Two Brians ready to duel for one gold

by Steve Woodward

USA Today

Calgary- Two strategies. One gold medal.

Brian Boitano, the self-made USA figure skating champion, insists he will pass final judgement upon himself during this Olympic Games. Boitano sys he is not threatened by the prospect of defeat because personal standards are the most important measure of his skating success.

Canada's Brian Orser, the reigning world champion, has surrounded himself with a variety of specialists, each dedicated to Orser's singular goal- an Olympic skating title. He was the brilliant runner-up at the 1984 Olympics, but this time he wants to make sure the brilliance is fully rewarded.

Boitano, four time U.S. champion, is the boy-next-door athlete. Orser is a Canadian sports herro, an eight-time national champ. But when the appear in tonight's short program competetion, worht 20 percent of the overall score, they will be Olympians who have been singled out as gold medal contenders.

The Battle of the Brians is a test of both philosophy and skill. The later got underway during Wednesday's compulsories. As anticipated, Boitano placed second and Orser third behind the Soviet Union's Alexandr Fadeev, a master of the school figures.

Orser's camp is comprised of a psychologist, a nutritionist, a masseuse, a costume designer, a choreographer,a manager and orser's private coach, Doug Leigh. The Canadian Figure Skating Association covers 50 percent to 60 percent of Orser's training expenses.

Team Boitano is linda Leaver,his coach of 16 years, and Canadian choreographer Sandra bezic, hired just last year. That's it. Boitano's parents, Lew and Donna, help foot the bills.

"This is where skating is going now," says Orser, defending his reliance upon human-resource management. "It's becoming a very sophisticated sport, very technical. Every little bit helps."

After finishing second in the 1886 World Championhips in Geneva, Switzerland, Orser regularly consulted sports psychologist Dr. Peter Jensen. Orser says Jensen has "aught me how to deal with any obstacle." Preparations for the games also have included simulating practice sessions and competition events.

Boitano, 25,suggests he is suspicious of Orser's methods.

"If you don't know how to deal with it inside yourself, if you don't believe in yourself, I've found that relying on other people never workd," he says. "Knowing how o do it ourself makes ou a competent skater."

Says firrst-time Olympian Paul Wylie, a Harvard man who was silver medalist at last monh's U.S. Championships: "If drawing a sense of security from other people makes you feel better, then I guess you should do it. But I haven't seen it work."

Orser, 26, explains his approach to skating evolved out of concern that his natural skill would be comprimised by mental instability. it goes back to Geneva, where Orser was so overwhelmed by an opportunity to win a world titlethat he ran showers in the dressing room to drown out the applause given his challengers.

"I fell doing a jump (triple axel) that I did everyday without a problem," says orser, of Penetanguishene, Ontario. "That's when i realized it was a different problem, a psychological problem. I didn't want to take the risk of that happening again."

Ironically, Boitano says Orser's resurgence was good for both of them. After Orser won the 1987 world championship-taking the title Boitano held the year before-Boitano was a t first surprised, then comforted, by how he handled it.

"I'm happy with what my skating has become, so it doesn't matter what other people say," Boitano says. "If I'm second, third or fourrth at the Olympics, how can i feel that bad?"

"Skating well is enough for me, although three years ago i didn't think that. So, I've changed. I used to think winning was more important."

Orser seems to disagree.

At the Canadian nationals, Orser recieved seven perfect scores of 6.0 in his long program, despite falling twice trying triple axel jumps. He said he was disappointed, but the human version of Air Canada immediately put it behind him.

"It's an Olympic year, and the most importantthing is not to take your focus off the Olympics," Orser said.

Orser has incorporated eight triple jumps into the choreography of his Saturday 4 1/2-minute Olympic long program, skated to The Bolt.

Even the music was selected with the Olympics in mind.

"It's the type of music you 'd expect them to play when they're lighting the (Olympic) torch," Orser says. "It's very olympic."

Because of what's at stake, orser is not always diplomatic when addressing the oposition. he has said on various occasions that he holds an overall edge in technical and artistic ability. And when Boitano traveled to Calgary for Skate Canada last October, Orser thought Boitano showed "a lot of guts to come to canada, on my home turf, trying to beat me. I haven't even thought about not winning here."

He beat Boitano for a second time in seven months, and now the meet again on Canadian ice: "It's the perfect position," Orser says. "I'm in the driver's seat, and i wouldn't want it any other way."

When the Olympic competitionconcludes Saturday night, the driver's seat will be occupied by a panel of nine judges. They might choose Orser or boitano or perhaps Fadeev, the 1985 world champion.

Two skating styles. One gold medal.

Boitano has a reputation as being an 'athletic' skater, as oppossed to an artistic skater, like Orser is described. Boitano is credited with technical innovations but deplores the notion tthat he is mechanical, a robot on skates.

"I don't understand the whole concept," he says. "Either you like my program or you don't."

A Sports Illustrated story following last year's world championships suggested Orser won that event because he is rtistically superior.

Even though Boitano isn't expected to try the quadruple toe loop jump-the four-revolution trick that has never been successfully executed in competition - SI's observer wrote: "Boitano needs the quad to beat Orser. Artistically Orser is better."

Said Boitano: "That was an opinion printed as fact. Do you think I'm going to do something different because of one guy who doesn't understand skating?"

Despite the close scrutiny and endless comparisiions, Boitano and Orser content they maintain a cordial relationship.

Two friends. One gold medal.

"A lot of people are trying to pull us apart, trying to make us enemies," says Orser.

Boitano admits there are inherent limitations in such a friendship. Talking shop, for example, is out of the question.

"I don't think we've ever discussed skating," he says. "It's hard to be such close competitors. You don't want to give away any trade secrets."