Orser passing torch full of skating knowledge

Former world-champion-turned-coach Brian Orser (right) talks to Spanish figure skater Javier...

Former world-champion-turned-coach Brian Orser (right) talks to Spanish figure skater Javier Fernandez during practice for the World Figure Skating Championships at Budwesier Gardens in London, Ont., March 11, 2013. (CRAIG GLOVER/QMI Agency)

Steve Buffery, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:38 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - So who is the most accomplished coach in Toronto?

Randy Carlyle? Maybe. The Maple Leafs bench boss did win a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

Dwane Casey? The Raptors head man was the defensive guru with Dallas when the Mavericks won the NBA championship in 2011.

Or how about Scott Milanovich, who led the Argos to a Grey Cup title in 2012?

You could make an argument for all of the above, but there's also a case to be made for a guy who doesn't work out of the Air Canada Centre, Rogers Centre or BMO Field. It's a guy you might not recognize walking down the street unless you happen to be a figure skating fan or an Olympics junkie of a certain age.

Remember Brian Orser, the man who came within a whisper of winning the gold medal in men's singles at the 1988 Calgary Olympics?

To figure skating people, Orser's success as a coach is well known. But outside of the sport, the Penetang Ont., native certainly hasn't received the accolades he deserves. In fact, you could say as great as a skater he was -- two Olympic silver medals, a world title, eight straight senior Canadian titles ­-- Orser has done even better as a coach.

Orser guided South Korean sensation Yuna Kim to the gold medal in women's singles at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. And now he has another protege on his hands in 19-year-old Japanese skater Yuzuru Hanyu, who could win the men's singles gold medal at the Sochi Olympics. Hanyu's rise has been meteoric to say the least. The native of Sendai-City -- who was training in the Miyagi area of Japan when the devastating earthquake of 2011 hit and escaped the crumbling arena without even taking his skates off -- won the ISU Grand Prix Final this year ahead of three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada, while setting a short program world record (99.84 points).

The consensus at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi is that if the 23-year-old Chan (who holds the world record for the long program and overall mark) doesn't win the gold in men's singles on Feb. 14, Hanyu will. The Japanese sensation out-skated his Canadian rival in the short program of the team competition on Friday and looked sensational doing so.

Another skater who could win a medal in men's singles here is 2013 world championship bronze medallist Javier Fernandez of Spain. Both Hanyu and Fernandez train with Orser out of the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, as did Kim before the 2010 Olympics.

In coaching Hanyu and Fernandez, Orser is assisted by former Olympic and world championship ice dance medallist Tracy Wilson. Orser sat down with his two skaters at the Cricket club before leaving for Sochi for a "little heart to heart".

"For Javi, I said it's a whole new Games," Orser said. "I told him you've been to the Olympics before, but this is different. The last time you went to get the uniform. This time you are going as a contender."

Orser also warned his skaters to expect veteran like Chan, Plushenko and Daisuke Takahashi to be at their best, but not be intimidated.

"I said, 'Don't let them spook you. You are both skating very well too and I am proud of you,'" he said.

Just because Orser is coaching non-Canadian athletes doesn't mean that the people in charge of figure skating in Canada aren't proud of him. Figure skating is a sport unlike most others in terms of cross-border coaching. Chan is coached by an American, Kathy Johnson. Defending Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are coached by a Russian Marina Zueva.

"It's the nature of the sport, it's been like that forever," said Skate Canada high performance director Michael Slipchuk. "Our coaches are self-employed. We don't pay our coaches, so it's up to them to decide what skaters they want to work with. But we also look at it this way: If people are moving to Canada to work with our coaches, that just shows the strength of our coaching base."

And it's not like Orser works exclusively with non-Canadians. One of the best young skaters in his stable is 15-year-old Nam Nguyen of Toronto, who finished fifth at this year's senior nationals as a junior.

"Technical knowledge with Brian is strong, he was one of the best technical skaters there has been," said Slipchuk. "A strength as a coach is what you can bring in terms of experience, and no one has experienced what Brian has -- all the national titles, all the worlds and all the Olympics. He's been on all sides of the spectrum, and that kind of knowledge is invaluable. That information he can bring to skaters, and can relate to the situations they go through, is a strength. That's something you can't teach."

When Yuna Kim won world championships and the Olympic gold, Orser became a major celebrity in South Korea. The same is happening now in Japan. Perhaps his genius as a coach will some day be widely recognized at home.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

twitter@beezersun

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