Ice Network

Bulgogi bites: Orser high on Hanyu's chances

Virtue, Moir focus on improving transitions after Grand Prix Final defeat
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No one knows quite what to expect from Yuzuru Hanyu at these Olympics, but his coach, Brian Orser, believes he should be as good as ever in PyeongChang. -Getty Images

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - What Yuzuru Hanyu did last summer to get ready for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games may turn out to be the critical piece of his attempt to defend his men's title next week.

"He was ready for the Olympics by August," his coach, Brian Orser, said Thursday. "You could see he was on a complete mission."

If Hanyu hadn't banked those hard hours seven months ago, Orser imagines it might now look like mission impossible, given that a foot injury in early November kept the skater off the ice for two months.

"All that training doesn't go away," Orser said. "If he had the injury and had to start over without the extra stuff and conditioning, then we would have been in trouble."

Exactly where he stands now is unknown except to Orser and the members of his coaching team, Tracy Wilson and Ghislain Briand, who are working with the Japanese superstar at his training base back in Toronto. Hanyu does not arrive here until Sunday.

"In some ways, he is in much better shape than he even would have been because of all the extra (physical) training he had to do when he couldn't skate," Orser said.

"That's why my idea as a coach is that even though the (big) event may be far off, let's get a bunch of work done now."

Orser said Hanyu's final Olympic preparation, this week and last, has been focused on building stamina. That includes up to three short program run-throughs or two free skate run-throughs in sessions when Hanyu might ordinarily have done one of each.

"It's really intense training," Orser said. "That's why he needed to stay home, do the blood, sweat and tears we need to do there instead of in this fishbowl.

"There will be a lot of extra attention (here) because there are a lot of unknowns, and people are curious."

The coach is vague on a lot of the details surrounding Hanyu's recovery, and with good reason: The Japanese media has a tendency to blow out of proportion even the most minor piece of news about its golden boy.

So Orser texted Hanyu on Tuesday night to say he had been talking to the global media at the Olympics.

"I said, 'This is what I'm saying...is it OK?'" Orser said. "He told me he had already seen the interviews."

That answer told Orser how completely invested Hanyu is in his quest to become the first two-time Olympic men's champion since Dick Button in 1952.

Hanyu's 2017-18 season began with a world-record short program score (the seventh of his career) at the Autumn Classic International in late September. But his free skate at that event was error-filled, and he went on to finish second to Nathan Chen at what would be Hanyu's only Grand Prix, the Rostelecom Cup.

His injury came while attempting a quadruple lutz in practice before the NHK Trophy. It was a jump Hanyu did not need to win the Olympics but one he was doing out of a relentless desire to challenge himself.

The lutz is off the table now. Hanyu's free skate quads most likely will be two salchows and two toe loops. A fifth, the quad loop, which Orser called "a work in progress," is a wild card.

"He has three different options for programs, and he will practice them all," Orser said. "Sometimes, at a competition, I'll be scratching my head and thinking, 'What is he doing?'''

Hanyu was off the ice from Nov. 9 until the second week in January. More than another week passed before he began doing difficult jumps again.

"His goal was to get back on the ice without pain, and he has none," Orser said.

Orser said he has no worries that Hanyu will suffer from the competitive staleness.

"My feeling is never underestimate him or the power of him," Orser said. "The break doesn't bother me at all. It's going to raise him to another level."

- Philip Hersh

For Virtue and Moir, it's all about the transitions

When Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir left the ice after their Latin rock short dance at the Grand Prix Final in December, they looked happy, confident, assured. Another Grand Prix title -- the second of their long, storied career -- seemed within their grasp.

Then the score came up: 81.53 points, several notches lower than expected and likely not enough to hold off training partners Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France. A confused Moir turned to the team's coach, Patrice Lauzon, who just shook his head.

The free dance, held the following day, was a repeat, and Virtue and Moir tasted defeat for the first time since the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. But it could turn out to be a well-disguised blessing because it prompted the Canadians and coaches Lauzon and Marie-France Dubreuil to take a fresh look at their programs, especially their Moulin Rouge! free dance.

"We came home and threw a lot at our coaches about things we wanted to change, and they answered the call," Moir, 30, said. "We came up with great solutions and fixed both programs pretty drastically before nationals and (made) a couple of little tweaks before the Olympics. We are taking the ice (in PyeongChang) with programs we are confident in every single second and in love with the movements every single second."

The process started before the 2018 Canadian Figure Skating Championships last month and continued up through the Canadians' departure for PyeongChang.

"Since nationals, we went through every element and just thought, 'What could possibly be a reason for a judge not to give +3 (Grade of Execution)?' We wanted to eliminate those," Virtue, 28, said. "Kind of looking at it that way, as what could be taken away instead of trying to gain points, gave us a different baseline."

Virtue and Moir changed one of the more suggestive positions in a free dance lift that originally had Virtue poised with her legs around Moir's shoulders -- not because it was X-rated, the skaters said, but because it wasn't aesthetically pleasing.

But most of their time was spent on transitions.

"We improved a lot of transitions into and out of elements, made them more seamless, more part of the program," Virtue said.

"Hopefully, the biggest changes will be in transitions and the way the program kind of breathes and opens up a little bit," Moir said. "We worked a lot on those transitions, to make sure the overall strength of the program is there."

They will get a test run in the team event, with the short dance Feb. 11 and -- if Canada qualifies for the final, as it's expected to -- the free dance Feb. 12.

"It helps us with those changes, to make sure we are getting the calls and to get that direct feedback on the judging sheet," Virtue said.

Moir, who has never lacked for confidence, has already recovered much of the swagger he temporarily lost in Nagoya.

"Going into this week, we haven't felt this ready many times in our career," he said.

- Lynn Rutherford