Orser delights in job he never thought he wanted

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The boy has been struggling with his double axel the entire session, two-footing it, tumbling hard to the ice.

Again and again Brian Orser encourages him, walking the youngster through what he's doing wrong and urging him to keep trying. When the skater finally lands one, Orser lets out a big "Yay!"

For a guy who never wanted to be a coach, Orser is proving to be a natural.

Three years after bringing down the curtain on his professional skating career, Canada's two-time silver medalist is back in the Olympics as coach of Kim Yu-na, the biggest favorite for the women's gold medal since Katarina Witt in 1988.

"I marvel at the fact that Yu-na really believed in me. She was really adamant that I teach her," Orser said. "What a gift for me. You get handed this jewel, this diamond in the rough, and you have to expose it."

Orser has done more than just expose Kim's talent. He has polished and refined it. The South Korean lights up the rink like a precious gem. She enters Tuesday night's short program as the reigning world champion, having won all but one competition over the last two years with an exquisite blend of athleticism and grace.

Most of all, Orser has helped Kim shoulder the crushing expectations of her home country, which has never won a Winter Olympics medal in anything but speedskating.

"He really knows what I feel in the competitions because there was Brian-Brian," Kim said at the world championships.

Orser is still best known as one half of the "Battle of the Brians," the epic duel with American Brian Boitano that defined the Calgary Olympics. Orser went into the games — the first Winter Olympics in Canada — as the reigning world champion, and the hype was all-encompassing long before the battle ensued.

"Pressure 101? No, there's not a textbook for that," said Orser, so popular he was chosen to carry Canada's flag at the opening ceremony.

"It is kind of surreal to be back in this position again. But I'm wearing a completely different hat."

After retiring from competitive skating, Orser began a lucrative professional life, touring, doing shows, trying his hand at choreography every once in a while. In the spring of 2006, Kim came to the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club to work with noted choreographer David Wilson. Orser was helping out at the private facility when he wasn't touring, and he worked with Kim during what was supposed to be a three-week stay.

She never left.

Orser turned down Kim's initial request to coach her, not quite ready to give up the fun and freedom of touring. But the more he worked with her on his stops in Toronto, the more he realized this was where his career was leading. After one last farewell tour across Canada, Orser became Kim's full-time coach in 2007.

Orser had conducted hundreds of skating clinics and seminars during his touring days, so he knew how to teach. But there's a world of difference between teaching and coaching.

"It's unusual in that he has the skill set," said Linda Leaver, Boitano's longtime coach. "For a coach, you really need to be a good communicator. And you have to have a lot of empathy. He knows the sport and he's able to put himself in her shoes and find the answers for her — which are not necessarily the answers for him."

Though Kim is his most high-profile skater, Orser has quickly become one of the world's hottest coaches. Two-time world junior champion Adam Rippon trains with him, so does Christina Gao, a 15-year-old who finished fifth in her first appearance at the U.S. championships.

"The last person they see before they go out to the middle of the ice to start their program is me," Orser said. "And then the hours leading up to it, you have to develop a routine with each athlete that is consistent and keeps building to that ultimate performance. So it's not random at all — where you sit on the bus, how much you say to them, whether you have lunch with them or not. And every athlete's different."

While Orser is quick to share credit with his coaching team of David Wilson and Tracy Wilson, the 1988 Olympic bronze medalist in ice dance, he clearly has a gift for his new career. He cranks up the music before practice sessions and races onto the ice, looking like skating's version of the Energizer Bunny. Not only does he show his students what he wants them to do or what they're doing wrong, he has a knack for explaining it clearly and simply, too. Everyone, from Kim down to the kids taking Learn-to-Skate classes, gets his full attention.

There's no questioning his passion. Watch him while one of his skaters is competing, and Orser will be doing the entire program right along with him or her — bending, twisting and moving his arms to the music. When Kim was on the ice at the world championships, he was skating right along with her, putting on an animated show from the sideline.

"He's put a lot of his energy into this," Leaver said. "He's a good coach and it'll mean a lot to him if she skates well. I'm just happy he's had this much success, and hoping he'll have further success."

The disappointment of finishing second to Boitano took years to fade, and it was a decade before Orser could pull out those videotapes from Calgary. But those experiences have helped shape how he coaches Kim, and prepared her for the frenzy in Vancouver.

"All that knowledge and all that wisdom, what if I had won? I wouldn't have learned any lessons that now I can pass on to Yu-na," he said. "Knock on wood, I'm always one step ahead of any distractions for her because I'm anticipating certain things. I jump in there — deflect, deflect, deflect — and she can just keep moving the wheels in the right direction."

Make no mistake, Orser is not looking for redemption through Kim. He has wholeheartedly embraced a calling he never expected, and now only looks forward.

"I've kind of found my thing with teaching. And who knew?" Orser said. "I really never thought I'd be a teacher in figure skating. Teaching yes, maybe. But coaching? No, because they are two different things. But it's a great ride right now. I love it."


AP Sports Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report.