Brian Orser

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‘Trouble in paradise’ between Yuzuru Hanyu and Brian Orser? Coach says no

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It looked strange, to say the least.

There was Yuzuru Hanyu, the world’s most acclaimed active figure skater, waiting by himself in the Kiss and Cry to get his scores after a disappointing short program performance at last week’s Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy. At that moment in a competition, a coach is almost always at the skater’s side.

Once one of Hanyu’s coaches at his Toronto Cricket Club training base, Ghislain Briand, eventually showed up two days late, there would be a simple explanation for why Hanyu had been alone.

And yet even that would not explain why Hanyu’s primary coach, Brian Orser, had not gone to Italy for the second most important competition of the Japanese superstar’s season.

Was there a rift between the skater and the man who had coached him to two Olympic gold medals, two world titles and four Grand Prix Final titles in the seven seasons since Hanyu came to train under Orser?

“I know it looks like there is trouble in paradise, but there isn’t,” Orser said Tuesday via telephone.

“We have bumps in the relationship like any people who have worked closely with each other for a long time, but I feel pretty confident everything is fine. We were working great together this season, and he was skating very well – over 300 points at both his (regular season) Grand Prix events.”

Orser expected to talk with Hanyu about the situation Wednesday, when the skater was to return to practice at the Cricket Club after finishing a distant second Saturday to Nathan Chen of the United States in the Grand Prix Final. Hanyu had 291.43 points to Chen’s 335.50.

Much to Orser’s dismay and disappointment, the reaction to his absence was, like many things in the social media era, blown far out of proportion by some in Hanyu’s adoring and occasionally verbally belligerent fan base.

“So many fans were very angry at me,” Orser said. “They were blaming me and the Cricket Club for the bad start. By my not being there, it looked like I didn’t care. I wanted to go and was ready to go, but my hands were completely tied.”

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Each skater at the Grand Prix Final was allowed to have just one accredited coach on hand unless the coach, like Russia’s Eteri Tutberidze, had more than one skater in the event.

According to Orser, the Japanese Federation submitted Briand’s name for accreditation sometime after Hanyu won the NHK Trophy in Sapporo Nov. 23. (The deadline was Nov. 28.) Orser said he did not learn that until several days after NHK and did not know why that choice was made.

The official International Skating Union announcement of rules applying to the 2019 Grand Prix Final does not mention replacement of coaches. An ISU spokesperson said that any request for a change in a coach’s accreditation would have had to come from the national federation of the skater.

“I was put in an awkward position,” Orser said.

An email seeking comment from the Japan Skating Federation was not immediately answered.

Both Orser and Briand had been with Hanyu at NHK. Briand is considered a jump maestro, and Hanyu wanted to increase the difficulty of his jump content for the Final.

Even Orser’s absence from Turin might have been less noticeable if a missing passport had not forced Briand to return to Canada after landing in Germany for his connecting flight to Turin. (Briand told the Olympic Channel the passport had been stolen.) He got to Turin Friday.

That meant no one was with Hanyu when official practices began Wednesday and for the short program Thursday. By failing to do a combination in the short program, Hanyu fell nearly 13 points behind, an insurmountable margin unless Chen made one or two big mistakes in the free skate.

Not only did Chen do a brilliant and clean free skate, but Hanyu also made two more costly mistakes.

“Even though I wasn’t there, I was communicating with him,” Orser said. “But I’m sure Yuzu having to put himself on the ice for practices and the short program took something from his energy, both physically and mentally. It created a little extra drama.”

Hanyu said after the free skate that he had focused much of his energy on the two quadruple jumps that opened the program, a loop and Lutz, both of which he executed extremely well. It was the first time in two years – and just the second ever – he had done a quad Lutz in competition. Practicing that jump in 2017 had led to an injury that seriously compromised his preparation for the 2018 Olympics, which he won nevertheless.

“He was taking a little more technically-oriented approach to the Grand Prix Final,” Orser said of Hanyu. “He is very competitive, and he sees what Nathan is doing.”

