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Apr 25, 2012

Hanyu to Orser



As most people following the perennial upheavals of the figure skating off-season probably know by now, Yuzuru Hanyu has announced that he will be leaving his longtime coach Nanami Abe in favor of Brian Orser. Mr. Hanyu will apparently divide his time between attending school in his hometown of Sendai, Japan and presumably the Toronto Cricket Club in Canada.

My initial reaction upon hearing this news was the reaction I usually reserve for skaters announcing their coaching change to Nikolai Morozov: NO! And then I thought, what will happen to Mr. Hanyu's beloved Pooh bear? My priorities, they surely are in the right order.

But this is certainly somewhat of a surprise, perhaps even more so than the Patrick Chan-Christy Krall split. Given the seemingly-intimate relationship between Mr. Hanyu and Ms. Abe, Ms. Abe's very good work in managing both the technical and PCS sides of Mr. Hanyu's skating, as well as the Japanese Skating Federation's storied history of micro-managing their skaters, I sense the tentacles of the JSF waving about throughout this decision.....

Some issues to consider:

Jumps. Mr. Hanyu, like Yu-Na Kim before him, will go to Brian Orser with impeccable jumps. Interestingly, however, Ms. Kim had reportedly chosen Mr. Orser (alias Mr. Triple Axel) partly because of her desire to gain a 3A. Moreover, skaters like Adam Rippon have also turned to Mr. Orser for help in gaining a 3A and quads. However, Mr. Orser's record as a technical coach does not appear to have entirely met all expectations: Ms. Kim and Mr. Rippon never got the 3A, Christina Gao's 2A remains suspect, and while Javier Fernandez's quads have been mind-bogglingly consistent, the rest of his triples seem to be rather hit-and-miss. Given Nanami Abe seems to have done a very good job on Mr. Hanyu's jumps so far, jump support does not appear to be the issue at the heart of this coaching switch.

Choreography/style. Choreography had definitely been a major weakness of Mr. Hanyu's in the past. Some of Mr. Hanyu's past programs can charitably be described as minimalistic and lacking in character, but this season, Ms. Abe had enlisted the support of Natalia Bestemianova and Igor Bobrin to give Mr. Hanyu a decent SP and a very good LP. The Romeo and Juliet long program has especially won Mr. Hanyu a legion of new admirers (including the one writing this post) as well as the approval of at least some of the ever-fickle judges (e.g. the men's judging panel at Nice). If Mr. Hanyu is to be coached by Mr. Orser, he would presumably receive David Wilson choreography. Although Mr. Wilson's work as a choreographer has been commendable and of generally decent quality, I'm afraid this signals yet another step towards the homogenization of choreography as Mr. Hanyu's programs thus far have been a rare departure from the monopoly of Lori Nichol/David Wilson/Nikolai Morozov/Pasquale Camerlengo choreography that is pervasive among the uppermost echelons of singles figure skating. I only hope that Mr. Hanyu's current style--a marriage between the flow and elegance of Johnny Weir at his peak and the passion and power of Evgeni Plushenko when he still had a soul--will survive this coaching switch somewhat intact. I will certainly be very disappointed if Mr. Hanyu turns into another Orser clone next season.

Then there is the issue of packaging and polish. Style, finesse, polish etc., are still areas Mr. Hanyu can definitely work on: the hunched posture, the wild, slightly-out-of-control movement, the lack of tension in his lines, etc. However, I'm not sure if Brian Orser would be the best choice for refinement in such areas. Javier Fernandez's posture can be droopy at times, Christina Gao still looks rather gangly, hunchy and not quite in control of her long limbs, and even Yu-Na Kim's lines and positions could be said to be lacking.

Training conditions. Japan's problems with insufficient ice time and crowded facilities even among its top skaters is well-known. Under the tutelage of Mr. Orser, Mr. Hanyu will undoubtedly have access to the Toronto Cricket Club, a world-class facility with presumably more ice time and less-populated facilities than Mr. Hanyu is accustomed to in Japan, especially after the disastrous tsunami. However, Mr. Hanyu is reportedly going to split his time between Toronto and Sendai, so.....these benefits remain rather nebulous for the time being.

By joining Mr. Orser's stable of skaters, Mr. Hanyu will also be exposed to a very different training environment, not least of all the presence of a direct rival in the form of Javier Fernandez. Best case scenario: Mr. Hanyu and Mr. Fernandez push each other to greater competitive heights--just imagine all the quads being thrown down like gauntlets at the Cricket Club next season! Worse case scenario: not sure if I want to contemplate this.

