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For Orser, hope that Kim can help a good guy finish first

February 25, 2010 |  7:01 am


Maybe it's because Brian Orser "skates" along with South Korea's Kim Yuna as she performs her figure skating programs, doing little hops and turns as he stands behind the rink boards.

Or maybe it's because he came so frustratingly close to two Olympic gold medals. Orser won both the short and long programs in 1984 but lost to Scott Hamilton because of compulsory figures, then lost to Brian Boitano in 1988 in a 5-4 decision ultimately decided by a single score on the card of one judge.

Whatever the reasons, there is a feeling that a Kim triumph Thursday night will give Orser, her coach, the gold he so badly wanted.

"Just about everybody asks me, 'Are you going to get your gold finally?'"'' Orser said. "And I answer, 'No, she will get it. This is her Olympics.'

"Each time someone says that it's like a stab in the back to me and a bit of an insult to her."'

That doesn't mean a lot of folks in the figure skating world won't be rooting for both Kim and Orser.

Take 1976 Olympic champion Dorothy Hamill.

"I want Brian Orser to win," Hamill said. "Isn't that terrible?"

Hamill added the caveat because she is mentoring U.S. champion Rachael Flatt, fifth after the short program. Flatt has an outside shot at a bronze medal.

"I get goose bumps thinking about it," Hamill said of the possibility Orser's skater might win. "I'm cheering for him as much as Kim.

"It will be her medal, of course, but he will have helped her to achieve that."

Orser, 48, had barely begun coaching four years ago when Kim, then 15 and still based in South Korea, landed with her mother on his doorstep (actually, one of the rinks at the Toronto Skating Cricket and Curling Club) for some style lessons with choreographer David Wilson. Kim's mother, Park Mi-hee, asked Orser if he would work on some technical issues with her daughter.

This was early summer of 2006, when Park sought out several North American coaches to help Kim become more than a little jumping bean.

"We were building a program from the ground up at the club, with little kids in helmets on the ice, when Yuna showed up,'' Orser said. "The next thing I knew, her mother had signed Yuna up for the whole summer without asking me, and then she asked me to be Yuna's full-time coach."

Orser originally said no because he had commitments to an ice show tour. About five months later, when his touring days had ended, he agreed, and Kim moved with her mother to Toronto.

"She was virtually my first student as a professional coach," Orser said.

In their first season together, Kim won a bronze medal at the World Championships. Two years later, she became world champion and Olympic favorite, just as Orser had been leading up to the last Winter Games in his own country.

Orser felt he owed Canada an apology after he failed to win the 1988 gold in Calgary.

Now he faces a similar scenario as a coach.

"It's a huge amount of pressure on me," he said. "I'm sure some coaches out there think, 'This girl came along, and she already could do a triple flip-triple (combination), so how much did he have to do with her?'

"But it's almost harder having someone of this caliber handed to you."

Orser is unafraid to show his enthusiasm over the challenge, as manifested in his rink-side performances that TV loves to capture.

"I'm pretty new at this still," he said. "I'm developing my own [coaching style] as far as handling that time.

"Backstage, I'm pretty calm, but once the music starts I do tend to skate it with her because at home I skate it with her when we are building programs. When I'm watching her, I can't help it. I feel like I am sending her energy, and at same time, I'm helping myself through those 4 minutes, 10 seconds (the time of the long program.)"

A lot of Orser's friends, even coaches of rivals, will be sending out similar energy in that 4:10 Thursday night.

-- Philip Hersh in Vancouver

Photo: Kim Yuna and coach Brian Orser react to her world record score in Tuesday's Olympic short program. Credit: Amy Sancetta / Associated Press