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Power Behind the Throne

Often we put such importance on the "star athlete who is out" that the importance of coaching is sometimes overlooked -- especially the out stars who retire from competition in order to coach. Example of the moment: Canadian world champion figure skater Brian Orser, eight times Canadian national champion, who retired from intensive competing and touring in 2006 so that he could coach full time. He took on 15-year-old Yu-Na Kim of South Korea, who was struggling with technical stuff and went to him for a couple of weeks' coaching. Kim liked Brian's approach so much that she moved to Toronto, Canada to work with him full time.

It has taken a couple of years, and some battles with a chronic health problem of Kim's along the way. But Orser's inspired work with this young talent has just hit another milestone. In Moscow Kim, now 17, captured the Cup of Russia with the highest mark in history for the ladies' freestyle. The win put her at the lead for the ladies' singles 2008 ISU Grand Prix championship. I just happened to have my TV on, and caught her extraordinary performance on ESPN. She was glowingly on top of the whole game -- technical, artistic and entertainment -- and so powerfully connected with the Russian crowd that they came to their feet with a roar.

Not many athletes get to the podium without that "power behind the throne" -- support and inspiration of a person who is not just a good coach, but the right coach. Way to go, Brian.

Orser isn't the only gay male figure skater who has made major contributions in coaching his sport. Ronnie Robertson, Olympic silver medalist in 1956 and twice winner of silver at the Worlds, didn't live in a time when you could come out. But in later years he became a sought-after coach and was out to people who knew him well. Probably his biggest achievement was coaching in China; his work helped put the Chinese on the global figure-skating map.

Oh, and Johnny Weir is currently leading for the men's singles title. Look for both Kim and Weir at the Grand Prix finals in Torino December 13-16. Personally I hope they both get to the top of the podium with that brand of skating mastery that is unique to each of them. -- Patricia Nell Warren