Orser-Boitano meet in high drama

By Steve Woodward

USA TODAY

CALGARY - Canada's Brian Orser says figure skating compulsories "are like theory in piano - they are very important"

Compulsories, also called school figures, are the focus of a brewing debate within the international skating community. Some want them abolished.

But today's conversation in the corridors of Father David Bauer Arena won't be about the validity of brackets and figure-eights, because Orser, skatings world champion, begins his celebrated showdown with -U.S. champion Brian Boitano, a world champ in 1986.

Along with 1985 champion Alexandr Fadeev, they'll be intensely scrutinized by judges during what -is expected to be a tight competition for the men's figure skating gold medal.

Each is conditioned to deal with expectations. These are the; first Games with three world champions entered in the men's field. But even though they've felt the pressure of skating for world supremacy, there's not an Olympic gola medal among them.

Today's compulsories are especially crucial for Orser, who was denied the 1984 Olympic gold medal after he finished ninth in the compulsory phase, worth 30 percent of the final score. Orser upstaged the USA's Scott Hamilton in the Olympic short and long programs but settled for the silver.

"Compulsories take up most of our training time," says Orser, of Orillia, Ontario. "I'm aiming to be in the top three here. 'And they (International Skating Union) chose a very good set of school figures."

The compulsory event is usually an all-day affair that is tedious work for competitors. Spectators are made up almost entirely of judges, coaches and other skating purists. Afterward, Orser, Boitano and Fadeev are likely to say they're pleased with their respective placements. They'll also contend that the medal race will almost certainly come down to the short and long programs, which it will.

Fadeev, 24, did not compete in the '84 Olympics and, unlike Orser, Boitano was not a factor for a medal. He finished fifth.

"I felt a lot different about my last Olympics," said Boitano, 24, of Sunnyvale, Calif.

"This time I feel like I know myself more as a person than just a skater. People do expect a lot more from you when you're among the top skaters in the world, but you have to know what you expect from yourself first."

The Orser-Boitano plot is foremost in discussions of the week's competition - short program is Thursday night, long program Saturday night. But Fadeev has the credentials to be a spoiler..