Canadian up-and-comers haven’t tapped Orser’s obvious talents as a career guru.
“I don’t have a theory,” he said. “But I know that the Canadian world contenders that we’re all speaking of are in good hands. And I was one of those people, and I was in good hands. I was two hours north of Toronto (in Orillia), and a lot of people at that time tried to convince me to go elsewhere, but I knew I was in the right hands with Doug Leigh.
“Kevin Reynolds? He’s in great hands. And Patrick’s in great hands. Our dancers are certainly in great hands (in Detroit).
“So maybe it’s just timing, I don’t know. But it was nice when Nam (Nguyen, 2011 Canadian junior champion) came — and he came from a great place (McLeod’s club in Burnaby). And I felt possibly I could help him get to the next level, because that’s kind of my expertise. I don’t think I’m the best coach when it comes to younger development, there are other coaches much better than I am.
“But I feel my strength is the packaging and the managing and the motivating. Where I came from, working with Doug Leigh, he was a fantastic motivator. You just felt like you wanted to skate every day and to please him every day. And that’s what I try to get out of my athletes, too. To work hard every day and compete for the right reasons.”
And even then, even when the fit appears to be perfect and the results undeniable, skaters can be an itinerant bunch — and international borders have little to do with anything.
Patrick Chan is on his fourth principal coach and his fourth training base, three of them in the U.S.. Kim left Orser after the Olympic season, finished second at the subsequent year’s worlds, and then took a year off.
Oh, and the by the way: Hanyu and Fernandez’s programs are all choreographed by Canadians, Jeffrey Buttle and David Wilson. And for good measure, Hanyu’s exhibition program is a Kurt Browning production.
A Canadian singles skater hasn’t won a world title on home ice since Browning at Halifax in 1990. If Chan is to do it here, it will be against a lot of Canadian talent strewn among his rivals’ camps.
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