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.