Stamina. Mr. Hanyu's lack of stamina due to asthma is probably his most glaring weakness--Mr. Hanyu is prone to losing speed and power at the end of his long programs, botch his final jumping pass, etc. Not a very good last impression to make, especially when the end of the program is when judges tend to input their marks for PCS. Mr. Orser is known to have an entire team of different specialists behind him when he coaches, so hopefully they can provide new perspectives on conditioning, off-ice endurance training, etc?

TL;DR: I'm somewhat befuddled by this coaching change.

18 comments:

  1. Another AnonymousApril 26, 2012 at 2:30 AM

    Befuddled is the word I was looking for... I don't get it either. Hanyu is so good already, and I don't think there's anything in Orser's coaching history to suggest that this would be a major upgrade. So why go all the way to Canada?

    The homogenization of the choreography is something I don't like much, either. Camerlengo wasn't doing all that many programs until recently, but certainly the rest of them. I'm always happy to see someone with a good program by someone else, e.g. Buttle, Miyamoto, Bourne, and of course Steuer's work with S/S.

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    1. Indeed. Not only is Mr. Hanyu very good already, but I thought Ms. Abe was doing a fantastic job with him, especially this season: adding transitions, going outside the box for choreography, upgrading his jumping passes. She seemed to have a very solid game plan for Mr. Hanyu and I especially liked the fact that she went to Natalia Bestemianova and Igor Bobrin for choreography help instead of the Big Four. That being said, I think Brian Orser is a good coach, but his major strength, in my opinion, is packaging and I don't think Mr. Hanyu needs that much work in that department.

      As for Mr. Camerlengo's popularity, blame Daisuke Takahashi for making him so popular :) But in all seriousness, it's a bit disappointing that out of the top 10 finishers at Worlds this season, 7 out of 10 ladies and 8 out of 10 men had Nichol/Wilson/Morozov/Camerlengo choreograph at least one of their programs. So much for diversity and creativity....

      And don't forget to add Tom Dickson to your list! He is criminally underused when it comes to choreography.

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  2. Although I personally enjoy the idea of Yuzuru coming to Toronto because that means he's that much closer to me, I really strongly oppose the coaching change. Nanami has been his coach since forever, as is noted in the news article on icenetwork. She's done an excellent job with making him into a world class skater, and he seems to be improving greatly each year.

    Granted, Orser has done some good things to the world of figure skating, but I don't think the switch will be beneficial to Yuzuru at all. As you said, Orser's coaching team will most likely give Yuzuru a rather generic program, which I really cannot stand for, especially after his amazing fs this year. Yes, I agree that Yuzuru needs polish, but I don't think that a coaching change will help much with that. Much of that comes from experience and maturity, and even if he did need coaching help in that area, he does not need to make a complete switch. As before, he could easily take a sojourn to some coach and receive tips from him/her. Although it is doubtful that Orser (if Yuzuru is really intent on getting advice from him) would be willing to help a competitor of one of his students, there's many other amazing coaches out there Yuzuru could receive tips from. Also, Yuzuru seems to work really well with emotional, "deep", impressionable programs. For some reason, I don't see Orser's choreo working well with him at all.

    Yuzuru's jumps, though not always consistent, have improved greatly from last year. He's landed his quad very consistently this year, and the problem exists in some of his other jumps, which is sometimes a hit and miss. I don't think Orser would help him at all in that area, and again, may actually hurt him there.

    As for the training conditions, I hadn't thought about that. Toronto Cricket Club is definitely a nice training facility (haven't been there myself, but just looking at the website...) but I don't think it'll make that much of a difference. Yuzuru actually probably wastes more time flying back and forth, and he'll be fatigued from the time changes and the constant flying, that it'll only damage his training. Plus all of his friends are at Sendai, why would he leave them for such long periods of time?!

    As for the stamina, again I don't think switching to Orser would do much good. Perhaps yes Yuzuru will be able to learn some new techniques to improve his stamina, but as all athletes know, stamina comes from training. Special techniques won't instantly improve your endurance etc. No matter what, Yuzuru's asthma won't go away with a coaching change. And if that's the only positive thing that can come out of this coaching change, it's really not worth it.

    I really really oppose this change, no matter how much it may bring him closer to me. I really really love this guy, I hope he doesn't turn into another mediocre skater. I think Japanese coaches are fantastic, and Yuzuru and Abe obviously have a close relationship....

