Orser gets second chance for gold

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — In the bowels of the Pacific Coliseum is the mixed zone, a maze of steel gates and curtains that separates the media according to type: From the Games rights-holders, who get all the athletes first, all the way down to the lowest of the low, the newspaper wags, who seem to get smaller in numbers at each passing Olympics.

The mixed zone was largely empty Monday afternoon as the women female skaters practiced upstairs, save for about four dozen journalists from South Korea, who patiently awaited the arrival of Yu-Na Kim, the defending world champion.

Kim, who trains in Toronto, is basically the Korean journalists’ reason to exist at these Games. Yes, there’s that nation’s vaunted short-track speed skating team. But Kim is THE story for the Koreans, and every jump she lands in practice, every wink she’ll deliver to the audience during the short program Tuesday, is solemnly documented. In South Korea, Yu-Na Kim is almost as big as Hyundai.

So, it was rather surprising — at least to the eyes of an outsider — when Kim marched through the mixed zone and not one Korean journalist said a single word.

They had been told ahead of time that the 19-year-old won’t speak until after the competition. And they complied completely.

But then a couple of minutes later, her coach, 1988 Olympic silver-medallist Brian Orser, wandered in and was instantly mobbed.

In South Korea, because of Kim, Orser is also a star. In that regard, his life has come full circle. He was a star 22 years ago when Canada hosted the Winter Olympics for the first time in 1988 in Calgary. And like his young protege at these Games, he entered those Olympics as the defending world champion. But he lost to his arch-rival American Brian Boitano, and, fairly or not, his life has been largely defined by that second-place finish, even though he skated superbly.

Orser knew, after talking the Korean media first, that the question was coming.

And he was ready for it.

Do these Games, he was asked, represent his second chance to win a gold medal? A second chance to win a gold medal on home soil?

“Oh, these aren’t my Games,” he said. “I’m here as a coach only. These are her Games and I’ve made that clear from the very beginning. I’m here to help her be her best. And if she wins, that would be fantastic. But these are her Games.”

But they’re his Games, too. Orser is reluctant to talk about it, but yes, he admits, Miss Kim knows all about the fabled Battle of the Brians in Calgary, and all the pressure he was under. But when he and Kim talk about that time, 22 years ago, he makes light of it. The last thing Orser wants is to put any pressure on Kim to win the gold medal here FOR HIM.

Laughing, Orser said that Kim enjoys watching the tapes of Calgary for entirely different reasons than one would think. They make her laugh. Not his skating, but his red, military-themed jump suit. And his hair cut.

Coaching Kim, who is the overwhelming favorite to win the gold medal here, has been a great ride for Orser. It’s brought him back into the spotlight and a new generation of fans seem to appreciate what he meant to the figure skating world.

Still, he has looked nervous wandering the halls of the Pacific Coliseum the last few days.

Has it been fun, he was asked, to coach an athlete who is such an icon in her home country?

“You can ask me on Thursday night,” he said.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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