Who's-who on the other side of the gate

Backstage at Canadian Nationals

Brian Orser and Yu-Na Kim hope their partnership proves golden in Vancouver.
Brian Orser and Yu-Na Kim hope their partnership proves golden in Vancouver. (Mickey Brown)


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By Laurie Nealin, special to
(01/15/2009) - Many of the who's-who in Canadian figure skating's recent history are here in Saskatoon in their new roles -- coaches to the country's up-and-comers on the national and world stages.

Brian Orser, David Pelletier, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, Kristy and Kris Wirtz put in long days at the BMO Canadian Championships to help their students achieve their own personal bests. caught up with three in this busy group and asked for their thoughts on their careers on the non-slippery side of the barrier and whether they ever miss being out there competing themselves.

Brian Orser: 1987 world men's champion; 1984 and 1988 Olympic silver medalist; eight-time Canadian champion. Full-time coach: three years.

When the door closes and they step out there, there's nothing more I can do. It's out of my hands. It's out of my control . You just have to let them know they're ready and be positive. It's all the stuff I looked for in a coach -- not too much talking, being positive. But, it's tough. You just have to rely on your work that you've done.

There's not one ounce of [wanting to be out there, myself]. I hope the experience for them is the same as it was for me. When the marks were done for the person before and you're about to go out, I loved that feeling of that competitive instinct. I'm a little envious of that because I know it's going to be a highlight of their life and that they'll enjoy the whole experience. But, do I want to go out there? No. Not on your life.

I try to use that wisdom [of my Olympic experiences] now with my skaters which is mostly in the work we do at home. One of the athletes that I can really relate to at that level is Yu-Na (Kim) and what she just went through in Korea -- the wild fans.

I keep constant communication with my skaters -- not by speaking but with eye contact -- just to make sure they know they're ready, to keep their routine as normal as possible, and to deflect any situation that might affect their space. It could be team leaders, fans, parents, media, anything that could get into our space.

David Pelletier: (With Jamie Sale) 2001 world pairs champions; 2002 Olympic champions; three-time Canadian champions. Coaching experience: five years

I did have a pair team that did a couple of Junior Grand Prix events and I remember standing at the boards the first time. It was frightening. Your students usually compete how they train and the team I used to coach was like flipping a coin -- they'd either be great or a nightmare. But, it's the closest you can get to feel like part of the action because you put in time and effort. But, really, it's not about you.

My philosophy was always that if they do great, that's their fault, but if they do poorly, it's not mine. I'm just joking, of course. You can only do so much. When the gate opens, it's their time. There's nothing you can do. When you skate, you are in control.

I miss the training. I don't mind not being in control. That's OK with me.

Kris Wirtz: Member of eight world teams and three Olympic teams (all but the first with now wife Kristy Wirtz); two Canadian pairs titles. Full-time coach: six years.

When the door shuts, you just want to make sure that you have done everything in your power so that they can do the best they're capable of. You don't want to ever second-guess yourself afterwards to say, 'Could I? Should I? Or, next time, would I?' Now that I stand behind the boards I feel even more comfortable about the way I skated. Knowing I've done everything I can, it is not as stressful watching. I'm comfortable I've done whatever I can to make them perform and I'm proud of them no matter what they do - taking them through the gamut of success and failures and make them feel great about themselves either way. I enjoy standing there. It's kind of relaxing. But, if I ever get a team or a lady in the final group at a huge event, I might just crap my pants.

You try to bring in certain situations when you're coaching, what you did when you were competing, but it doesn't really pan out all the time because every personality you're teaching is different. You have to transform it into what the person standing in front of you at that moment needs. The children that are there and the experiences you're giving those children are things they're going to remember forever, so it's very important you have the right things come out of your mouth. Doing eight worlds and three Olympics really did help me a lot in the last five or six years.

I was able to flush [the desire to go back out and compete] right away. The first words out of my brother's mouth [the late Paul Wirtz who was Kris's coach at various times] were 'It's not about you, [expletive], it's about the skater. Flush it. Leave it. We loved what you did [as an athlete], but get over it and make them feel special.' That's probably the best advice he ever gave me because I know a lot of people do feel that urge. I don't. I really like where I am right now.