Orser preps students, psyche for Olympic season

Champion coach keeps focus despite mounting expectations, pressures

Brian Orser has a lot on his mind as he steers star students Javier Fernández and Yuzuru Hanyu toward the Olympic Games in Sochi.
Brian Orser has a lot on his mind as he steers star students Javier Fernández and Yuzuru Hanyu toward the Olympic Games in Sochi. (Getty Images)


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By Lois Elfman, special to
(08/15/2013) - Two-time Olympic silver medalist, world champion and eight-time Canadian men's champion Brian Orser is doing his best to stay calm heading into the 2013-14 season.

He endured quite a few sleepless nights leading up the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was his first time accompanying an athlete to an Olympics, and the pressure on him and his student, Yu-Na Kim, was intense.

"That whole season, I didn't sleep very well," Orser said. "I wanted to be sure I did everything I possibly could.

"This time, I kind of know better," he added. "So far, I'm sleeping OK. Ask me again in a couple of months."

Having successfully completed his first Olympic coaching experience, which concluded with Kim's winning gold, Orser, 51, may be slightly less stressed, but he's no less attentive to details. As coach of 2013 European champion and world bronze medalist Javier Fernández, 2013 Japanese champion and 2012 world bronze medalist Yuzuru Hanyu and Canadian men's competitor Nam Nguyen, he's making sure he and colleagues David Wilson and Tracy Wilson leave nothing to chance.

"The most important thing for us is to really pay attention every day," said Orser, who is the skating director of the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club. "We have to pay attention to the calendar. We have to pay attention to all the details that need to be taken care of so these kids don't have to worry themselves."

Each skater has a unique personality. Despite high expectations, Fernández, 22, tends to be more laid back, whereas Hanyu, 18, is very decisive about his desire to medal.

"With Javier, this year we're not going to all of a sudden say, 'You can be an Olympic medalist.' We're going to ease into it the same way we have the last two years and try to keep him relaxed and calm," Orser said.

"He says, 'I'm going to try to do the best I can.' That's the way he thinks," Orser noted. "Yuzuru wants to win."

There are many young skaters at the rink to whom Orser gives input, but for the Olympic season, he is focusing the majority of his time on Fernández, Hanyu and Nguyen.

"I'm better with packaging and planning and finding an individualized training schedule," Orser said. "I don't have a cookie-cutter way of doing this ... I think the psychology of dealing with each of these athletes, you have to customize the training for each one."

Earlier this summer, Orser was asked to do some show choreography in Japan, and he accepted the gig. It had been four years since he'd worked on a show, so he enjoyed stretching those muscles (Wilson worked with him). After nearly two decades as a professional skater -- touring with Stars on Ice and performing in many shows -- he has a feel for production numbers. In the past, Orser choreographed for Disson Skating, Holiday Festival on Ice, Celebration on Ice and other shows.

"It was fun and kind of cool for me to have Yuzuru and Javier (they and Nguyen performed in the shows) see me put a show together because they'd never seen that," Orser said. "I'm proud of the show and happy to be a part of it. It was another connection with these guys."

During the summer, Orser is doing his utmost to spend weekends at his summer cottage because once autumn comes, it will be go, go, go. Between Hanyu and Fernández, he'll be traveling to four Grand Prix competitions and, hopefully, the Grand Prix Final.

If the road leads Orser back to the Olympic boards, as expected, he will be traveling to Sochi. In recent weeks, there has been a spotlight on Russia's recently enacted laws that ban all gay rights "propaganda." Orser, who is openly gay, said he will absolutely accompany his students to the Games.

"It seems so archaic to have that type of outlook on gay orientation," Orser said. "I don't get it, but we're heading into the Olympic Games, and we're going to be going to Sochi.

"I'm going as a skating coach and part of a team."