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Orser's autograph takes on a new look

Canadian icon to launch Korean-language biography

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 icenetwork.com
(08/10/2009) - Normally, Brian Orser wouldn't have to practice signing his autograph.

After all, Mr. Triple Axel, as he was known in his 1980s-era, competition days, has likely signed his name thousands of times for fans during his amateur and decades-long professional career. But, next Monday those signings will come with a significant twist -- a Korean twist to be exact.

In Seoul next week, the Canadian sports icon will launch a new book that details his career and his experiences coaching Korean superstar Yu-Na Kim. The book is written in the Korean language and, at the news conference launch and fan meet-and-greets to follow, Orser will sign copies of the book using traditional Korean script or characters to spell his name.

That a Canadian coach of a Korean athlete was approached to write his own book for sale in her homeland is unusual but, of course, Kim is not your usual athlete. The Orser book project speaks to his student's incredible star power in Korea which reached epic heights even before she won the world championship title last March. Kim, the one and only figure skater from Korea ever to land on an international or world podium, has become one of the most popular and bankable sports figures in Asia, attracting several heavy-hitters of the business world as sponsors. Her fan base is of rock-star proportions.

When Orser began coaching Kim full-time in Toronto three seasons ago, he knew she was ultra-talented and destined for the world podium. Still, he never could have predicted that his association with the teenage phenom would lead to his own celebrity resurgence so far from home.

Asked how this all came about, Orser explained: "A couple of [Korean] publishers went to the literary agent and he got a hold of me when I was there in May for shows. They asked if I would be interested and I said, 'Sure. I'm always interested as long as it wasn't me sitting down and writing an entire book because I'm overwhelmed here, as well.'"

Orser was referring to the recent addition of Americans Adam Rippon and Christina Gao, 15, who he predicts will be "the next one," to his coaching responsibilities. Besides Kim, his students also include Canadian competitor Rylie McCulloch Casarsa -- who opens her season at the Lake Placid junior Grand Prix this month, and some novice competitors.

Orser, 47, provided content for the book to the literary agent in Korea and approved material gleaned from existing sources for the project, all of which was translated into Korean.

When Orser got home from the rink in recent months, he spent all his spare time at the computer writing material for the book, answering the 100 questions posed by the publisher about his work with Yu-Na, and compiling photographs.

"A lot of it is stuff from interviews that have been documented during my time with [Kim]. There were a lot of answers already there like 'how did I begin working with her?'" he said, explaining how the book came together so quickly.

Asked how he was able to proofread his book, Orser said, "I have a friend here who is fluent in Korean so he has the manuscripts and he's gone through it and, he's got a friend so they have been sort of tag-teaming, going through the book and making sure it's accurate.

"That's really handy," chuckled Orser, who has picked up just a handful of Korean phrases from Kim. "Every night I'm on the phone with those guys and the agent going through stuff. It's been fun."

Just before heading to the airport for his trek to Seoul on Sunday, Orser revealed that the cover of the book features images of a pair of skates, a photo of him with Kim, and ice. On the back is a snapshot of a coaching session in which Kim is laughing at something Orser said. The title, of course, is in Korean. The 1984 and 1988 Olympic silver medalist could not recall the exact English translation when he spoke with icenetwork.com.

Orser's book launch comes on the heels of this weekend's three-show extravaganza in Seoul which Kim headlines. A cavalcade of Olympic and world champions join her, including Stephane Lambiel, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao (all returning to competition for the Olympic season), Michelle Kwan, Ilia Kulik, Shizuka Arakawa, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, Shae-Lynn Bourne (as a solo performer), and Rippon.

Also performing in the Samsung-sponsored galas are Bulgarian world champion ice dancers Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski, whose career was derailed in 2008 following the fatal car crash he caused while driving impaired.

While Kim returns to Toronto right after the final show, Orser, the author, will stay on to promote his book for a few more days.

In 1988, another book entitled "Orser: A Skater's Life" was published in conjunction with the Calgary Olympics. It was written by veteran sportswriter Steve Milton who, coincidentally, will soon release another skating book ahead of Canada's second hosting of the Winter Games next February in Vancouver. Milton's newest effort, entitled "Figure Skating's Greatest Stars," features a couple of pages about Kim and arch-rival Mao Asada, as well as Orser.