Ice Network

Borscht belts: Yuzu, Javi keep Orser occupied

Coach juggles duties to two top contenders; Bates mistakenly awoken
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Brian Orser's loyalties at these Olympic Games are very much split between Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu and Spain's Javier Fernández. -Getty Images

Yuzuru "Yuzu" Hanyu and Javier "Javi" Fernández shared practice ice the morning of the men's free skate, something they do each training day at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

As is traditional at the end of a session, they skated to center ice and bowed to each section of the crowd. Then, they turned to bow to each other. Finally, they bowed to the coach they share, Brian Orser.

"They have that comfort level of sharing the ice," Orser said. "They respect each other; they admire each other.

"If one of them is having a bad day, the other will skate over and say, 'C'mon, you can do it.' Of course, they're competitors, but friendly competitors."

Orser, a two-time Canadian Olympic silver medalist, is in a demanding position in Sochi. Both Hanyu and Fernández lie in medal position following their short programs: Hanyu leads three-time Canadian world champion Patrick Chan by nearly four points, while Fernández sits third, more than 10 points off the lead.

The two skated back to back in the short program, first Hanyu and then Fernández, requiring a quick clothing change for Orser, who had to slip out of his Japanese team jacket and into a red Spanish team blazer.

"I'm glad I had all those years of quick-change practice with Stars on Ice," said Orser, who headlined the professional show for more than a decade. "The change could have been smoother, though. I slipped up a bit."

At the men's free skate draw, as Fernández stood up to pull a number, Orser said, "Please don't draw before Yuzu." The Spaniard obliged: He goes first in the final warm-up, while Hanyu skates third.

Skaters have long shared coaches. Nina Mozer coaches Sochi's Russian pairs gold medalists, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, and silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov. Marina Zoueva trains both of the top ice dance teams, Meryl Davis and Charlie Davis, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. But it's a bit different in singles, and Orser is the only coach training two potential men's Olympic medalists.  

"Some people joke a little about it," Orser said. "I do my job. If they call and I have room and feel I can do something for them, and they buy into what me, David [Wilson] and Tracy [Wilson] (no relation) are trying to do at the Cricket Club, then I consider it."

Fernández arrived in Toronto in the summer of 2011. Before Orser took on Hanyu about a year later, he asked Fernández if he minded having one of his main rivals in the same rink.

"Javi said, 'Sure, that sounds like fun,'" Orser said.

Watch a few practice sessions in Sochi and it's obvious the 19-year-old Hanyu is a perfectionist, clearly focused on getting the most out of his every minute on the ice. Fernandez, 22, is a bit less intense, more prone to meandering.

"I prepare them and treat them as individuals," Orser said. "Human beings have different needs, schedules, personalities. You have to pay attention to that and read them.

"We had a get-together before we left, to go over the schedule. It was kind of an excuse to get into the same place."

At the press conference following the men's short, Fernández said training with Hanyu was a big positive: "It's a good thing to train together, a positive thing for everyone who trains at the same rink to have good skaters. Yuzu is my competitor, of course, but he is part of our group, our family, in Canada.

"It's not a different feeling for me if he wins a gold medal and I am last," Fernández continued. "I'm going to be very happy for him. I've known him a long time. Nothing is going to change between us."

Orser, an eight-time Canadian champion, was narrowly defeated for gold at the 1988 Calgary Olympics by Brian Boitano in the famous "Battle of the Brians." He is the first in a trio of Canadian men, one that also includes Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko, who have been jinxed by the supposed "Canadian Curse," as all three were unable to win Olympic gold despite entering the Games as world champions.

Now, Orser could be the man who helps prevent Chan from breaking the curse and taking long-sought gold home to Canada.

"Listen, I would love to coach more Canadian skaters," he said. "I do coach Nam Nguyen."

The up-and-coming Nguyen, just 15, placed fifth at the 2014 Canadian Figure Skating Championships.

For now, though, it's back to Yuzu and Javi. Much of Orser's energy is spent not only tending to their skating needs but fending off time-consuming and energy-sapping interview requests, photo shoots and other subsidiary activities.

"It's my job to keep them focused and protected," Orser said. "They are both very nice, great gentleman. They want to please everybody. You can't do that; I learned that myself when I skated."

Orser catches himself.

"The one thing you never want to say is, 'In my day...,'" he said. "It's the here and now.

"They're getting tired of my stories anyway. I was talking with Javier about competing in figures last night, and I could see him drifting off, thinking, 'Uh, I want to play with my Xbox.'"

Not his cup of pee

Evan Bates got a rude awakening Friday morning.

The U.S. ice dancer was fast asleep in his bed in his Olympic Village suite when he was roused by a stranger at around 7:30 a.m.

The mysterious figure had opened the unlocked door to his room -- which he shares with fellow ice dancer Charlie White and men's competitor Jeremy Abbott -- and approached him while he snoozed. He woke up Bates and told him he needed something from him: a, ahem, sample for drug testing.

It turned out, however, to be a case of mistaken identity. The man was actually there to collect a specimen from White, not Bates.

Maybe it would behoove doping officials, when they're out on assignments, to bring photos of their intended targets with them to avoid any future mishaps.

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