Brian Orser Still Stands in World Spotlight

Former Canadian star rises to the top as coach

By Liz Leamy

Brian Orser, the two-time Canadian Olympic silver medalist, seems to have a knack for winding up in the spotlight in this sport, whether it be as an athlete or coach.

In recent years, the celebrated eight-time Canadian champion, who was the 1987 World titlist, the World silver medalist in 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1988 and World bronze medalist in 1983, has succeeded in navigating his way right to the top yet again, but this time as a coach.

"Itís been great to have had the opportunity to share those things I learned from my own skating," said Orser.

The celebrated Canadian, who is the head instructor at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club, has come to be recognized as a respected coach due to his top-notch track record with Yu-Na Kim, the Korean skating sensation who won her first World title in Los Angeles in March.

For Orser, this success merely represent another exciting chapter in his life, one in which he is just trying to do his best job possible.

"I think my experience as a skater has taught me how to pace myself and also those things to be cautious about," said Orser. "You just have to remain focused."

As a skater, Orser was referred to as "Mr. Triple Axel" and was recognized for his superb jumps (especially the triple Axel and Lutz), wonderful edges and stylish sophistication. In spite of all his success, he always seemed to wind up just within armís reach of Olympic gold. In 1984, he came up second to Scott Hamilton at the Sarajevo Olympics and won silver again four years later at the 1988 Calgary Olympics in the famous on-ice duel against Brian Boitano, also known as the "Battle of the Brians."

"Brian and I didnít disappoint back in 1988, we followed the script people were expecting and lived up to the hype right to the bitter end," he said.

Orser pointed out that his student, Yu-Na Kim, has wound up in a similar situation, based upon her rivalry with Miki Ando and Mao Asada, the two Japanese stars who were respectively third and fourth at the 2009 World Championships.

"Iím noticing now that there are some real similarities in that they all push each other, which is just like Brian, Alexander Fadeev (the 1985 World titlist) and myself used to do with one another," explained Orser. "I think Iím the right person for her."

Orser certainly seems to be living up to his word. Ever since he and Kim joined forces more than three years ago, she has become one of the most dominant female skaters in the world.

Last season, Kim was second in the 2008-09 International Skating Union Championship Grand Prix ladies final and won the 2009 World title.

Back in July 2006, Orser first started working with Kim, who came to him with all of her triples through the Lutz. Since then, he has helped make her jumps bigger and better, edges deeper and presentation much more sophisticated.

David Wilson, the esteemed Canadian choreographer who does Kimís programs, has been responsible for helping raise her artistic bar.

"Three years ago, she signed up at the rink for the summer and asked me to be her coach, and when the summer was finished she asked to stay, and itís been great," said Orser.

Much as he did with his skating and show career, Orser has dedicated himself entirely to his work and is completely committed to his skaters.

"Every single day is accounted for through the rest of the year and thatís what it takes, so itís good," he said.

This season is particularly important for Orser due to the fact that the 2010 Vancouver Olympics are right on the horizon and his student has an excellent chance of winning a gold medal. Such a victory would not only bring Orser additional accolades, but perhaps also some well-deserved vindication in regard to his own past Olympic experiences.

"Itís all about working hard, remaining focused and making sure itís fun, if you have a happy skater, then thatís everything," said Orser. "Thereís always a meaning to the madness."

In recent years, Orser has also become a very popular figure among the Korean community because of Kim. In fact, his student has become so admired that she even came out ahead of the Korean president in a recent popularity poll.

Orser said that whenever he and Kim visit Korea, she is surrounded by scores of fans. Recently, some major corporations jumped on the Yu-Na bandwagon and have started to use her for commercial endorsements.

"She is the spokesperson for Nike, Samsung and Hyundai, and just the other day, had a new Hyundai delivered to her here in Canada," he said. "There is even Yu-Na bread."

In spite of this newfound fame, Kim has remained humble and is still the same sweet, hardworking teenager that she was when she first came to Orser.

"Sheís great, sheís nice and has a terrific way about her, sheís also quite funny," said Orser.

Meanwhile, Orser has been doing well with Adam Rippon, the 2008 U.S. Junior champion with who he started working with last December. (Prior to this, Rippon had been working with Nikolai Morozov, the Olympic coach, in Hackensack, N.J.)

Since the two have been together, Rippon has finished seventh at the 2009 U.S. nationals and won the 2009 World Junior title. There also seems to be some buzz about the possibility of his earning a U.S. Olympic berth this season.

"Adam is an extremely hard worker and is also very driven," said Orser, who accompanied Rippon to IceWorks in Aston earlier in July in order to be monitored by U.S. Figure Skating officials.

When asked about his ability to get such good results from his students, Orser also credited his former coach, Doug Leigh, who works in Barrie, Ontario, and with who he worked with throughout his entire competitive career. Leigh also worked with Elvis Stojko, the 1998 Olympic silver medalist.

"You can see we have a similar style and you can see where Iíve come from, but at the same time, Iíve made my own coaching style my own," he explained. "Iíve come from good stock."

Orser sure seems to do things right, both on-ice as well as off. He seems to be respected and very much liked by his peers, who often nod their heads with a smile whenever his name happens to be mentioned.

He also seems to leave an indelible imprint upon many. According to Uschi Kessler, his former coach and choreographer who owns and manages the IceWorks facility in Aston, Orser is a great guy in every respect.

"Brian had faith in what I did before he saw it and was able to carry it, which takes courage," said Kessler. "I always knew he would do well and he will always have a very special place in my heart."

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