Canadian coach Brian Orser creating champions in Toronto

There was a time, years ago, when Brian Orser carried a flag into an Olympic Games opening ceremonies, all red and white and befringed.

Proud moment of his life, that day at the Calgary Olympics. The days that followed were more difficult. He had expected to win gold. He won silver.

He’s carrying flags still, but in another role that he never anticipated: coach. And now he’s coach of two Olympic champions in back-to-back Games. He’s now guiding others to do what he did not. Orser, the most entertaining coach at the boards, has now become a hot commodity, a Canadian maestro of edges and packaging, and strategies.

Being a coach wasn`t part of Orser’s big plan when he competed, and then when he skated on tours for 17 years. When asked, Orser would always say he did not see himself coaching. He didn`t know if he had the patience for it.

Skating is one thing. Teaching is another. But during the odd seminar with young skaters, Orser began to get great feedback about his style of teaching, his ability to relate to the kids. He got the teaching bug and he started to understand how to teach it.

When first presented with the opportunity of becoming director of skating at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club in Toronto, Orser’s first reaction was: “No.” He was living in Ottawa at the time, and he wasn`t sure if he had the tools to run a program.

The clincher was a call from long-time friend, Tracy Wilson, who asked him if she did it with him, would he consider it? Orser said: “Sure.”

“If I’m going into uncharted waters, I need to have somebody with me, in everything in life,” he said. He’s surrounded by a talented team: Wilson and world renowned choreographer David Wilson and now also 2008 world champion Jeffrey Buttle, and who brings a different energy into the mix, because he’s still out in the world, skating.

One of Orser’s first students was Yuna Kim, a skater with loads of jumping talent, who originally came to the Cricket Club to work with David Wilson. While there, she asked Orser to look at her work and she stayed.

While it’s great luck to land such a talented world skater, it’s almost more of a challenge to coach one, Orser said. “If you mess that up, then you`re not a very good coach,” he said.

His job was to shore up Kim`s weaknesses and take her skating to another level. She wasn`t the happiest skater when she arrived, Orser said. “I don’t think she was happy in her life,” he said. “I don’t think she really knew what she was, other than an athlete.” She had no identity outside of skating. Orser and his team decided their mandate was to find some happiness for her through skating. “Bit by bit, we started peeling off the layers of the onion.”

It worked. And Orser proved he was no one-hit wonder, by transforming Christina Gao from an okay junior skater to a top-notch skater, who found her passion. When Gao was accepted into Harvard University, Orser was like “a proud papa,” he said. He also worked with two-time world junior champion Adam Rippon.

Now, Orser is proud of his latest accomplishments: turning Yuzuru Hanyu from a kid with wild passion into an Olympic champion at age 19, and guiding Javier Fernandez to become a two-time European champion – because he believed in the Spanish skater.

Orser remembers seeing something special about Hanyu in the years before he taught him, although “it was just a little out of control,” he said. Orser never saw the same choreography from him twice. “He would just kind of wing it,” Orser said. “He was more of an emotional skater.”

Hanyu bought into what Orser and his team offered: breaking down the skating to the basics, building a foundation that fosters trust. “It’s all about balance and power and just effortless skating,” Orser said.

Orser treads a fine line with Hanyu: the passion is more controlled, but Orser doesn’t want Hanyu to lose it, either. Being Olympic champion has not gone to Hanyu’s head, Orser said. He’s been showing off his medal in the change room, but then he’s willing to go back to the ice to work on a crossover and work on basics for an hour. “We’re paying attention to every single little transition,” Orser said.

Transitions? They are not just part of the program component mark. They are what skating is all about, Orser says. Skaters can use the transitions to gain speed, to get down the ice or around a corner, rather than having to push.

