Figure Skating | ICE TIME

Orser says Hanyu is greatest ever

by Jack Gallagher

“I have to say, he is the greatest of all time. That’s for sure.”

The words of Brian Orser resonate more than ever after Yuzuru Hanyu became the first man in 66 years to win the Olympic gold medal twice in a row.

Some might expect Orser, the 56-year-old coach of the superstar, to say nothing less. But those who know Orser well understand that he respects the history of skating and would never make such a statement lightly.

The native of Belleville, Ontario, made the proclamation about his prized pupil in a recent video interview with the Olympic Channel.

Orser, a two-time (1984, 1988) Olympic silver medalist himself, has been around the sport for decades and has gone from being a top skater to the most prominent coach in the business.

Orser’s comments in the interview with the Olympic Channel are insightful about how Hanyu has matured and become a legend during his tenure under the Canadian.

“I marvel when I watch him on practices,” Orser stated. “He’s a hard worker and he loves to skate, maybe that’s what is it, too. He just loves to skate.”

Orser, the 1987 world champion, then traced the history of his relationship with the Sendai native.

“We have just finished our sixth season together,” Orser noted. “He was young and he was kind of like a bit of a loose cannon when he first came. He was obviously wildly talented. Just a little bit kind of on the wild side.”

Orser then got specific about what makes Hanyu tick.

“He loves dramatic music and he loves to skate fast. Kind of push the edges,” Orser commented. “He lacked a little bit of control, so sometimes he would find himself on his back.

“So it was basically going back to the beginning. To go back and build the foundation up of amazing skating skills, and then you can start kind of going with this sort of a wild approach, because you can control it. He just kind of flourished from there. It was quite remarkable to see.”

When discussing Hanyu’s first gold medal at the Sochi Games, Orser admitted that is wasn’t a sure thing. Hanyu was considered a contender at the time, but not the favorite with the likes of Patrick Chan, Daisuke Takahashi and Evgeni Plushenko scheduled to compete.

“It wasn’t one of those Olympic moments where the mark came up and everybody is like high-fiving,” Orser recalled. “It was kind of like, ‘OK. Let’s wait and see.’ And then he won and that was wonderful. A win is a win.”

Orser acknowledged that Hanyu’s second gold at the Pyeongchang Olympics was something entirely different in the wake of the serious injury that preceded it.

“This time it was extra special,” Orser said. “He started (training) July 1st. By the end of August he was ready for the Olympics, which kind of made me nervous because it was a bit too soon. Then when got injured he had all that training in the bank. It was all behind him. It was all there. It doesn’t go to waste.”

Orser then discussed his meeting with Hanyu after he returned to Toronto following the injury to the lateral tendon in his right ankle at practice for the NHK Trophy in Osaka.

“I remember sitting down with him when he first came back from NHK (Trophy) and he was on crutches,” Orser stated. “I said, ‘It’s November. We have three months, four months for the Olympics. It is doable.’

“Right now you can’t even step on your foot when you’re on crutches. If you want to go and break records, I don’t know if that is going to happen. If you want to go and win the Olympics, that could happen. It’s realistic.”

Furthermore, Orser confessed during the interview that he was concerned about the difficult task that was looming.

“I had some doubts, I remember, a month before, just saying to (fellow coach) Tracy (Wilson), ‘I don’t know how we are going to do this,’ ” Orser commented. “He was really, really hungry for it. There was no other option of second or third. It was to win. Period.”

Orser, who is held in high esteem by everybody in skating, then refused to take credit for Hanyu’s incredible achievement against the odds.

“I mean, he did it,” Orser said. “We were there to support him, but he was the one that just took baby steps all the way along until we got to the Olympics.”

Hanyu’s reaction after finishing his free skate clearly moved Orser.

“To see that emotion, it was a really a great victory for him,” Orser remarked. “I have to use the word ‘victory,’ because it encompasses everything. It’s not just winning the gold. For what he went through the last four months, it is remarkable.”

Orser feels that Hanyu’s epic accomplishment will be something he refers to going forward.

“If I ever have to do motivational speeches, I mean it’s going to be about this,” Orser commented. “I was really proud of him to be able to face this the way he did.”

The coach also talked about the rivalry and mutual respect between Hanyu and training partner Javier Fernandez, who took the bronze behind Shoma Uno in Pyeongchang.

