The Battle of the Brians
This was the name given to one of the greatest figure skating duels in Olympic history.
It was February 1988 in Calgary, and the Olympic ice rink was packed. A large crowd had come to see the men’s free programme and to find out the outcome of the intense and unbelievable competition between the best skaters on the planet.
A home crowd – a guarantee of success?
After the compulsory figures and the short programme, there were still two men in the running to win Olympic gold: Canada’s Brian Orser, in front of his home crowd, and American Brian Boitano. The two Brians dominated their discipline and knew each other well.
At the 1986 World Championships, Boitano had had the edge over Orser, who, for the third time in a row at these Championships, finished on the second step of the podium. He had also finished second at the Olympic Games in Sarajevo in 1984. In Cincinnati for the 1987 World Championships, it was Canadian Orser’s turn to win, despite being in front of a crowd supporting his rival.
Two namesakes for one Olympic title
In Calgary, for the free programme, the last part of the individual event, Brian Boitano was first on the ice. Since his defeat in the previous World Championships, the American had done a lot of work on his artistic effects and refined his movements. On the technical side, he normally had no reason for concern, as he was an incredible virtuoso. Boitano skated confidently, sure of his strength and his free programme. He mastered his performance, and achieved eight faultless triple jumps, including two triple axels. His artistic marks hovered around 5.8 / 5.9. A medal was in sight, but what colour would it be? The pressure was now on Canadian Orser, who could not allow himself to make a mistake.
Bearer of the maple leaf flag at the Opening Ceremony of the XV Olympic Winter Games, Orser had a whole nation behind him. He too was known for his ability to successfully land triple jumps. He had been the first to achieve a triple axel at the 1984 Games. However, it would be this element that would be his downfall: he performed only one triple axel instead of the two planned. A small error at the beginning of the programme also cost him a few tenths of points. His technical marks were therefore lower than Boitano’s, but on the artistic side, the judges were won over, with even one 6.0 being awarded. He also won the public over.
As expected, it was a very close race. And, in the end, American Brian Boitano beat Canadian Brian Orser by five judges to four. “The battle of the Brians” had kept all its promises, and kept the fans on the edge of their seats throughout this memorable competition.
Another try in 2010
Brian Orser, who is now a coach, will perhaps win the Olympic title by proxy, as long as his pupil, Korean skater Kim Yu Na, a favourite at the Games in Vancouver, sees her dream come true and wins gold at the XXI Olympic Winter Games.