For a couple of years now, Orser has had to switch team jackets between Spain and Japan, and at the Sochi Olympics, it reached a fever pitch when both skaters competed in the same group. But at the world championships in Japan this month, Orser will wear a third: Canada (finally!). It’s like coming home, almost. He’ll be guiding 15-year-old Nam Nguyen, who has been skating in the same rink as Fernandez and Hanyu, and looking up to them. Now he’ll be sitting at the same draws.

Orser and his crew must be doing something right. And people are recognizing it. Every week, Orser will get two or three messages in his email inbox from a skating parent sending him a YouTube video, saying: “Here`s my daughter. Have a look.” They come from everywhere. Even from Russia.

Beverley Smith

Canada’s Nam Nguyen first after short program at world juniors

SOFIA, Bulgaria – Nam Nguyen of Toronto is in first place in men’s competition after Thursday’s short program at the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships.

Nguyen, 15, earned 72.87 points with Jin Boyang of China second at 71.51 and Uno Shoma of Japan third at 70.67.

“The short program felt awesome,” said Nguyen, who is coached by Brian Orser.  “I was feeling very relaxed throughout the whole program. I took one element at a time and that really paid off.”

The highlight was landing the triple Axel.

“The triple Axel felt really big,” he said. “I think it was one of the best ones I’ve ever done, especially in competition. So it was really good that I was able to deliver it out here.”

Nguyen won’t change a thing for the free skate.

“I’m looking forward to delivering the same performance and to just keep doing what I do in practice,” he said.

Roman Sadovsky of Vaughan, Ont., had a personal best short program and sits 14th.

In pairs, Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin of China won the gold medal.

Mary Orr of Brantford, Ont., and Phelan Simpson of Lunenburg, Sask., were sixth and Tara Hancherow Tisdale, Sask., and Wesley Killing of Woodstock, Ont., seventh.

In Wednesday’s short dance, Madeline Edwards of Port Moody, B.C., and ZhaoKai Pang of Burnaby, B.C., are fifth less than a point from third.

Mackenzie Bent of Uxbridge, Ont., and Garrett MacKeen of Oshawa, Ont., are ninth.

Competition continues Friday with the free dance and the women’s short program.

Full results:


Junior ice dancers Edwards and Pang ready for the challenge in Bulgaria

There was a time when Sofia, Bulgaria tried to bid for the 2014 Olympics. It wasn’t accepted as a candidate. If it had, it would have been decidedly wintry.

But from March 10 to 16, it will stage the world junior figure skating championships instead. And there will be no less drama than in Sochi.

The Canadian team includes eight entries, 12 skaters in all, starting on their paths to future world championships and Olympics. Just because the word “junior” is attached to the front of this world event, doesn’t mean it’s easy to win.

Palm trees aside, the event in Sofia will be an Olympics of sorts for Madeline Edwards and ZhaoKai Pang, a fetching young Canadian dance team that has sent goosebumps up the sleeves of Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Virtue and Moir won the 2006 world junior championship, then the next year, finished sixth at the world (senior) championship, an impressive debut. Both Edwards and Pang look up to Virtue and Moir.

And well they might. They have a little something. Like Virtue and Moir, they are expressive. They dance for each other. They have a lightness that comes from their knees. They have miles to go, but it’s there.

Back in 2007, the B.C. section of Skate Canada hired ice dancers Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe to become high performance directors for the dance program. They headed off in search of talent at little regional competitions around the province.  At one of them, Lowe spotted “Maddie,” a bright-faced girl, skating singles. Edwards won a little award for being the most expressive skater. When Lowe talked to her parents, he found out that they were transferring from small-town Rossland, B.C. to Vancouver. “Has she ever done dance?” he asked them. Well, yes, she had taken some tests. So into Wing and Lowe’s dance program she went. And so Wing and Lowe started to build their little dynasty on the west coast.

