Brian Orser: “No new Hanyu can appear – he is the only one. But there will be new stars, and they will have their own era.”
Interview with Brian Orser for Russian media. About Rika Kihira, Boyang Jin, Jason Brown, Junhwan Cha, Yuzuru Hanyu, Ilia Malinin, Evgenia Medvedeva and suspension of Russian skaters.
source: sports.ru dd. 10th September 2022 by Maia Bagryantseva
Brian Orser arrived at the third stage of the Junior Grand Prix in an unusual capacity: his students are figure skaters of the first warm-ups from Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. Not at all the level that the coach of Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez has once accustomed us to.
The Canadian school, which was on top for several seasons, seemed to have moved to the periphery:
• Hanyu – the main figure skater of the Cricket Club (albeit not appearing there in recent seasons due to the pandemic) – retired;
• American Jason Brown has not yet been announced for any event of the season;
• and we haven’t heard much about the Japanese Rika Kihira, who has recently joined Orser’s team.
What is it – the decline of a great school in Toronto or a regrouping before a breakthrough? We met in Riga with Brian Orser and found out everything.
What mood does Cricket Club have entering the new season? Is the school alive?
Brian Orser: Yes, we’re fine. We finally had a normal summer, we spent the first full off-season since the start of the pandemic. In Canada, rather strict covid restrictions were in effect for a very long time, they tied our hands. The Cricket Club is a private school, and during the season only members of the club have access to the rink, but in the summer we can take someone else. So we had summer camps and they were packed.
My main stars have not yet returned to us – for various reasons, and covid played not the least role. In some countries, for example in Korea and Japan, there are still travel restrictions, quarantine is in force somewhere, so everything is not so simple.
Well let’s start with Rika Kihira. The season has started, how things are going for her?
Brian Orser: Unfortunately, Rika is still fighting with an injury. She has a difficult case – a fracture of her right ankle. That is, this is not even a stress fracture, but a real one. And she’s been struggling with this for over a year now. It gets better, then worse; she also performs in the show – without jumps, just skating, it’s necessary to earn money somehow. But the leg has a constant load. In a good way, she needs a cast, and complete rest for a couple of months, so that everything finally heals.
At the end of September, Rika participates in the qualifying competitions for the national championships and plans to fly to Toronto by October. I don’t know, at first she planned to come in July, then in August, now in October. I don’t really understand what we will be able to do – there is no training process. She tried to work on something in the spring when she came to the Cricket Club. After all, she still has an apartment in Toronto, so many plans, well, that is, she is, as it were, with us but at the same time she is not.
Believe it or not, this morning I woke up from her text message – I asked how she was and when to expect her. I can read her answer: “The immediate plans are to qualify for the Japanese Nationals, the first qualifying start is at the end of September. I will perform there with double jumps, because, unfortunately, I have not recovered from the injury, sp I can’t really jump. I’m going to Canada in October.” Well, yes, she is announced for the Canadian Grand Prix stage. By the way, it will be held next to our ice rink, it will take 20 minutes to drive from us.
The main thing is not to forget that Rika is an athlete of great talent. She can do everything. We just need to bring her in good shape, physically, not even mentally – she has no problems here, she is a real fighter. We need to restore her jumps.
In the spring, we started working on it, then it seemed that the injury receded, and Rika returned to jumps. And we breathed a sigh of relief – as if we saw the old Rika, she reminded us why she is considered such a cool skater. Speed returned to her, and she jumped high, flying double axel and triple salchow without any visible issues.
I really hope that we can restore her because she shows incredible skating. Real women’s skating – and, as we see, today’s women’s singles skating is moving exactly in this direction. All changes in the rules seem to be invented for her. It’s just necessary to solve health problems.
Boyang Jin also has recently texted – he was supposed to start training on September 1, but we still don’t see him at the rink. I don’t know where he got stuck. It is clear that in China everything is not easy with covid, they even returned lockdowns in some provinces. But this did not stop other Chinese skaters from coming – we have a Chinese girl at the rink, and the Chinese dance team returned to the rink in Montreal to Patrice Lauzon and Marie-France Dubreuil. That is, everything is real. Therefore, yes, the beginning of the season turned out a bit in limbo. We wait.
With juniors, it’s easier, of course. Recently, I have been working a lot with children – novices and even younger ones. For me, as a coach, this is something new and I really like it. I feel like I am improving my coaching skills. Sometimes you have to learn the basics, something that I have always taken for granted when working with adults. I have serious expectations here: I think the guys have a great future – and yes, sometimes I notice that started to command a lot, like I became a real boss, haha.
How’s Jason Brown doing? Should we expect him in the season? He did not announce the end of his career …
Brian Orser: I can’t talk about his specific plans – he really didn’t announce anything. But I will say that he is returning to training next week, he will participate in the Japan Open. He won’t be at the Grand Prix, yes, but many are not there this season, this happens after the Olympic Games. This, by the way, gives other athletes a chance – a door opens for them that was previously closed. For example, another student of mine – Canadian Corey Circelli – was invited to the British stage, and for him, this is a huge step forward.
