Brian Orser: “Every year, new champions are born, but they can never become someone like Yuzuru. Being his coach is my greatest pride.”

Posted on 2023-07-03 • No comments yet


Translation of an article about Yuzuru Hanyu visiting Cricket Club and interview with Brian Orser.

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source: 30th June by Mie Noguchi

In late April of this year, at the prestigious skating rink “Cricket Club” in Toronto, coaches Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson warmly welcomed the return of Yuzuru Hanyu (28). While observing his three-day stay, Orser reflected on the past 11 years and shared various stories. How did Orser perceive the further development of his beloved student, who had announced his transition to professional skating?

Yuzuru visited Cricket Club in late April. Orser recalls being “surprised” when he received the news.

“As a matter of fact, the week before the news of Yuzu’s visit, something shocking happened. Cha Junhwan (South Korea), who won a silver medal at the World Championships, contacted me and said, ‘I will be practicing in Korea from now on.’ We had been together for eight years, and it was a time when we were thinking about what comes next. It left a big hole in my heart… At such times, you tend to lose confidence. But when I received the news that Yuzu would be coming back, I thought, ‘Wow, what perfect timing!’ At that moment, my heart became much lighter. Thinking that I would see Yuzu, my thoughts of regret towards Junhwan stopped, and instead, I started praying for his future success in Korea. In that sense, Yuzu’s visit was incredible timing.”

Orser has produced many outstanding skaters over the years. Some have switched to other coaches, while others have disappeared from the skating world after retirement. However, Orser emphasized that “Yuzu and Javi (Javier Fernández) are different.”

“Yuzu and Javi. The years I spent with those two at the top of the world were the happiest moments as a coach. To have my students competing for the World Championships and to watch them from rinkside, it’s an honor, isn’t it? But you know, I realized that there is another form of happiness. It’s when a beloved student graduates and then comes back to the rink to visit. It’s a new kind of happiness that I had never experienced as a coach.”

“After retiring in 2019, Javi has visited Cricket Club multiple times. He would skate in front of the children, lead them, and even conduct small skating lessons. When Yuzu was still training here, Javi came as a graduate and skated together with him. Javi was a truly challenging student, so I felt a sense of joy in watching his growth, as if he were my own child.”

“Yuzu had embarked on a new journey,” and Orser said, describing the nature of his graduation during this visit.

“On the first day Yuzu came, I was busy with another seminar, so I couldn’t skate on the same rink. However, I saw Yuzu warming up outside the rink, and I was amazed. He was warming up perfectly, as if he were preparing for an official practice for a competition. He was so focused that I couldn’t even approach him. If he had just come as a former skater to say hello, such meticulous warm-up wouldn’t be necessary. Seeing Yuzu’s back, unchanged from the past, brought back a lot of nostalgic feelings, and I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of training he would engage in. On the first day, Yuzu was scheduled to participate in Tracy’s session, so I had a feeling of ‘Oh no, I missed it!'”

Yuzuru stayed at the club for three days. During that time, he participated in various sessions and practiced with young skaters. Observing his presence, Orser felt the following once again.

“Yuzu was not a ‘retired skater.’ He maintained perfect condition and was ready to compete at any moment. He performed one program after another in response to the requests of the young skaters. Moreover, he executed the jumps with the same technical content as in competitions, flawlessly. The children, who expected the arrival of a retired senior skater who would just skate a bit, were left speechless by the incredibly high level of his performance.”

Why was he able to maintain such a remarkable condition? Orser couldn’t help but ask that question.

“This is how Yuzu answered: ‘It’s really tough to maintain the condition. But I want to deliver good skating for the fans. Because I have their support, I have a responsibility to always show the best performance. If it’s a show where only I am skating, then I have to bear that responsibility alone. I’m serious about it.’ Yuzu isn’t the type who wants to escape from pressure and enjoy skating just because he turned professional. I understood that he had embarked on a new journey, and it made sense to me.”

