The Calgary Olympic uniform that Brian Orser wore as flag bearer is still on display at the Allandale Recreation Centre in Barrie, Ont., where he trained for most of his career.
It’s Canada-red with white fringe that goes forever. So, it seems, does Orser. He walked into the Allandale Recreation Centre for the first Autumn Classic, a new senior B international, and it was like a homecoming. Orser is a big part of the Wall of Fame at the Allandale Centre, with his name in big letters on a plaque, with all of his accomplishments. He won his two Olympic silver medals and a world title while training at the complex south of Barrie, Ont., which, some say, has become the fastest growing city in North America.
Mind you, it’s not the first time in years that Orser has strode the halls of the Allandale. He’s come back with students for Oktoberfest, an October competition that proved a testing ground. And with him he’s brought Nam Nguyen, a going concern in the international men’s ranks indeed. He’s the world junior champion and finished 12th in his debut at the world championships.
Did Nguyen make a pilgrimage to see Orser’s fringed attire at the rink? Nguyen has competed at Oktoberfest before, so it’s not new to him. But yes, he had warmed up in front of the fringes on Tuesday, so no doubt he saw them and got an inkling of what could be.
On Tuesday, practice day at the autumn classic, Nguyen did two lovely quad Salchows, and the quad Salchow is to be part of his routine this week in Barrie. “There’s always milestones along the way,” Orser said. “It’s nice to have a new Big Boy jump because it takes the pressure off the Axels.
Nguyen excels in part, also because he keeps the best of company where he trains in Toronto: world and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and European champion Javier Fernandez of Spain. If you liked Hanyu before, better see him this year. Orser says he has two new programs and he’s never seen anything so beautiful in his life. ( And he’s seen a lot.)
Hanyu is taking an early season break from competing after developing pain in his lower back. He pulled out of Finlandia Trophy a week ago. Orser says it’s more of a preventative measure than anything. “It’s for safety,” he said. “We don’t want to rush too much. We want to make sure he’s in top form at the right time of year.”
Orser says he believes that Hanyu really needed to have a little bit more time off than he did over the summer, what with his many obligations as Olympic champion. Hanyu honours them all. He’s done many shows. And he’s done some wild and crazy jump combinations when he’s been at the Japanese shows. “At these Japanese shows, they all take turns and show off for each other,” Orser said.
And Hanyu isn’t one for backing down from a challenge. “He gets so wound up and so enthusiastic, I wish I could just bottle that,” Orser said.
He spent only two or three weeks in Toronto over the summer, but he’s been training there for the past three weeks. For the first time, Shae-Lynn Bourne has choreographed a routine for Hanyu – and it is his free skate. He’ll skate to Phantom of the Opera and lest you think it’s been overdone by many skaters, well, they haven’t been Bourne’s creations.
Orser first saw the skeleton of the program in May and it created no goosebumps. But a month ago, Hanyu got together with Bourne again to focus on choreography and Orser was astonished at what came out of those sessions. “It was unbelievable,” he said. “It was all the stuff I knew that Shae-Lynn could do.”
Hanyu is often skeptical, and holds back when he works with someone new, Orser said. But there was a time when he suddenly started to trust Bourne. And it works.
Jeff Buttle created the short program for Hanyu, choosing Chopin Ballade No. 1. Buttle sent Orser the music and he loved it. “Okay, but you’ll need to do a sales pitch with Hanyu,” he told Buttle.
But Hanyu loved it too. Buttle’s touch is apparent in the choreography, too. Hanyu stands for 14 seconds at the beginning of the routine with his eyes closed. Then his eyes open and “it just goes,” Orser said.
Stay tuned for Hanyu magic at Cup of China and NHK Trophy. Nguyen and Hanyu will attend Cup of China together. You won’t catch Orser at home much this fall. He has trips to five of the six Grand Prix events.