They found her partner, Pang, a singles skater in Joanne McLeod’s program. Edwards and Pang clicked right away. They were together only a year when they skated in the gala at the 2009 Four Continents championship in Vancouver, a test event for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

They were probably only 11 and 12 years old when they got together – not as young as Virtue and Moir had been – but they rose quickly through the ranks, winning juvenile after being together only a few months, pre-novice in 2010, novice in 2011, and in 2012, they won the junior silver medal. Last year they were junior champions. “I think they were better skaters than Virtue and Moir when they started,” Lowe said boldly. “Just because they had been singles so long. They were decent skaters already, but then they had to learn how to become good dancers.”

Pang had been one of the best pre-novice men in B.C, and competed at the B.C. Winter Games as a singles skater. And he had a personality that boded well for being a dancer. “He was a very expressive little kid,” Lowe said. He loves to perform. And the twosome complement each other very well. They have a great relationship as friends. They are on the same page.

Internationally, Edwards and Pang competed as juniors, finishing second and third at their Junior Grand Prix events this season, but nationally, they competed as seniors for the first time. However, disaster struck in October, after the junior events: Edwards developed an overuse injury on her Achilles tendon, caused by stitching on the back of her boot that dug into the soft tissue. Lowe referred to it as “massive.”

There were days when Edwards could skate only 20 minutes. They worried that they would miss the national championships – where they would be under no pressure, but they could learn and watch skaters trying to get the three Olympic spots, amid all the tension. They missed sectionals and Challenge. They fought hard, with doctors and physiotherapists to get to Ottawa and finally defeated the injury.

In Ottawa, they finished seventh, but had the fifth highest technical mark, ahead of a couple of senior-level teams, not bad for a couple of newbies. It was enough to earn them their second trip to the world junior championships, but more than that: they were chosen as alternates for the senior world championships. Some teams ranked ahead of them hadn’t achieved minimum scores in both portions of the event, as required by the ISU. The youngsters, not yet into their twenties, had the scores.

Edwards and Pang still have one more year of junior eligibility left, and they will take advantage of it next season, to build world standing points that would allow them eventually to get some good senior competitions. They are eyeing the 2018 Olympics, which is only four years away. Lowe doesn’t think it’s a pipe dream. It’s a realistic thought that bears proper planning, he says.

And Sofia is a good step.

And others on the team will, too. Nam Nguyen, only 15, will compete in the men’s event in Sofia, but he’s also been named to the world senior team in Japan. He’ll be travelling with his buddy, Roman Sadovsky, only 14, and a precocious whiz kid on blades. They’ll be up against Jin Boyang of China, 16, who won the Junior Grand Prix Final, and 19-year-old Keiji Tanaka of Japan, who swept his Junior Grand Prix events this year.

Alaine Chartrand, 17, of Prescott, Ont., and Larkyn Austman, 15, Coquitlam, B.C., will compete in the women’s event against a host of Russian women who dominated the Junior Grand Prix Final.

In pairs the teams of Tara Hancherow, 18, Tisdale, Sask., and Wesley Killing, 20, Woodstock, Ont., and Mary Orr, 17, Brantford, Ont., and Phelan Simpson, 18, Lunenburg, N.S., will attended their first junior world’s event together. The pairs event is dominated by Russians, but a Chinese team, Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin, defeated them all at the Junior Grand Prix Final.

Beverley Smith

Canada wins silver at 2014 Junior World Challenge Cup

NEUCHATEL, Switzerland – Les Suprêmes from St-Léonard, Que., gained one spot in the overall standings with a strong free program Saturday to win the silver medal at the 2014 Junior World Challenge Cup synchronized skating competition.

Finland took the gold medal with 173.77 points, Les Suprêmes, third after Friday’s short program, followed at 170.89 and a second Finnish team was third at 167.63.  Les Pirouettes from Laval, Que., remained fifth out of 19 entries with 155.37.

The Suprêmes, the Canadian junior champions, took the bronze at this event in 2012. They are coached by Marilyn Langlois and Amélie Brochu.

Les Pirouettes are the 2013 and 2014 Canadian junior bronze medallists and are coached by Nancy Alexander and Stéphanie Savoie.

