We get all worked up about the out athletes who win -- but the out coaches and other powerful figures who are indispensable to sports success should get a tremendous amount of credit too. At the Winter Games in Vancouver, Kim Yu-Na's gold medal capped the rise of Brian Orser as one of the world's stellar figure-skating coaches.
Outed in 1998 by a partner lawsuit, Orser has since embraced his orientation openly, becoming (among other things) an ambassador for the Outgames. Being out hasn't hurt his recent sports career either -- he remains one of the most accomplished figure-skating figures to come out of Canada, with Hall of Fame memberships added to his eight national men's titles, world title and two Olympic silver medals.
During his competitive years, Orser was also a genius of jumps, becoming the first to land a triple axel at the Olympics. As he aimed for Olympic gold in 1984 and 1988, he was seldom off the podium in any type of competition elsewhere in the world. However, at the 1988 Winter Games, during an intense rivalry with Brian Boitano that became known as the "Battle of the Brians," Orser was emotionally devastated when he missed getting gold for the 2nd time. This time it was by a mere 1/10 of a point.
Turning pro after that heartbreak, he toured in ice shows for many years, and finally was tapped as skating director for the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club.
Coaching evidently became Orser's way of lifting that old cloud off his life. He has worked with an international array of figure-skating talents, including Fedor Andreev, Sean Carlow, Rachel Kirkland & Erick Radford, and Rylie McCulloch-Casarsa. Currently he also trains Christina Gao, 2009 U.S. Junior bronze medalist. He has also trained Adam Rippon, 2008-09 World Junior Champion.
In 2006, Orser took on a giant mid-teen talent, Kim Yu-Na. In her native South Korea, she was so obsessively idolized by the public that she fled to Canada in search of a lower-keyed venue for training.
Observers credit Orser's patience and calming influence as factors in his success with skaters who are struggling with pressure and technical problems. The way Yu-Na handled the massive pressure last night, and nailed her jumps, and relaxed into the artistry of her freestyle program, is surely due not only to her own hard work and strength of spirit, but also to Orser's work and support as well.
Orser figures in a growing tradition of multi-talented gay men who went on contributing to figure-skating after they stopped Olympic competition. The list includes Ronnie Robertson (1956 silver medalist who later coached in China) and John Curry (1976 gold medalist who was later an influential choreographer and ice-show producer.)
The other night, Orser's glowing face and expression of quiet pride said it all as he stood by the gate waiting for his pupil to come off the ice amid that global roar of acclaim.
A shorter version of this comment is posted in the Winter Olympics blog at Outsports.com