Both did five quadruple jumps in the free skate. Hanyu had not previously attempted more than four.

Orser said he was aware of Hanyu’s intention to include the quad Lutz but was surprised to see video from Turin of Hanyu practicing a quad Axel, a jump no one has landed in competition. Hanyu fell on two Friday practice attempts of the quad Axel, and one of the falls was hard.

“I wouldn’t have suggested he try the Axel,” Orser said, “But he is on a mission with that jump.”

Orser said he expected to be with Hanyu at the Japanese Championships beginning Dec. 18.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Yevgenia Medvedeva to be coached by Brian Orser

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After a rocky breakup with her longtime Russian coach, Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva will train under 1984 and 1988 Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser in Toronto.

“I hope that time will pass and everyone will understand that this was the only possible option,” Medvedeva said Monday, according to an Associated Press translation.

Orser coached South Korean Yuna Kim to 2010 Olympic gold, plus Japanese Yuzuru Hanyu to a pair of Olympic and world titles and Spaniard Javier Fernandez to two world crowns. Medvedeva first reached out to Orser on April 2, according to Icenetwork.com.

“I want to have a long career, and this is why such changes are taking place in my life,” Medvedeva said, according to a TASS translation. “You cannot even imagine how upbeat I feel at the moment, and I am motivated now like never before.”

Medvedeva, 18, had been guided by Eteri Tutberidze since age 7. She won the 2015 World junior title and senior world titles in 2016 and 2017, going undefeated for two years in the most dominant stretch in women’s singles skating since Katarina Witt in the 1980s.

Medvedeva was surpassed by 15-year-old training partner Alina Zagitova in the winter, taking second to Zagitova at the European Championships in January and the Olympics in February.

Medvedeva reportedly declined to comment Monday on Tutberidze’s suggestion that Medvedeva, at the Olympics, asked the coach why Zagitova could not have remained a junior this past season and thus not compete in PyeongChang.

“I learned many life lessons from [Tutberidze],” Medvedeva said, according to an AP translation. “I will remember it all my life.”

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Yuzuru Hanyu out for ‘revenge’ at World Championships

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BOSTON — Yuzuru Hanyu, the smiling, laughing Japanese Olympic champion said Monday that he’s seeking “revenge” at the World Championships this week.

“Because I lost last year in this competition, I feel like I have to revenge,” Hanyu, who sometimes speaks English in interviews, said after his first practice at TD Garden.

A translator stood next to him, but Hanyu chose to let his own words in his non-native language do the talking.

“I feel good, this practice,” Hanyu said. “I don’t know if I’ll be feeling good in competition in a sold-out arena.”

Hanyu entered the 2015 World Championships as the reigning Olympic, World and Grand Prix Final champion.

That stat belied a tumultuous 2014-15 season, when Hanyu collided violently with a skater in a November warm-up, then fell five times in his performance less than an hour later and had his Worlds prep interrupted by bladder surgery.

Hanyu led after the 2015 Worlds short program in Shanghai but uncharacteristically landed zero quadruple jumps in his free skate, falling on his lone attempt as his Spanish training partner Javier Fernandez overtook him for gold.

Hanyu could be seen clapping for Fernandez when the Spaniard’s winning score came up, but his competitive desire was evident in his word choice Monday.

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This season, Hanyu put up the two highest total scores under the decade-old scoring system, beating Fernandez by a whopping 37.48 points in their only head-to-head in December. There, Hanyu and Fernandez both landed three quads.

Fernandez said Monday that he felt he had a chance to repeat this week if he and Hanyu both skated to the best of their abilities. That contradicts what he reportedly said before arriving in Boston.

“At this point, if we both skate clean, clean, clean, I will say he will beat me,” Fernandez said, according to an Icenetwork article published last week.

Their shared coach, Canadian 1988 Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, refused to pick a favorite.

“Technically, they’re both the same as far as the jumping,” Orser said Monday. “Hanyu’s spins are a bit better, but I think Javi’s steps are better. … It would be hard to be on the [judges] panel to make that call. And I certainly would never make that call. You ain’t getting that from me.”

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