A total of 19 teams from 14 countries were at the event which determined the top junior team in the world.

Full results:

Canadians prepared to compete at 2014 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships®

OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada will send eight entries for a total of 12 skaters to the 2014 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships® in Sofia, Bulgaria from March 10-16, 2014. Canada will have two entries in each category: men’s, ladies, pair and ice dance.

Nam Nguyen, 15, Toronto, Ont., leads the Canadian entries in men’s. This will be his third time competing at this event, having placed 12th in 2013, and 13th in 2012. This season, Nguyen earned a fifth place finish at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships in the senior category. Most recently, he placed 10th at the 2014 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. He is coached by Brian Orser at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club.

Roman Sadovsky, 14, Vaughan, Ont., will be the second Canadian entry in the men’s division. This season, Sadovsky placed 14th at the ISU Junior Grand Prix in Riga, Latvia, and eighth in Minsk, Belarus. He also placed eighth at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships in the senior competition. He is coached by Tracey Wainman and Gregor Filipowski at the YSRA Winter Club.

Alaine Chartrand, 17, Prescott, Ont., is the first of two Canadian entries in the ladies category. Chartrand placed eighth at this event last season. This season, the 2013 Canadian bronze medallist placed fifth at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships and most recently, seventh at the 2014 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. Chartrand is coached by Michelle Leigh and Leonid Birinberg, and trains at the Nepean Skating Club.

Larkyn Austman, 15, Coquitlam, B.C., will also represent Canada in the ladies division. Austman finished eighth at her first international assignment on the ISU Junior Grand Prix circuit in Estonia earlier this season. The 2013 Canadian junior champion also earned a 10th place finish at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, competing in the senior category. She is coached by Heather Austman and Eileen Murphy at the Connaught Skating Club in B.C.

Tara Hancherow, 18, Tisdale, Sask., and Wesley Killing, 20, Woodstock, Ont., are one of two pairs representing Canada. This season, Hancherow and Killing earned a fifth place finish in Slovakia and a sixth place finish in Estonia at their ISU Junior Grand Prix assignments. Hancherow and Killing also placed eighth at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in the junior category. They are coached by Annie Barabé and Maximin Coïa at CTC Contrecoeur in Quebec.

Mary Orr, 17, Brantford, Ont., and Phelan Simpson, 18, Lunenburg, N.S., also represent Canada in the pair category. In their first season competing together, they earned a seventh place finish at the ISU Junior Grand Prix in Latvia, and were junior bronze medallists at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. They are coached by Kristy Wirtz and Kris Wirtz at the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club.

Madeline Edwards, 17, Port Moody, B.C. and ZhaoKai Pang, 19, Burnaby, B.C., are one of two teams representing Canada in ice dance. Last season, they placed 12th at this event. This season, Edwards and Kai Pang won silver at the ISU Junior Grand Prix in Mexico, and bronze at the ISU Junior Grand Prix in the Czech Republic. The 2013 Canadian junior champions also placed seventh at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in the senior category. They are coached by Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe at the BC Centre of Excellence.

Canadian junior champions Mackenzie Bent, 16, Uxbridge, Ont., and Garrett MacKeen, 19, Oshawa, Ont., will be the second entry in ice dance. Last year, Bent and MacKeen placed fifth at this event. This season, they won gold at the ISU Junior Grand Prix Latvia, and placed sixth in Slovakia. Bent and MacKeen train at Scarboro Ice Dance Elite with coaches Juris Razgulajevs and Carol Lane.

Carolyn Allwright of Kitchener, Ont., and Cody Hay, of Edmonton, Alta. are the team leaders for this event. Dr. Erika Persson of Edmonton, Alta., and physiotherapist Paige Larson of North Vancouver, B.C., will be the medical staff onsite. The Canadian officials at the event are Janice Hunter of West Vancouver, B.C., Debbie Islam of Barrie, Ont., and Sally Rehorick of Vancouver, B.C.