During his stay, Hanyu also participated in the cricket club’s famous basic skating class called ‘stroking class.’ When Hanyu first came to Toronto 11 years ago, Orser and Tracy led the class while Hanyu followed behind. However, this time, with the two coaches observing from the side of the rink, Hanyu took the lead and guided around ten skaters.

“It was truly an interesting phenomenon. In the stroking class, Tracy and I didn’t need to skate because Yuzu demonstrated all the steps and skating just as we had practiced together for the past eight years. Yuzu fully understood the advantages of these techniques and still executed them flawlessly after three years.”

Continuing on, Orser added:

“Speaking of technical aspects, for example, there is a circle step that combines eight mohawk steps, and Yuzu shows it with perfect footwork. This step involves balancing on all the edges and changing feet from left to right within the same trajectory. It’s a relatively simple step, and from a skater’s perspective, it’s a move that you wouldn’t use in a competitive step sequence. However, when Yuzu performs it, everything changes — amazing speed, deep edges, significant tracings, and elongated strides. The children witnessed this and experienced the realization that performing simple skills beautifully leads to the pinnacle of the world.”

Furthermore, Orser added with a wry smile, “The only regret was…”

“Since Yuzu kindly showed us the example, I also wanted to skate together. However, I’ve been experiencing some pain in my left hip joint lately. As a result, I’ve decided to undergo hip replacement surgery. So, if there’s a chance for Yuzu to come to Toronto again in the future, I would love to skate together with a healthy leg after the surgery. While it’s certainly fulfilling to watch the graduates, I still want to be an active coach for a long time.”

Reflecting on what he has conveyed as a coach, Orser, who has bid farewell to graduates in various ways, shares his thoughts.

“The team composed of Tracy, David Wilson, and myself began coaching in 2007 with Kim Yuna. Since then, the core coaching method has remained unchanged. There’s an English saying, ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,’ and that’s our philosophy. We don’t meddle in the technical aspects of the skaters. Growth occurs when the skaters discover something within themselves. It goes without saying that Yuzu evolved through his own efforts. It took Javier a bit longer, but the moment he mastered all the techniques, he started diving into deep waters without a life jacket. In English, they say, ‘you either sink or you swim,’ and at a certain point, the skaters become capable of freely spreading their wings. Until that day, we focus on providing guidance and patiently wait.”

Orser, who has adhered to this coaching method, mentioned that upon seeing Yuzuru’s return and presence, he was once again convinced of something.

“We have carried out our approach with conviction, but there are times when we ponder, ‘Is this coaching sufficient?’ However, upon witnessing the post-graduation journeys of Yuzu and Javi, I became certain. Both of them have grown from exceptional athletes to exceptional human beings. Yuzu expressed how much he missed the ice at the Cricket Club. That conveyed everything. Yuzu feels that those eight years of daily dedication have become his foundation. I once again felt that our goal is to bting up individuals in this manner.”

“The whereabouts of Pooh’s tissue case… When asked about the whereabouts of Pooh’s tissue case, Orser chuckled and said:

“Well, I also tried looking for it, but it wasn’t in the cricket club’s office. Maybe it was left behind in the apartment where Yuzu was staying. When the pandemic started, he returned to Japan with a temporary intention of going back to Canada, but then he couldn’t re-enter the country. I believe they must have reunited during his visit to Toronto this time. I would love to see a photo of their wonderful reunion too.”

Finally, he talked about the future of the figure skating world:

“Yuzu has been at the top for a long time, leading the figure skating world. Every year, new champions are born, but they can never become someone like Yuzu. It’s not easy for someone to emerge as a figure who can replace skaters like Yuna or Mao. However, Yuzu’s birth was not a coincidence. It’s the result of him believing in the right direction and persevering through hard work. And Yuzu hasn’t stopped that effort. As he gets older, more effort will be required, but he will continue. Seeing Yuzu again, I am convinced that he is a unique presence. Being his coach is my greatest pride.”


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