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    1. I know. I'm quite confused about this coaching switch myself. Mr. Hanyu has had very strong competitive results this season and has shown significant improvements in so many aspects of his skating....it simply doesn't make sense to suddenly jump ship when he's on a clear upwards trajectory with Nanami Abe.

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  3. Oh Woah ! I didn't see that comming ! I mean, the split between Chan and his coach didn't suprise me at all, but this ... I gonna ask myself "What the hell happened ?" all day now ...

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    1. Listen to sad music....make a Hanyu/Abe tribute video...weep for poor Pooh bear.

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  4. I am still shocked by this news. I don't know...I thought it was an April Fool's joke gone bad (way past April 1st now). *sigh* I really liked the chemistry and trusting relationship between Nanami Abe and Yuzuru Hanyu. There was something special between them, that made his skating so wonderful and delightful to watch.

    I wanted Yuzuru to put his OGM on Nanami's neck, and say to his sensei, "I finally did it". :'(

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    1. Definitely. He owes much of his success to Abe. She taught him pretty much everything he knows now. If I were her, I would not want Yuzuru to be putting a medal around a foreign coach who barely knows Yuzuru.

      I think although I am sad about the splitting up of Yuzuru and Nanami because of their close emotional relationship, it's really the logic (or lack thereof) behind it that bothers me.

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    2. Frankly, I sense the JSF's fingerprints all over this decision.

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  5. Although I'm, like you, surprised, I'm going to be optimistic about this coaching change. The coach that broke Hanyu out may not be the one to develop him further. But I feel like Orser wasn't the best choice. Like you said, he seems to be better at "packaging" and his most notable success (sorry Fernandez, somehow, I just can't get into you...) was Yuna-kim. And he didn't make Yuna, Yuna made him.
    (Geez, the more I talk about this, the less optimistic I feel about Hanyu's coaching change...)
    But ah well, the decisions been made and hopefully Hanyu will have smashing programs next year (please please please no elevator music like Kozuka's programs). I hope he keeps his star-like quality as his unpolished skating does have a certain charm to it. I can't wait for Hanyu to kick Pchan's ass (not that the latter isn't already abused by ice...)a couple years from now.

    Oh and have I mentioned how I love your blog? I know next to almost nothing about the technical aspects of figure skating (yeah...I'm not afraid to admit it), so it's quite refreshing to read your impressions.

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    1. Thank you!

      In fairness to Mr. Orser, he did a very good job with Yu-Na Kim (I wouldn't entirely agree with the statement "he didn't make Yuna, Yuna made him")and I think he's a very competent coach. It's just the randomness of the decision to send Yuzuru Hanyu to him that confuses me. What Mr. Orser can best offer a skater does not seem to be what Mr. Hanyu needs at the moment.

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  6. I heard, though it’s not confirmed, Yuzuru will attend to a school in Canada, while being enrolled in his school in Sendai. Be nice to him, Canadian kids! He will have a press conference after the national holidays in Japan, so it may be clear if the “flying back and forth” situation will be avoided. I am still confused about how to think about this change, but if this is what Yuzuru wishes for, I will be cheering for him. And I also wonder what will happen to his Pooh Bear….. Could someone tell me if Orser is willing to hug a Pooh Bear for Yuzuru at the rink?

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    1. Sadly, I really cannot imagine Brian Orser carrying Pooh bear at an event. (sob)

      Thanks for the information about Mr. Hanyu's schooling situation. Does Mr. Hanyu speak any English at all? It might be difficult for him to attend school in Canada since I assume he doesn't speak French either.

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  7. Worst case scenario: Fernandez leaves at the end of the season for the same reason he left Morozov.

    I really don't see this lasting longer than a season.

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    1. CAN HE JUST LEAVE LIKE THAT? That would be great (:

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  8. I wonder who was/were behind Hanyu's coach change? It was a big mistake and if I were his parents, I would never send him to Toronto. He will be exhausted as Mirai Nagasu did causing by the long commute. How about his health condition? Did Hanyu checked with his doctor about it? I don't think he needs the coach change. All he needs is to get a right choreographer/s, training for better steps and other elements to improve his skating. Going to Toronto is both wasting time and his stamina. He doesn't need Mr. Orser at all. I don't think he an provide what he needs. I heard that Hanyu is stubborn, but he is still 17 years-old teen. I am afraid if his such character hurt himself. Hanyu, please finish your high school first, and then carefully consider what is your best option. I am very worried about this change.

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  9. I wonder if he speaks english , even just a little?

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  10. fast forward 5 years. what are your thoughts now?

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