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Borscht belts: Will Chan break the Canadian curse?

Olympic medal drought could end in Sochi; Joubert 'excited' for Games
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Patrick Chan carries the banner for Canada's gold-medal hopes at these Olympics. -Getty Images

Brian Orser is in a bit of a predicament at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, and this particular problem has nothing to do with anything on the ice.

The question, which he believes he has now resolved, is this: How the heck is he supposed to dress for the men's competition? At practice Wednesday, he was wearing a T-shirt from the Spanish team, but his jackets, sneakers and gloves were all from the Japanese team. That's because he coaches Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and Javier Fernández of Spain, and because of them, he has been quite the quick-change artist in Sochi.

For the men's event, fortunately, he will wear a neutral T-shirt and just change his blazer for when each skater hits the ice.

But Orser will not even have as much as a sock on from one nation in particular: his home country of Canada.

Orser finds himself in an odd situation here: Both of his skaters are considered medal contenders, and both pose a threat to Patrick Chan winning Canada's first Olympic gold medal in the men's event.

And just to add to the soap opera element of the event, Orser is one of the former Canadian men's skaters who contributed to the so-called "Canadian curse."

Orser came close to winning gold twice, earning silver medals in 1984 and 1988. Elvis Stojko also took the silver twice, in 1994 and 1998. Four-time world champion Kurt Browning was a gold-medal contender but never made it to the top. In his only previous Olympic appearance, in Vancouver, Chan placed fifth.

"Japan's never won either," Orser said with a smile following a practice that featured Fernández, Hanyu and Chan. "Spain has never won."

The eight Olympic medals Canadian men have won -- dating back to Donald Jackson, who earned bronze in 1960 -- are the most by any country without a gold. The best finish by a Japanese man was third, by Daisuke Takahashi in 2010.

Hanyu is coming off a triumph at the Grand Prix Final, where he beat Chan by more than 13 points. Fernández enters as Spain's first European champion. (He successfully defended his 2013 title last month in Budapest.) Chan, meanwhile, is the three-time world champion.

In the men's short program, all three skaters will take the ice in the same group, with Hanyu going first, followed by Fernández and then Chan.

Of course, there are several other men who are in contention for the medals, including gold. Keep in mind that Evgeni Plushenko, even though he is 31, is in the field, as is world silver medalist Denis Ten, Daisuke Takahashi and former world champion Brian Joubert.

"It's a couple of the others that everyone else needs to watch out for," said Orser, noting that no one expected Elizabeth Manley to sneak into the medal picture in Calgary, where all the attention was focused on Katarina Witt and Debi Thomas headed into the 1988 Winter Games.

Although most of the media attention in Sochi has been centered on Hanyu, as Japan's figure skating appetite seemingly can never be sated, Chan, with his three conseutive world titles, still carries much of the pressure and expectations.

Stojko, who is at the Olympics working as a contributor for Yahoo! Sports, said that Chan has a lot working in his favor.

"He's the poster boy for the judging system," Stojko said. "It's just a matter of him not making a mistake. The worst thing that can happen is if he makes a mistake and the whole 'Chanflation' thing comes into play. That can't happen here. If he wins the gold medal, he's got to earn it."

Stojko believes Chan and Hanyu are "matched in my opinion" but added, "Hanyu's been on fire this season. He has a youthful flair that could come into play in this competition."

Browning is also in Sochi and will be paying close attention to see if Chan will end the "curse."

"Orser, Stojko, myself, yeah, it's all of our fault," Browning said. "But I don't think Patrick cares about [the curse]. I think he's looking forward to breaking it.

"It is not a nice thing to do to a friend, but I know I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think he could handle it."

Joubert joie

Plushenko is the oldest skater in the men's event at 31, but Joubert, at the youthful age of 29, is another veteran to watch.

"I competed in my first international competition 13 years ago, and I'm not tired of competition," said the Frenchman, whose best finish in his three previous Olympics was sixth in Torino. "These Olympic Games feel like my first one. I arrived and got my equipment, and everything felt new, and I was very excited."

Joubert, the 2007 world champion, was in the same practice session as many of the top medal contenders, including Chan, Hanyu and Fernández.

"Of course they are very strong, very good skaters, but technically I can do the same things they can do," said Joubert, who finished eighth at the European championships last month. "I am very happy to be in the same group."

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