Elena Vaytsekhovskaya’s interview with Brian Orser at Rostelecom Cup 2017. Translation.
Brian, tell me a secret, why having a Canadian passport and coaching Japanese skater you represent Kazakhstan here in Moscow?
– There is no secret: in Moscow my athlete Elizabeth Tursynbayeva will represent Kazakhstan, so I passed up “Japanese” accreditation so that we could give it to someone from the Yuzuru’s staff. This is common practice.
You have been working with Yuzuru for the second Olympic cycle. Is it more difficult than preparing an athlete for his first Olympic Games?
– Of course there’s a difference and a big one. Not so long ago we talked about this with Tracy Wilson, with whom we have worked for many years, and she admitted that this season she experiences much more stress than before. The same can be said about me. This is understandable: Hanyu and Javier Fernandez have already passed one Olympics, both have won two gold medals at the world championships since, so they can not be considered ordinary players in this field. Moreover, Yuzuru is Olympic champion, in Pyeongchang he’ll have to defend his title. Four years ago before the Games in Sochi, he was, you can say, nobody: an ordinary athlete who has not won a single major competitions yet.
Why did you decide to attack the next Olympic with old programs?
– He wanted so. If you are interested in my opinion, I think that at a certain age an athlete must start making important decisions on his own career independently. My job is to be around and help. Or to keep them from completely insane acts. If I see that the decision is wrong, of course, I try to discourage the student from one or another step. But in this case I didn’t see any slightest reason for this. With this short program, Yuzuru already managed to establish a new world record this season, performing at the competitions Autumn Classic International in Canada and this, you will agree, is a good bid for the Olympic season. As for the free, I know that for Hanyu this program is special and very “personal”. For a number of reasons it’s important for him to skate this program in the Olympic season. When he told me about that, I found the arguments more than sufficient. Not to mention that as a viewer I like both programs a lot.
I completely agree with your point of view, but of course it’s not a secret for you: when one of the leaders returns to the previous programs in the Olympic season, people immediately start to talk that it’s a manifestation of weakness and inability to come up with something more complex and original.
– I don’t agree. At the Olympics in Calgary I skated the short program of the previous season and won it. During those five years that we have been working together with Hanyu, we had many programs and wide range of artistic images. So I do not think that anyone can doubt the Hanyu’s ability to show this or that genre on the ice. Another thing is important here: if an athlete has made a choice, he should not toss around, he should not doubt this choice. Well, we do not doubt.
Fernandez is another story. He needs new programs, new emotions, he quickly tires from the monotony. Last year’s short program Javier has skated for two seasons, but this is an exceptional case. If you compare these two athletes, I would say that Yuzuru is a perfectionist. Whatever he does on the ice, he does not calm down until he brings it to perfection. Javi is constantly experimenting, especially with choreography. And he does it well.
What was the starting point, forcing you to separate your athletes at different skating rinks?
– It happened not so long ago, a little over a month ago. Suddenly it began to feel that the ice load had increased. At the moment, we have six singles and one pair preparing for the Olympic Games: Javi, Yuzuru, Elizabeth, Gabby Daleman, another Spaniard Javi Raya, a Korean boy … plus Dylan Moskovich with partner.
Do you want to say that the reason in this, not in Hanyu and not in Fernandez?
– I will not lie, to some extent the reason in them also. In general, guys have quite friendly relationships, but let’s speak frankly, in the Olympic season everyone fights for himself. Each of these skaters deserves a certain personal space and personal comfort. I started to notice that, working with Yuzuru, I always watch Javier out the corner of my eye. And vice versa. But it should not be like this, it affects the quality of training. Therefore, actually, the idea of two different ice rinks arose. From time to time me, Javi and Gabby just go to another ice rink and work there, while other specialists of our group work with Yuzuru at our main rink.
How closely does the Japanese figure skating federation control Hanyu’s Olympic preparations?
– I would not say that this control is obsessive. I feel full trust and support in this respect. Representatives of the federation came to us in summer to see how the work is moving, expressed a desire to see the programs before the season begins to check the levels, but any other countries behave in the same way towards their athletes.
Alexei Mishin once said that it is better to have two average men in the group rather than one even very talented girl. Do you agree with this?
– Did he really say that? It’s funny. My experience tells that working with very top-level athletes is difficult for another reason: they are immersed in their own training not only physically, but emotionally. They demand the same from the coach, and this is not a matter of nationality, character or gender. At one time I worked only with girls, when Kim Yuna and Christina Gao skated in my group, then the boys stayed, now the group is mixed, and so far I see no reason to change my point of view about this.
How many quads do your athletes plan to perform at the Games?
– Hanyu is going to jump all five. Plus two in a short program. Fernandez’s tactics are different and it’s absolutely clear to me. With three clean quads in a free program, he bypasses any other athlete, if that athlete makes mistakes. As it was on Japan Open, where Nathan Chen, Shoma Uno remained behind Fernandez. In other words, Javier has no need to jump quad lutz.
Is he able to jump it at all?
– For sure he can do a quad loop. There is one “but” here. A new difficult jump very often breaks the sportsman’s season, all the skates are come to one: will I land it or not? All last season, Javi watched how Yuzuru fought with his loop. Saw how many times he fell, how many times he drived himslef to a frenzy. But if for Hanyu this is only a part of the training work, then for Javier there is nothing attractive in such self-torture. He used to get pleasure from training, not stress. So I never try to push on him.
Doesn’t the fact that now almost 10-years old children start to do quads sсare you?
