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Handling Pressure

Posted February. 26, 2010 07:23,   


Wherever Korean figure skating queen Kim Yu-na goes, her coach Brian Orser follows. The 49-year-old Orser is almost as old as Kim’s father. After changing sports from ice hockey to figure skating, he won eight Canadian championships and one world title in 1987. In 1979, he became the world’s first junior figure skater and the second overall to pull off a triple axel, earning the nickname “Mr. Triple Axel.” Last year, he was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

As good a skater Orser was, he suffered two painful losses. In 1988, he ended up with the silver medal after making a mistake in performing a triple flip and losing to Brian Boitano by 0.1 point. Sports media called their competition “the Battle of the Brians.” After the defeat, Orser was haunted by triple flips. In the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, he was edged out by Scott Hamilton for the gold.

If his protégé Kim wins a gold medal in the Vancouver Olympics today, the medal belongs to Kim, not her coach. Orser, however, says her victory could make up for his past losses. He is more aware of the pressure an athlete feels than anyone else. His country Canada won no golds at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. He was under pressure to win the gold in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, as his country was about to become the only host nation to win no golds in the two Olympics it hosted. Consequently, Orser choked under the pressure.

When Japanese figure skater Mao Asada showed an excellent performance with 73.78 points in the short program earlier this week, Kim briefly looked tense. Her coach talked to her while tapping her on the shoulder, however. Presumably, he must have given her a pep talk to relieve her from the heavy pressure she might be feeling. When her turn came, Kim set a world record with 78.50 points. Asada was exceptional but Kim was perfect. Orser’s previous experience with pressure might have helped ease Kim’s nerves. Today, his protégé will seek to win the gold medal that he could not claim on two occasions.

Editorial Writer Lee Jeong-hoon (hoon@donga.com)