Ice Network

Orser experiences 'bittersweet' night at Iceberg

Coach has one skater win Olympic gold, the other fall short of podium
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Brian Orser shares a tense moment with his pupil, Yuzuru Hanyu, in the kiss and cry. -Getty Images

For a coach who had just guided a skater to an Olympic gold medal, Brian Orser really did not know what to think.

On one hand, yes, he had produced his second Olympic champion in four years. Here in Sochi, he watched as Yuzuru Hanyu made history as Japan's first men's figure skating champion. Four years ago, another one of his skaters, Yu-Na Kim, set the gold standard in Vancouver.

But the night was, in his words, "bittersweet" because his other skater, Javier Fernández, dropped out of the medals mainly because the Spaniard repeated a triple Salchow and received no points for the element. The mistake (and a few others) dropped Fernández from third to fourth.

Orser is known for molding some of the world's best skaters, but he also teaches a group of adult skaters. He created a ritual during the class, and every Tuesday: When the clock would strike 11:11, he would pause, close his eyes and allow himself to dream.

"I would envision the two of them standing on the podium," Orser said.

The skaters weren't standing on the medal stand in any particular order, but Orser could see both the Japanese and Spanish flags being raised.

Half of the dream came true tonight, with Hanyu, and Orser knows how important this is for Japan, a skating-mad country, and for Hanyu's home in Sendai, which had been damaged so greatly in the tsunami and earthquake in 2011.

But he feels for Fernández, who was so close to his dream of winning an Olympic medal.

As if those emotions were not enough, Orser also empathized with another skater he doesn't even coach: Patrick Chan.

A three-time world champion, Chan fell short of bringing Canada its long-awaited gold medal in men's figure skating. Even though Hanyu fell twice, leaving the door wide open for Chan to make Canadian history, Chan stumbled his way through his program and leaves Sochi with a silver medal.

Orser knows firsthand the pressures of trying to win a gold medal for one's country. He fell short of that goal twice, when he took home Olympic silver medals in 1984 and 1988. Kurt Browning tried to break through for Canada in 1992 and finished sixth. Elvis Stojko took home silver medals in 1994 and 1998.

Orser saw Chan after his performance and gave him a hug. They didn't exchange any words -- they might at some point -- but for now, the embrace said it all.

"Figure skating's our sport," said Orser, whose coaching base is in Toronto. "We have all these great male skaters, and not one of us has won, me included. Elvis, Kurt, Jeff [Buttle], Don Jackson. It's not a curse; it's just not happening. It was bittersweet for me. I think I got more emotional giving Patrick a hug than I did for own skaters."

Orser was busy during the final group of skaters, but he did go from TV monitor to TV monitor to see how Chan was doing. Much was made about how Orser was coaching two of Chan's top competitors in these Winter Games, but Orser is human. And he is Canadian.

"I feel bad for Patrick," Orser said. "I don't want to be the enemy."

What Orser said he wanted most was for Fernández, the first skater in the final group, to "get the momentum going and then leave it in the hands of the judges."

At the end of the night, he left the Iceberg Skating Palace as the coach of another gold medalist.

When asked if having two gold medalists made up for his two Olympic silvers, Orser immediately said "no."

"I don't do this for my medal count," he said. "I teach figure skating. I just see it as my job."

Carroll keeps guiding medalists

Denis Ten earned the bronze medal in the men's event, and now Frank Carroll has five Olympic medalists to his credit. In addition to Ten, Carroll coached Linda Fratianne to a silver medal in 1980, Michelle Kwan to silver in 1998, Tim Goebel to bronze in 2002 and Evan Lysacek to the gold in 2010.

Does it ever get old?

"I don't know if it gets old, but I get old," Carroll, 74, said.

Carroll's work is far from over. His other student, Gracie Gold, arrives in Sochi on Saturday. She has been practicing in Austria since the end of the team event, in which she earned a bronze medal.