– I have one of such skaters. He does all quads, including lutz, and he is only 12 years old. I guess, he said that he did his first triple axel three years ago. How old was he, nine?
But these jumps do not become easier for execution. What has changed? Technique? Or just light-weight boots?
– Actually, you mentioned two key points. No one hasn’t jumped and even skated since long ago in such boots as those in which I once jumped myself, including quadruple jumps. As for technique, I would say that atitude to multi-turn jumps has changed. Just like it was in athletics in the mid-70s of the last century, when running a mile faster than four minutes was an impossible dream for every runner. When Roger Bannister did it, all the others immediately rushed to this breakthrough: four minutes was no longer a psychological barrier. Approximately the same thing happened in figure skating. For athletes of my generation and even younger the quad was an event, a serious milestone. Now YouTube is full of videos with quds for every taste. Everyone jumps them, it has become an integral part of single skating. When I look at how my 12-year-old athlete works on combination of quad lutz and toeloop, I’m just puzzled, trying to imagine myself on his place. He even has no fear: just a jump, nothing special.
Can such jumping loads provoke early injuries? Much, of course, depends on how much the athlete is technical. My guy has good technique. He has a sports family, his parents were engaged in sports and understand it. Since the growth process at 12 years is in high gear, the athlete periodically has knee pain. But such problems are solved quite simply: we remove the jumping load and work on something else – steps, skating skills, choreography.
Is it possible to say that quadruple jumps require more careful body preparation?
– Certainly. In our group we pay a lot of attention to the special stretching – one of the types of pilates. When I skated myself, I used to work for three – four hours a day on compulsory figures. When you skate a lot on one or the other leg, perform all kinds of loops, rockers, brackets, turns at low speed, all the smallest muscle fibers work out perfectly. This among other things is very good prevention of injuries. The same effect can be achieved by special training, and all my athletes do it. I constantly remind them how important it is to be able to listen to your body. Before the Autumn Classic tournament, Hanyu’s knee began to bother him. Nothing serious, but after he lost the free, I saw that the Japanese media was trying to make a story from this. In fact, the reason was absolutely clear to me: Hanyu was practicing quad lutz and quad loop so meticulously, doing so many attempts that the body reacted to this with some kind of stop signal. In the end, he did neither one nor the other jump, because of what the whole program fell down. I gave him a few days of rest, everything fell into place.
When a coach works with an athlete for many years, he usually knows his student no worse than his parents. Can you say something like that about Hanyu?
– I believe I learned him thoroughly as an athlete. From a purely human point of view, he is still a mystery in some things. According to Yudzuru’s reaction to some of my jokes, I see, for example, that he has a sense of humor. At the same time, he is too focused on winning the Olympics. In my opinion, too much. I would like him to allow himself to think not only about the result, but also about the pleasure, at least sometimes. But this is Hanyu.
I heard from my Japanese colleagues that Yuzuru has reduced his contacts with media this season.
– Yes, it’s true. For example, I can ask Fernandez at any time to meet with any of the journalists, but I don’t even risk to ask Hanyu. I know that I will hear “no”.
Do you know that the Japanese never say “no” to the older person they talk to?
– Wow, I did not know that. I should pay attention to this. But I do not think I’m ready to check it. In everything that concerns communication with the media, the Japanese have their own orders, quite strict. The same story was with Kim Yuna, when she was skating: all her interviews were controlled by a number of managers. I have always tried to explain to my athletes that any communication is a two-way street. Normal relations with journalists are especially important when everything goes wrong. At one time, I learned from my own experience that the most correct thing after an unsuccessful performance is not to seek excuses, but honestly tell what you feel. Because then you get a purely human sympathy in return, not a mockery. It’s always more pleasant. When I left the sport, I was even surprised how warmly all the Canadian journalists wrote about me. Even though I left being the loser.
Getting back to the Olympic season: do you plan to perform with your skaters at all competitions without exception?
– I could say that this season is exactly the same as the one that was a year or two ago, but you understand, as well as I do, that it is not the same. Everyone thinks only about the Olympics, sometimes the level of stress goes off scale to such an extent that we decided to attract sports psychologists to work with athletes.
Is it really that serious?
– How to tell you … The same Gabby suffered a rather serious surgery this summer, because of which she now lags behind the training schedule, and sometimes she just needs to talk to someone so that the stress does not grow into a panic. I don’t like to stir things prematurely: if the athlete is internally unbalanced, he can not train productively. But we started the preparation a month earlier than usual, in order to have time to do more preparatory work.
Does this mean that the season will be over before the usual?
– Actually, I’m a supporter of the idea that in the Olympic year my sportsmen perform at the world championships, too. It seems right to me in relation to the ISU, so at one time I put a lot of efforts to persuade Kim Yuna to go to Turin after her victory in Vancouver. Even though she became second there. All, of course, will depend on the Olympics. This is the main task of the season – to be in maximum shape on a strictly certain day. It should also be taken into account that the Games will begin with a team event, which can also become a great stress for athletes. But this will only affect two my athletes – Yuzuru and Gabby.
How likely is it that Hanyu and Fernandez will continue their career after the Games?
– It may sound funny, but I’ve never asked them about it. Perhaps subconsciously I’m not ready to hear the answer. Javier once said in an interview that perhaps he’ll skate a season or two after the Games. What Yuzuru thinks, I just do not know: he gives all his interviews in my presence in Japanese. Maybe he wants to stay – he’s younger than Fernandez. Although in this case I do not rule out that Javi will also stay.
What if they both quit?
– Then I’ll finally have some free time.
by Elena Vaytsekhovskaya for rsport.ru