By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) – As far as Spain’s Javier Fernandez is concerned, his coach Brian Orser is more than just a mentor with the Midas touch.
Since Orser jumped for joy when his baby-faced Japanese charge Yuzuru Hanyu struck gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the Canadian has turned into a figure skating juggernaut.
Thanks to Hanyu and Fernandez, Orser’s coaching credentials are soaring higher than any quadruple jump either of his star pupils can pull off. And the 55-year-old will be out to preserve the 100 percent success rate he has enjoyed at the world championships in the current Olympic cycle in Helsinki next week.
“To me he’s the best coach in the world. He’s proved himself with all the skaters he has taken to the top,” double world champion Fernandez told Reuters in a telephone interview from Toronto.
“The best thing about him is the energy he brings to the people around him. Even when we are tired, he always manages to lift us. He creates a really good environment around us every day.”
That source of boundless energy has served Orser, and his pupils, well over the years.
He missed out on the ultimate Olympic prize himself, coming off second best to Scott Hamilton at the 1984 Sarajevo Games and again when losing the ‘Battle of the Brians’ in 1988 when he was pipped by another American, Brian Boitano, in Calgary.
As a coach, however, the 1987 world champion has enjoyed rip-roaring success with South Korea’s Kim Yuna at the 2010 Olympics followed by Hanyu four years later.
Hanyu’s unexpected triumph in Sochi saw Orser embark on a golden trail with his celebrated students having also won every men’s world title since. Hanyu’s skate to the top of the podium in 2014 was followed by Fernandez in 2015 and 2016.
In fact Orser’s two proteges have been untouchable at the world championships for the last two years, when the rest of the men’s field were left chasing the bronze.
With the 2018 Winter Games less than 11 months away, Fernandez would like nothing better than to make it a golden hat-trick for Orser in Pyeongchang.
“It will be amazing if I can give him the hat-trick and I am going to try my hardest and my best to give him that,” said the 25-year-old Fernandez, who also owns five European championship golds.
“I hope I can get it. It will be amazing for Brian to have three skaters to have won the Olympics.”
For Fernandez, however, glory for Orser is not the only milestone at stake.
Hailing from a country bursting with sporting success, Fernandez would likely run out of puff if he was asked to reel off the number of soccer, tennis, motor racing and cycling titles Spanish athletes have won over the years.
But if he was asked how many medals Spain have won at the Winter Olympics, he would only need to hold up two fingers.
One gold for Francisco Fernandez Ochoa in 1972 and a bronze for his sister and fellow Alpine skier Blanca Fernandez Ochoa in 1992 is the sum total of Spain’s success in 19 Games dating back to 1936.
To make matters worse, the country’s German-born cross-country skier Johann Muehlegg won three gold medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games only to be disqualified for doping.
Against such a backdrop of failure, and with Fernandez’s homeland blessed with Mediterranean sunshine all year, it is little wonder there are few takers for winter sports in Spain.
But the Real Madrid soccer fan wants to change all that by becoming the first Spaniard to win an Olympic medal on blades.
“I am the first figure skater from Spain to have won world and European titles and that’s really important to me,” he said.
“But, obviously, the Olympics is in my mind and (I want the) chance to win the medal I haven’t won yet.
“But once I am done with skating, I want to be a good coach like Brian and teach some other skaters what I have been taught and try to help them in their careers. I want to grow figure skating in my country.”
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar; Editing by Ken Ferris)