We are all looking forward to Jason’s return to the Cricket Club ice. He is the soul of our rink, he is adored by all juniors, and it is simply impossible not to love him. Well, do not forget the way Jason Brown skates is a rarity today. Just to train with him on the same ice is already great luck.
Jason focused on shows and master classes after the season. He performed a lot in Japan, he is very popular there. Recently he skated an exhibition program with Shae-Lynn Bourne, and it was something incredible. Shae-Lynn is in amazing shape! When she works with a skater on a program, she skates everything herself.
Her choreography, by the way, is not for everyone. You had to be really in great physical shape just to make it to the end of the program alive. Therefore an athlete is often tempted to simplify the original plan, rest here, exhale there before the jump. So the only option is to skate a program a lot. Junhwan Cha, by the way, is exactly like that. We are also preparing for the season, there are two Challengers ahead, then two stages of the Grand Prix. I am also waiting for him in Toronto, we have to reboot his skating.
Here is the thing: when the guys go home, they relax. They get into a comfort zone and start training on their schedule. And in Cricket we have a pretty clear routine, your life is built around the rink. Jun also entered university, plus he’s a celebrity in Korea now – so he’s been pretty busy.
What about Hanyu? Is he going to come to the Cricket Club?
Brian Orser: I hope, we are looking forward to it. If I’m not mistaken, he also still has an apartment in Toronto. He said that he was going to come – officially say goodbye and finish our chapter. He is still careful about travel – Yuzu is extremely careful about covid, so he hasn’t left Japan yet.
What awaits figure skating without Hanyu? Do you see someone who will replace him?
Brian Orser: No new Hanyu can appear – he is the only one. But there will be new stars, and they will have their own era. Who it will be – a boy or a girl – I do not know yet. With Yuzuru, it was also not clear from the very beginning how genius he is. It took a couple of years to release all this strength and power from him.
Do you see Ilia Malinin in this role?
Brian Orser: Undoubtedly, he will be a star. He has amazing jumps, but on the ice, of course, he is still a boy. But he will grow up, and hopefully, he will keep all the trump cards. Maybe at first I even refused to see such a strong athlete in him, but he made me believe in him.
The quality of his jumps is something. Such awareness in the banding, a sense of balance, such a clear axis of the jump. I think that fearlessness with which he enters the jump will not go anywhere. He has it. The athlete either has it or not, it cannot be taught.
Do you keep in touch with Evgenia Medvedeva? Do you know what’s going on in her life?
Brian Orser: Yes, I’m following her in social networks. We text, stay in touch, except that after February 24 this happens a little less often. I try not to bother her, realizing that it is not easy for her right now – and I don’t want to put pressure on her. But I know her quite well, and I don’t even need to ask her about anything. She looks in demand and happy.
I can still say that I feel nothing but pride for that short time that we had the opportunity to work together. Her last two competitions, especially the Russian Grand Prix, were her best skating in her career. And “Memoirs of a Geisha” is my favorite program of hers, Zhenya skated perfectly then in Moscow. As for me, she should have won those competitions. Shae-Lynn Bourne gave her a program that made her leave her comfort zone, but she did it brilliantly.
Medals are not everything, I saw how happy she was. It is also important that she also understood: the gold medal does not define her as a person. I had the same story, and I must say, I had to spend much more time on this realization, Evgenia coped with it faster.
After all, you have been going to this all your life, it seems to you that you should become an Olympic champion at all costs, you are this medal in some sense. And then all of a sudden it doesn’t happen and you’re at a loss. Because it is not clear: who am I then, what am I worth without this medal? And Evgenia had no other way but the path to the Olympic gold. Well, when this did not happen, she had to reassemble herself, and her love for figure skating saved her. Now the whole world loves her.
This season, it seems, will pass without Russian athletes. How do you think this will affect the balance of power and the results?
Brian Orser: Well, we are already seeing the results – at this stage, Canada has two medals in pairs, haha. If there were Russian figure skaters, the whole pedestal would be theirs. As for the ban… I will say this: it is as it is. We are moving forward, I see that Russian athletes do not stop either, they will have competitions in parallel with ISU events, so everyone is working.
Is it good for sports or bad? Probably, it is important to understand that the events in Ukraine do not please anyone. And it’s good for sports when clean and honest athletes compete. It’s not just about politics, the whole doping issue somehow faded into the background, and here it was like a couple of rotten apples spoiled the harvest. This is not the first case of doping problems among Russians, so perhaps all these sanctions are connected not only with military actions.
Will this fog ever clear? I don’t know. All I can do is do my job, coach and teach people how to skate. And get great pleasure from it.
Ask now one of the Russians to join the Cricket Club – will you take?
Brian Orser: Well, it’s a difficult question. Honestly? I don’t know. But firstly: I don’t think that someone will contact us with such an offer. And secondly… You know, Evgenia and I have come a long way together, it was great. But I’ll probably stop there.
“I couldn’t have done better the job that I did with them. The initiative to end our cooperation was not mine.” Igor Shpilband about Diana Davis and Gleb Smolkin