Brian Orser knows the period after the Olympics brings changes in coach-skater relationships, so he anticipated getting inquires from some athletes who might be interested in working with him.
But he never expected the April 2 text message from 2018 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia.
“I was totally stunned,” Orser said.
Orser immediately called Tracy Wilson, one of his co-coaches at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, and said, “You’re not going to believe this.”
Medvedeva’s original message indicated only that she would like a private meeting with Orser later in April in South Korea, where she was skating in a show, “LG ThinQ Ice Fantasia,” that Orser had helped organize and would attend.
“I kind of figured what it was about,” Orser said by telephone Monday, after Medvedeva’s statement via the Figure Skating Federation of Russia announced she was leaving coach Eteri Tutberidze’s training group in Moscow to begin working with Orser in Toronto.
Since guiding South Korea’s Yuna Kim to world (2009) and Olympic (2010) titles, Orser has become the sport’s highest-profile and most successful coach. In the past five seasons, he has taken Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu to two Olympic and two world titles and Spain’s Javier Fernández to two world titles and an Olympic bronze medal.
Orser met with Medvedeva, 18, and her mother, Zhanna Devyatova, on Sunday, April 22, at the Mayfield Hotel in Seoul. When the meeting ended, Orser realized what at first seemed unbelievable would soon become reality.
“She told me, ‘I want to make a change,”’ Orser said. “She didn’t really give me any reasons why.
“I really had a lot of respect for her instantly because she told me, ‘I don’t want to say anything bad about my current coaching situation.”’
Medvedeva had been with Tutberidze for 11 years. Their relationship frayed during the 2018 Olympic season, when a stress fracture in the skater’s foot and the ascendancy of another Tutberidze student, 15-year-old phenom Alina Zagitova, combined to deprive Medvedeva of the Olympic title she had seemed a lock to win.
Speculation that Medvedeva would leave Tutberidze had bubbled across the internet since Zagitova beat her for the Olympic gold by 1.31 points. Russian media began reporting it as news Friday.
Tutberidze told a Russian TV network Sunday that her messages to Medvedeva had gone unanswered for several weeks and that she learned the skater was leaving from a news report. The coach also recounted a conversation at the 2018 Olympics with a plaintive Medvedeva asking why Zagitova couldn’t have been kept out of those Winter Games.
“There was this really childish phrase: ‘Couldn’t you have kept Alina in the juniors for one more year?”’ Tutberidze recalled Medvedeva asking, according to the Associated Press. “I said…we have to give everyone the same chance.”
In the translation of her Monday statement on the Russian federation website, Medvedeva thanked Tutberidze and her coaching team for “long, fruitful, sometimes very difficult work. These people gave me a life in figure skating and led to such high results that I can rightly be proud of. … I hope that the time will pass, and everyone will understand that this was the only possible option for both of us, to continue to work honestly.”
Medvedeva said she would continue to represent both Russia and the Sambo-70 skating club. Orser said he expected Medvedeva (and her mother) in Toronto at the end of June.
Following a post-Olympic examination, Medvedeva did not defend her world title in March on doctors’ advice. Orser said he expects her to need more rehab for both the foot injury and a back problem but their intention is to have her ready for a Challenger Series event in early autumn and then the Grand Prix Series.
Orser said he had let Hanyu know that Medvedeva might be coming to Toronto. The coach thought it was possible Medvedeva asked Hanyu and Fernández about their experiences with him before making her decision. Hanyu has told Orser he intends to keep competing.
In his Seoul meeting with Medvedeva and her mother, Orser said he concentrated on moving forward rather than dwelling on the situation the skater had been in. The two of them have exchanged several text messages a day since then.
“The main thing is she needs to have a voice in her own skating,” Orser said. “We have been discussing music, what direction we want to go — she has never had that luxury before. She told me it was, ‘This is what you’re skating to. This is the order of your spins, these are your spin positions.”’
Medvedeva impressed upon Orser that she remains passionate about skating. She told him her goal is to win the Olympics.
“I said, ‘Let’s keep that in mind, but it doesn’t mean you have to win every world championship on the way.’ I think it is an important message for everyone to know that is what her goal is, and that is what we are going to aim for.”
Orser, the 1984 and 1988 Olympic silver medalist, said until the meeting in Korea he had exchanged no more than passing “hellos” and head nods with Medvedeva.
“What I have seen in her is that she is a fierce competitor, very reliable and, like Yuna, very headstrong,” Orser said.
Medvedeva had been unbeaten from November 2015 until losing to Zagitova at the 2018 European Championships, the former’s first competition after missing several weeks of training because of the broken foot.
“I told her the first thing she needs to do is to get onto a program where she gets her body healthy,” Orser said. “So if she gets here and she’s not on ice for a couple weeks, that’s fine.”’
Orser said Medvedeva would work with him, Wilson and choreographer David Wilson, who has done Olympic gold-medal programs for Kim and Hanyu and world title-winning programs for Fernández.
“She is going to reinvent herself,” Orser said of Medvedeva. “Even though she has some amazing titles, I feel they are the tip of the iceberg, that there is so much more she can do.”
Will one of them be fixing the “flutz” — the wrong edge takeoff on Medvedeva’s triple lutz — that has been a subject of controversy, since judges rarely call her on it?
“I’m going to do my best,” Orser said, with a laugh. “I have been looking at it already. I’m not going try to disguise it or put it in a corner.
“That’s not going to be an easy one, but I think she’s open to this. She’s open to the change.”
It will be a change for Orser as well. He never has coached an elite Russian, and none of his eventual global champions — Kim, Fernández and Hanyu — came with a résumé already as loaded and distinguished as Medvedeva’s.
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: Ice Network, by Philip Hersh