Yuzuru Hanyu’s expected return to the ice won’t be the only drama unfolding this week in the NHK Trophy at Osaka’s Namihaya Dome, where spots in the Grand Prix Final will also be on the line.
Hanyu, the Olympic and world champion, who was injured in an unfortunate collision with Yan Han at the Cup of China in Shanghai three weeks ago, has been recuperating in Japan and did not return to his training base in Toronto as originally planned. His second-place finish after the accident has put him in good position to qualify for the GP Final in Barcelona, Spain, next month.
With five of the six-event GP series in the books, three male skaters have secured berths in the GP Final — Tatsuki Machida, Russia’s Maxim Kovtun and Spain’s Javier Fernandez. This leaves three places open for the prestigious competition, which Hanyu won last season in Fukuoka.
With 15 points awarded for a victory, 13 for second place, 11 for third place, nine for fourth place and seven for fifth, Hanyu (with 13 points) will be in if he makes the podium. After the three skaters who have already qualified, nobody else currently has more than 20 points.
Hanyu, Takahito Mura (15 points) and Russia’s Sergei Voronov (13 points), who are all scheduled to participate in the NHK Trophy, look to be near locks for the remaining GP Final tickets, with American Jeremy Abbott (seven points) clinging to the slimmest of chances.
There is no doubt that Hanyu, who showed great fortitude by skating on after being banged up in Shanghai, wants to further exhibit his toughness by returning and winning the GP event in his own country.
Though final confirmation of his participation in Osaka has not yet come, the bet here is that he will be ready for the short program when the event commences on Friday. Media reports say he is still dealing with pain in his left thigh.
On the women’s side, four of the slots for the GP Final are now spoken for, but plenty of theater still remains. Those already in are all Russian — Elena Radionova, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Anna Pogorilaya and Julia Lipnitskaia.
American Ashley Wagner (24 points) and Rika Hongo (22 points) are on the bubble and will have to sweat out this weekend’s results to see if they have qualified. Three skaters entered in the NHK Trophy — Kanako Murakami, Satoko Miyahara, American Gracie Gold all with 11 points — have the opportunity to move into the final two spots, while American Polina Edmunds (nine points) is a longshot.
In an ironic twist, if Murakami and Miyahara take the top two places on the podium, they would knock compatriot Hongo, the surprise winner at the Cup of Russia two weeks ago, out of contention.
Three-time world champion Mao Asada, who is sitting out this season, won the GP Final last season.
Orser looks back: It has been more than four years now since Brian Orser was unceremoniously fired as Yuna Kim’s coach. Just six months after leading the South Korean star to the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Orser was ousted in a move that stunned the skating world.
In a podcast posted and transcribed on Manleywoman, a site for skating fans run by Allison Manley, in late August, Orser provided some interesting thoughts and observations on coaching the two-time Olympic medalist and their subsequent breakup.
Kim was Orser’s first student at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, where he is the director of skating. Orser, a two-time Olympic medalist himself, was the 1987 world champion. He also coached Hanyu to the gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Games.
“She (Kim) came to work with David (Wilson) when I had just started at the Cricket Club,” Orser told Manley. “They had asked for some lessons, because she was there for a few weeks, but then she signed up for summer school. And then at the end of the summer, they asked, can you take over and coach her?”
Orser said that because he was still skating on tour himself, he initially turned down the offer to coach Kim.
“I had been working with her all summer and we had kind of a good rapport, and I guess she learned some things and liked it and liked the environment and ended up staying. It was really that simple. I said no when she first asked, because I had one piece of touring left, so I didn’t want to be running around and leaving her coachless.
“So when I got through the season a bit more, they came back and said, ‘Will you reconsider?’ and I thought, OK, this is a game changer for me, because now I’m becoming a coach and not just the director of skating, here we go.”
Orser admitted that he nearly had to start from scratch in his initial go as a coach.
“So I had a ton of learning to do. I had to learn about the new judging system, and I remember being at the world championships in 2007 and seeing the score for her short program go up, and thinking, is that good? And she was excited, so I just mimicked her. That’s how green I was. I just knew how to get her out there and how to help her skate well. But then I had to learn quickly.
“She wasn’t perfect, trust me. She worked for everything that she had to do. And she’s a fierce competitor. But she trains hard every day, and she’s not perfect, there’s lots of falling down. And that’s where I saw her as a human being, too. She’s not just this crazy machine that can be perfect ever time.”
When asked about his interaction with Kim now, it was clear that it is still a very sensitive issue for Orser.
“It’s pretty well non-existent,” Orser stated when asked about his current relationship with Kim by Manley. “The first time I saw her was at the (2013) world championships in London, Ontario, and we kind of passed in the hall and did a little bit of a hug and that was it. And we saw each other a few times during the week and we just kind of smiled and nodded and that was that.
“It’s still one of the most heartbreaking things for me, and I still don’t understand what happened, or why it happened. I really don’t. I know that they got some wrong information, but I’m still guessing at what happened. I have a few ideas, but that’s just between me and me.”
It is clear that more than four years after the split, Orser’s emotions on the subject are still raw.
“We really did have a great relationship and I thought I would be part of her life forever, and I would have this really positive impact on her life, and I would be going to her wedding one day, and just be connected forever,” he told Manley. “The Olympics can do that. And then it was all just pulled away, and that’s exactly what happened.”
The traumatic experience of the breakup with Kim has clearly had a lingering effect on Orser, who said he now has to protect himself when it comes to the skaters he coaches.
“I don’t think other people wanted to see that happen, but it just got yanked away from me,” he said. “And the same thing happened with Adam (Rippon), and it was hard for me to trust anybody in this sport. I couldn’t get emotionally involved.
“I love the skaters that I’m working with now, but I can’t let myself get emotionally involved. I can’t. Perhaps it was ruined by people like Yuna and Adam. But it is what it is.
“I learned a lot, just take it one season at a time. I don’t have contracts with my skaters, just a handshake, and maybe I need to revisit that idea, but I just don’t feel it’s necessary.”