“When you get to a competition and you see him on the ice with the others, the only one I feel can rival him in the skill department is Javi,” Orser said. “I don’t know if he really deep down expected Javi to be a two-time world champion.”

Orser indicated that he believed Hanyu’s loss to Fernandez at the 2015 and 2016 world championships, was motivational for Hanyu.

“All of a sudden it was like he came here because Javi was here, and Javi was jumping well, and he wanted to learn some stuff from Javi,” Orser stated. “But I actually always thought that Yuzu put himself ahead of Javi. And then Javi wins two world championships.”

It is worth noting that Orser said there was tension at times between Hanyu and Fernandez during the Olympic season.

“This season it was kind of every man for himself,” Orser commented. “They were butting heads a little bit at different times and we managed that and it was understandable. I mean, you’ve got the Olympic title on the line and they both are contenders, realistically.

“So, sure, there were some tough moments. But they really understood that they have power in numbers. They have each other to support. Rather than the opposite, because that is just bad energy. It was at the Olympics where it really came through.”

The mentor feels the camaraderie between Hanyu and Fernandez culminated in one moment in Pyeongchang.

“When I saw them embracing after the competition was done, because it is a huge relief, I was really proud of them to see how they embraced each other,” Orser stated. “It was special. Because it doesn’t always happen.

“Yuzu said it himself. He said, ‘I could not have done it without you, Javi.’ “

The interview was taped before Hanyu announced at his show “Continues with Wings” in Tokyo last Friday that he will be competing in the coming season.

Orser addressed Hanyu’s future at the very end of the interview.

“Yuzu loves to compete. He loves skating,” Orser commented. “Continues to keep offering more. He always need to have something to try to achieve. That’s how he is. That’s what keeps him going.”

Another crisis for Inoue

Sometimes in life you can only shake your head at the obstacles people have to overcome — physical, financial, educational, etc.

Former Japan and U.S. skater Rena Inoue, who beat lung cancer back in 1998, has indirectly been confronted with another, it was learned last week.

Inoue’s husband and former pairs partner John Baldwin and his father John Baldwin Sr. were indicted by a grand jury in San Diego on charges alleging a failure to comply with financial reporting obligations from their used car business, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last week.

Both Baldwin and his father pleaded not guilty last month. The paper said the various charges carry maximum prison sentences ranging from three to 10 years, plus the potential forfeiture of $1 million.

The indictment was handed down March 23 after several years of investigation, the Union-Tribune said. The accusations of wrongdoing center on bank deposits the Baldwins made relating to their business.

The Baldwins are alleged to have made “regular cash deposits at or below $10,000, known as ‘structuring’ because it is beneath thresholds that oblige banks to file federal notifications of large currency transactions,” the paper wrote.

Inoue, who represented Japan at the 1992 (in pairs with Tomoaki Koyama) and 1994 (in singles) Olympics, and the U.S. in 2006 (in pairs with Baldwin), has not been implicated in any of the alleged wrongdoing. However, as the mother of two young daughters, the thought of her husband going to prison must be deeply upsetting.

When you think of the glory Inoue has known, skating in three Olympics and being a two-time Japan junior champion, along with the tribulations she has faced, you can only be amazed at the contradictions.

Baldwin and Inoue, who were two-time U.S. champions, finished seventh in pairs at the 2006 Turin Games. They were the first pair to execute a successful throw triple axel in competition when they achieved the difficult maneuver at the 2006 U.S. nationals.

Inoue, now 41, is a native of Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.

Attempts by Ice Time to reach Inoue, who became a U.S. citizen in 2005, for comment were unsuccessful.

Baldwin was defiant when interviewed by the Union-Tribune after a hearing in federal court last week.

“My first inclination was I was just shocked: This is a mistake, this is preposterous, there’s just no way,” Baldwin said. “But then when I realized this is real, I got really upset because I started thinking of my family and my kids, and what could happen in a court even if I’m totally right.”

The paper said that the Baldwins were offered plea deals for their case but declined to accept them, choosing instead to go to trial.

Hanyu piece in the works

ESPN The Magazine has sent Associate Editor Elaine Teng to Japan for a profile story it is planning on Hanyu. Teng, who covered the Pyeongchang Olympics, is in the country now and attended the first day of Hanyu’s show last week in Tokyo.

Teng is also planning to travel to Sendai this weekend for the parade Hanyu’s hometown is throwing in his honor.

Ice Time is glad to see Hanyu receiving recognition from the North American media. He certainly deserves it.