Brian Orser's skaters are atop the men's event — but don't make it about him

Canadian-coached Yuzuru Hanyu, Javier Fernandez looking for gold, sit 1-2 after men's short

By Vicki Hall, CBC Sports

Brian Orser bristles at the mere suggestion that the Olympic medals won by his skaters belong, in any way whatsoever, to him.

Sure, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, and Javier Fernandez, of Spain, positively sparkled Thursday in the men's short program at the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. And sure, Hanyu and Fernandez head into Friday's free skate ranked 1-2 as favourites for gold and silver.

Regardless, Orser sees the success — or lack thereof — of his skaters as totally separate from his own Olympic legacy.

Nothing will ever change the fact he settled for silver behind American Scott Hamilton in 1984. And nothing will ever completely erase the heartache of missing out on gold by one-tenth of a point to Brian Boitano in the epic Battle of the Brians at the 1988 Calgary Games.

"I remember going to the Vancouver Olympics and there was a bit of a buzz about 'Brian Orser will finally get his gold,'" the 56-year-old coach told CBC Sports back in December. "But no. That was Yuna Kim's gold. That was so not about me. It was about her having her ultimate performance and her winning the gold.

"There was always somebody trying to put a spin on it, pardon the pun, about that it was redemption."

VIDEO The legend of Yuzuru Hanyu continues to grow

And redemption for Orser is not the theme today as Hanyu, the reigning world and Olympic champion, and Fernandez, the 2015 and 2016 world champion, fight for the podium. The pair train together at the Toronto Cricket Skating & Curling Club under the guidance of Orser and fellow Canadian Tracy Wilson.

The magic Hanyu and Fernandez perform daily in North York certainly translated to the Olympic stage in the short program. Despite missing three months with an ankle injury — and sitting out the team competition — Hanyu set an Olympic record of 111.68 points. Fernandez channelled Charlie Chaplin with a near-perfect performance for 107.58 points.

VIDEO | Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu dominates men's short program

Both have so much Orser in them — the artistry, the contagious joy on their faces, the ease with which they appear to almost float over the ice.

"I just felt happy to skate," said Hanyu, who is hoping to become the first man since American Dick Button to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in men's figure skating (1948-1952). "I just felt satisfied with my every element.

"I wanted to say to everyone that I am back here. I just want to do my best, and do what is best for me. Not as an Olympic champion but for me."

Perfect storm of excitement and anxiety

During the short program, the TV cameras captured Orser along the boards dancing along with his skaters and fist pumping in celebration.

"It just sort of happens instinctively," Orser told CBC Sports before the Games. "I know their programs. I usually skate their programs with them, excluding the jumps and the spins. I know every step and I'm just trying to get the energy out to them."

In truth, he is also trying to contain the storm of excitement and anxiety brewing inside.

"For me to do a men's program, which is four-and-a-half minutes long, it's easier for me to be moving through it and skating through it," he said. "I can't just keep my feet planted and just stand there and look at the skating.

"I know for sure it's helping me."

Japan's Shoma Uno is third with 104.17. Canada's Patrick Chan — coached by Ravi Walia — heads into the long program ranked sixth with 90.01 points after falling on his triple Axel in the short program.

VIDEO | Patrick Chan's short skate

For Chan, four minutes and 30 seconds remain in a competitive skating career that will go down as spectacular despite never winning an individual Olympic gold medal (barring a huge upset in the long program.)

"I am disappointed in myself mostly," Chan told reporters after the short program. "I just don't seem to get a break from the triple Axel and it's something that I really had to work on really hard. I think I am the hardest working person when it comes to the triple Axel. It wasn't a natural jump for me…

"At the Olympic Games, you can't be making those kinds of mistakes at this level, but it is what it is. That's life."

Maple Leaf-inspired uniform to come?

During the long program, Orser will wear his Japanese black blazer when Hanyu skates and his Spanish blue-and-white winter coat when Fernandez skates.

One day, he hopes to wear Canadian red, black and white for the men's event on the ultimate stage.

"I would love to have an Olympic gold medallist who is a Canadian and a guy," said Orser, who also works with rising Canadian star Gabrielle Daleman on the women's side. "I've got some good ones who are coming up, and so it may happen. 

"But it is a business, and I'm a member of the figure skating family. Sure, I've had a Japanese champion and I've had a Korean champion and I have a Spanish boy who is one of the frontrunners as well.

"Maybe down the road I'll have a Canadian. Let's hope."