Ice Network

Orser, students deal with unforeseen circumstances

Coach provides updates on skaters' condition, as well as his own health
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Both Yuzuru Hanyu (left) and Javier Fernández endured rough times at their most recent Grand Prix events. -Getty Images

At last, Brian Orser is back behind the boards, after missing the last two Grand Prix events, Cup of China and NHK Trophy. Orser was kind enough to answer icenetwork's questions about his two most famous protégés, Javier Fernández and Yuzuru Hanyu, after the tough two weeks they experienced.

Icenetwork: How do you feel now?

Orser: Much better. The season didn't start exactly as I had planned. First, with the surgery I had to go through. I had my gallbladder taken away. I had to stay at the hospital, and I couldn't go with Javi to Cup of China, and it didn't turn out so good (Fernández finished sixth in Beijing). And then I couldn't go to NHK, and that didn't turn good either (Hanyu withdrew after injuring his ankle in practice). That's how unpredictable skating can be. You'd never want that to happen, especially in an Olympic season.

Icenetwork: That must have been so frustrating!

Orser: It was frustrating! It kind of shows how much [the skaters] rely on their coach, which is a good thing. Of course, we work as a team, but I'm always the one at rinkside with them, the one to lift them when they need a lift. But you know, last season Javier won both his Grand Prix and then everything started to go in the wrong direction, so this season might be different!

Icenetwork: Can you give us some news about Yuzuru?

Orser: As you know, Yuzu sprained his ankle. He sprained it, but it was not broken. From what I hear, it will take about 10 days until he can step back onto the ice, so he should be coming back to Toronto soon. We'll have to start back slow and kind of regroup from then on. He won't be doing the [Grand Prix] Final for sure now. Neither Javi or Yuzu will, actually. That must actually be the first time none of my skaters do a Grand Prix Final since I've been a coach! That's too bad. Finals are always fun; they are such good events, with just the best skaters of the world.

Icenetwork: How do you see Yuzu's and Javi's chances this season?

Orser: This year, Yuzu landed his quad lutz. He had been working on it for some time. He landed it the first time he showed it in competition, at Rostelecom (Cup). That was a big checkpoint. Mission accomplished!

Icenetwork: Will he do quad flip?

Orser: No, he won't be doing quad flip. He has quad loop and quad lutz, and he has enough on his plate. I even feel that the quad lutz is not necessary to him, because of all the other skills he has: the (quad) toe and sal and loop, all done with such high quality, his spins, his steps. I believe Yuzu is in a class -- with Javi! (laughs).

Icenetwork: What about Javier?

Orser: Javi is 26 years old. At this stage of his life and skating career, I don't think that the turmoil of learning a new skill would be the best thing. If Javi had had to add another quad to his repertoire, it would have been a quad loop, but that would have created so much stress on the season. With the quads he does and the way he does them, the toe and the sal, the transitions, the choreography...those are enough. Javi agrees with this strategy.

I have other kids (at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, where Orser teaches) who work other quads. I have a 12-year-old who lands all the quads. That's the new generation. That's where the sport is going, definitely. Quad lutz and flip are very recent; they are a sign of this time. They will just become a part of the younger ones' repertoire. Yuzu has been working on them for the last couple of years. He is young, so it's still part of his development. Plus, he is very competitive.

Icenetwork: Javier has different strong points, though.

Orser: Javi's short program is brilliant; it is as good as last year's in terms of components. I did the math: When he performs all the elements well, it's worth 109 to 110 points. Javi has great choreography. You have to be clever when you put a short program together. Transitions, choreography, interpretation, spins make so much difference. The elements are the same for everybody, but you need to be a great spinner. Yuzu has a clear advantage there, as he gets +3 GOE for most of his spins. You have to have a step sequence that is musical and impactful. A step sequence is not a check mark, something you can say "done;" you have 40 seconds to work with your music and choreography. Javier has to be perfect on them, and we need to help him be the best there.

We design the programs for our skaters to win, but at the end of the day, they still have to do the job. Missing elements will impact component scores.

Icenetwork: Is it not too difficult for a skater like Javier to keep his confidence when he sees the world changing like this?

Orser: Actually, it's something we've had to work with him (on). As a former athlete myself, I would imagine that it would play upon your confidence. You know, at the 1984 Olympics, I was a bit like the Nathan Chens and the Shoma Unos of the time, as I was landing the triple axel. Scott Hamilton didn't have a triple axel, but he nonetheless won the Olympic gold.

At a certain point in your career, you have to step back and tell yourself that you are going to do what you can do. Either you go one direction and do it, or you just give up. You need to be confident in what you do, and don't let yourself down because of what others do.

Tracy [Wilson] and I are confident that judges and audience know how to recognize a champion when the time comes. They like what Javi and Yuzu are presenting.

Icenetwork: How did you manage to keep Javier's confidence up then?

Orser: It's been sorting itself out. What will the press be talking of this year? Of course, of all those quads. We need to reassure him as coaches, and tell him that he has a lot of great things in what he does. Plus, results speak for themselves. He was the world champion not so long ago! He won at Japan Open, beating Chen and Uno handily. It's not that they fell and he didn't; all of them made mistakes. At the Autumn Classic, he beat Yuzu. That should give him confidence.

Icenetwork: Have you worked with him since?

Orser: Oh, yes. We decided that Javier would stay in Madrid this week to acclimate to the European time zone and avoid two more tiring trips to and back from Toronto. Tracy came several days ago to work with him, and I joined a few days ago as well, so we could work one on one with him to make everything feel good again. Javier should be approaching this Grand Prix in a different way.

Icenetwork: Yuzuru's confidence is not at stake?

Orser: Yuzu came back to Toronto at the end of June. He was like on a mission. By mid-July, he was ready to compete. He was training so hard, but he was a little too early. It's hard to hold them back. So sometimes you get circumstances to force them to pull back. In a way, Yuzu's ankle problem may prove to be a good thing.