Junior Synchronized Skating teams set to represent Canada at 2014 ISU Junior World Challenge Cup

OTTAWA, ON: Canada will have two junior synchronized skating teams competing at the 2014 ISU Junior World Challenge Cup in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, from March 6-8. Les Suprêmes junior and Les Pirouettes junior, both from Quebec, will compete at the event. Neuchâtel will host 19 of the top junior synchronized skating teams from 14 countries, competing for the title of Junior World Champion. The event runs in conjunction with the Neuchâtel trophy senior synchronized skating competition.

Canadian junior champions, Les Suprêmes are the first Canadian entry. They have previously competed at this event in 2012, winning bronze. Les Suprêmes junior are coached by Marilyn Langlois and Amélie Brochu.

Also representing Canada are Les Pirouettes junior. The 2013 and 2014 Canadian junior bronze medallists are coached by Nancy Alexander and Stéphanie Savoie.

Julie Petrilli, of Montreal, Que., will be the Canadian team manager at the event. Dr. Lee Schofield of Toronto, Ont., will be the Canadian team doctor and Karen Seymour of Toronto, Ont., will be the team physiotherapist. Karen Robertson of Chelsea, Que., is the sole Canadian official at the event.

For more information on the event please visit the event website or

Skate Canada announces ISU World Figure Skating Championship teams

OTTAWA, ON: The Canadian roster for the 2014 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan from March 24-30, 2014 was released today. Canada will send 17 athletes for a total of 11 entries. Canada will have three entries in men’s, pair and ice dance and two entries in women’s.

Senior Men’s
Kevin Reynolds, 23, Coquitlam, B.C.
Elladj Baldé, 23, Pierrefonds, Que.
Nam Nguyen, 15, Toronto, Ont.

Senior Women’s
Kaetlyn Osmond, 18, Marystown, Nfld. & Sherwood Park, Alta.
Gabrielle Daleman, 16, Newmarket, Ont.

Senior Pair
Meagan Duhamel, 28, Lively, Ont. & Eric Radford, 29, Balmertown, Ont.
Kirsten Moore-Towers, 21, St. Catharines, Ont. & Dylan Moscovitch, 29, Toronto, Ont.
Paige Lawrence, 24, Kennedy, Sask. & Rudi Swiegers, 26, Kipling, Sask.

Senior Ice Dance
Kaitlyn Weaver, 24, Waterloo, Ont. & Andrew Poje, 27, Waterloo, Ont.
Alexandra Paul, 22, Midhurst, Ont. & Mitchell Islam, 24, Barrie, Ont.
Piper Gilles, 22, Toronto, Ont. & Paul Poirier, 22, Unionville, Ont.

The Canadian team for the 2014 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships was also announced. Canada will have 9 entries for a total of 14 skaters, two in men’s, two in women’s, three in pair and two in ice dance. The event will take place from March 10-16, 2014 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Junior Men’s
Nam Nguyen, 15, Toronto, Ont.
Roman Sadovsky, 14, Vaughan, Ont.

Junior Women’s
Alaine Chartrand, 17, Prescott, Ont.
Julianne Séguin, 17, Longueuil, Que.

Junior Pair
Julianne Séguin, 17, Longueuil, Que. &  Charlie Bilodeau, 20, Trois-Pistoles, Que.
Tara Hancherow, 18, Tisdale, Sask. & Wesley Killing, 21, Woodstock, Ont.
Mary Orr, 17, Brantford, Ont. & Phelan Simpson, 18, Lunenburg, N.S.

Junior Ice Dance
Madeline Edwards, 17, Port Moody, B.C. & ZhaoKai Pang, 18, Burnaby, B.C.
Mackenzie Bent, 16, Uxbridge, Ont. & Garrett MacKeen, 19, Oshawa, Ont.