Orser's Olympic creds a boon to Kim's 2010 campaign

Korean superstar prompts coach to ponder 1988 game plan

Brian Orser with star pupil Yu-Na Kim at the Hall of Fame party at world championships.
Brian Orser with star pupil Yu-Na Kim at the Hall of Fame party at world championships. (photo courtesy Uschi Keszler)


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By Laurie Nealin, special to
(07/31/2009) - Brian Orser had a revelation recently about his own Olympic bid for gold in 1988, courtesy of his star student, world champion Yu-Na Kim.

In the run-up to those Games and the storied Battle of the Brians, the Canadian sports icon recalls he did not up his technical ante after winning the world title in 1987. Not challenging himself technically was a mistake, suggests the Olympic silver medalist who finished second by the slimmest of margins to American Brian Boitano in Calgary.

Kim, a gold medal favorite for 2010, on the other hand, has no intention of resting on her laurels.

"I'm so proud of her that this season she's challenging herself rather than just coasting on being world champion," Orser told "We left a few points on the table last year and she still broke records [for highest-ever scores]. She's looking at 215 points and last year we were trying to break 200."

"I just wanted to stay the course [in 1987-88] and I needed to take it to a higher level. That's what I'm feeling now that I'm in it with Yu-Na and seeing what she's doing."

Kim, who turns 19 in September, has already decided to make her triple-triple combination this season a Lutz-toe loop in both programs. That combo garners a half point more than the flip-toe she did last season. As well, the Korean superstar, who has trained full-time in Toronto with Orser the last three seasons, has improved her spins and speed and is looking to surpass her scores on the artistic side of the ledger.

In choosing the music for Kim's Olympic season programs, Orser and choreographer David Wilson knew it would be difficult to top last season's selections, particularly "Danse Macabre," to which Kim's sensational short program was set. Consideration was actually given to holding that piece in reserve if it was later determined the new music could not match the impact of "Danse Macabre." Orser now believes that will not be necessary.

"Her new programs are just over the top. They are just so good. I take my hat off to David Wilson," Orser said, noting that several people collaborated to come up with ideas for Kim's new music.

"Its' a whole different direction and it's fantastic."

Kim will announce her program music at a news conference in Seoul in mid-August when she and Orser travel there for three, star-studded shows entitled All-Stars on Ice. Orser did shed some light on the selections, however.

"The long program is one of those programs that you can visualize on the final night for the ladies Olympic program. It's one of those great programs and you visualize people on their feet," said Orser, indicating that the choice is a piano concerto with "nice pacing" which people will recognize instantly.

"The short is completely different," Orser said. "It's fierce. It's powerful and it's strong. That's what she likes to skate to for the short program. She doesn't like any fluff, so we've taken that knowledge after working with her for four years. We know that about her and she knows that about her. It's mature and even on the verge of sexy."

Given the intense pressure Kim will be under this season, few other coaches have the credentials -- the knowledge, experience and the insight -- that Orser does to understand how she feels and ensure she is not overwhelmed by her frontrunner status and potentially overwhelming attention from media, sponsors and fans.

"She seems to really embrace this whole Olympic season. She's not afraid of it. The main thing for me is to keep her on a schedule, keep her on a plan that is consistent -- that we allow down time, that she's not racing off to do too many commercials, that she's allowing herself to stay focused," said Orser, who also claimed Olympic silver in 1984 behind Scott Hamilton.

"When everybody starts grabbing at you and wanting this and wanting that, the next thing you know you've missed a couple of weeks," he added, noting that any commercials Kim does for sponsors such as Nike, Hyundi or Samsung, must now be shot in Toronto.

"A lot of it is planning, going by our last season which was a textbook season -- even with not winning the Grand Prix Final. We understand her peaking, her pacing for the year, so we're going to try to follow the same template for this season.

"For Paris [Grand Prix], she wants to be really hot. She wants to be really good and she wants people talking about the programs, to be in great shape," Orser said, noting that the field in Paris will be very strong with Mao Asada, Carolina Kostner, Caroline Zhang and Sasha Cohen.

Kim's second assignment is Skate America.

"What we're determined to do is stay home, stay behind closed doors and train and have as few distractions as possible. We have enough people around us that can make that happen. It helps that we skate in a private club and she has a sense of safety there. She feels comfortable. She can have her good days and bad days and she's not being judged and no one's going to be out there putting it out on YouTube," said Orser.

"That's the one thing I didn't have to deal with in 1988 is every step being documented somehow, and all the [Korean fan] blogs. They love her skating, but they also have their opinions. But, you can't try to please everybody."

In the last month or so, Orser reports there has been a steady stream of media interviews including NBC, CTV, and Discovery Channel -- which is producing a documentary on Kim -- all jockeying for her time and attention.

"Recently, it just went wild. It's really been kind of overwhelming and I just see the tension and stress level going up around the Kim camp. I am trying to keep it so we're just training and keeping things normal," Orser said.

When Orser, now 47, began working with Kim four seasons ago, he was a rookie in the coaching realm.

"[The Olympic season] is here and it's happening, but I seem to have a grip on everything," he said, chuckling. "It's consuming. It's good, though. I like it. It fits well. I feel confident. The first year I was 'What? Where am I?' Now, I seem to be a step ahead of any potential situation or distraction."

When Kim returns from Korea in August, she will concentrate solely on training until she and training mate Adam Rippon, the twice reigning world junior champ, depart for Paris in mid-October for the first Grand Prix of the Olympic season.