SPORTS

Brian Orser’s triple disappointment

STEVE MILTON March 31 1986
SPORTS

Brian Orser’s triple disappointment

STEVE MILTON March 31 1986

Brian Orser’s triple disappointment

SPORTS

It lasted only a moment, but the miscue will haunt Brian Orser for the next year, if not the rest of his life. With the men’s World Figure Skating Championship within his grasp at the Patinoire des Vernets in Geneva last Thursday night, the 24-year-old Orser tumbled to the ice. The trouble came just seconds into his 4^-minute free-skating long program, as the six-time Canadian champion from Orillia, Ont., attempted a jump that has been his trademark since 1979—the triple axel. One of the most difficult jumps in figure skating, the skater must complete 3 */2 revolutions between takeoff and landing. Said Orser: “Everything was perfect going into it. I did it just as I have been doing it for years. But suddenly I was flat on my back.”

The fall ended Orser’s chance for the first Canadian men’s figure skating gold medal since 1963, when Donald McPherson of Windsor, Ont., won the 1963 world championship. A year earlier Donald Jackson of Oshawa, Ont., won Canada’s only other men’s world title by executing the first triple lutz ever attempted in competition. The jump is considered to be as difficult to execute as a triple axel. Like Jackson, Orser lagged well behind after the compulsory figures, in which skaters must trace three set patterns in the ice three times.

In fact, Orser was in eighth place after the first figure but pulled himself up to fifth after the third. The figures count for fully 30 per cent of the competition, and Orser appeared to be too far behind first-place Alexandr Fadeev, the defending world champion .from the Soviet Union. When Orser placed first in the short free-skating program—the two-minute portion is worth 20 per cent—he was still third behind Fadeev and Czech Josef Sabovcik, 22, the 1986 European champion. To win the gold, Orser had to place first in the long program, worth 50 per cent, while Fadeev had to finish no higher than third.

Fadeev was the first of the contend-

ers for the gold to skate. But the dourfaced 22-year-old student from Tashkent crumbled under the pressure of defending his title. Fadeev skated like a novice, falling twice and awkwardly landing three other jumps. Next came Brian Boitano, also 22, of the United

States, a technically excellent if uninspired free skater. As Boitano removed his skateguards and prepared to take the ice, the marks for Fadeev were posted. Soviet judge Tatiani Danilenko gave her countryman a 5.9 score for technical merit out of a possible six, despite his flagrant miscues. The crowd whistled, hooted and reacted to the blatant partisanship by showering encouragement on Boitano. The American proceeded to skate the program of his life, landing five triple jumps. Boitano suddenly stood in first place. Orser skated next.

The Canadian champion needed only to outscore Boitano, something he had accomplished at every world championship since 1983. But after a confident opening, his mastery of the triple axel inexplicably deserted him. From 1979 to 1982, Orser was the only skater in the world completing the jump in competition. Like Jackson, Orser relies on his famous jump to anchor what is, even without the triple axel, an innovative and intricately choreographed program. Said Orser: “When I missed the triple axel I didn’t get too concerned, because I had a chance to do a

second one later in the program.” But after falling in the first attempt, Orser bailed out too early on the second, landing on two skates rather than one, and the championship was decided.

It was Orser’s third consecutive world championship silver medal. Still,

Orser, who also finished second at the 1984 Winter Olympics, refuses to share critics’ opinions that he is destined never to win a gold medal. Said Orser: “Oh, I’ll win it. It’s there. I’m not quitting until I do.” What was particularly galling for Orser last week was that he had a chance to win the gold on the final night. At the previous world championships, he was virtually eliminated from winning the title by poor figures results on the first day of competition, an unhappy tradition among Canadian men skaters. Said Orser: “I’ve been working my butt off for years, and particularly the past few months, fo-

cusing on this. Everything was sitting right there, and it seems like just such a shame that it went out the window like it did. I just didn’t do it.”

Orser’s miscue cast a pall over the Canadian contingent, which had been cheered earlier in the week by the bronze-medal performance of Cynthia Coull, 20, of Greenfield Park, Que., and Mark Rowson, 26, of Comber, Ont., in the pairs competition. The winners were Ekatarina Gordeeva, 14, and Sergei Grinkov, 19, of the Soviet Union. Canadian hopefuls finished well back in the ladies’ championship, won by Debi Thomas, 18, of the United States. And at week’s end, Tracy Wilson, 18, of Port Moody, B.C., and Rob McCall, 27, of Dartmouth, N.S., still had medal hopes in the dance competition. But late last Thursday night in the darkened arena, Orser could only wave an arm toward the spot on the ice where he fell and sigh, “I’d like to go out right now and do it again.” No doubt, alone in the dark, Orser could flawlessly land his famous triple axel again and again.

STEVE MILTON