HALIFAX - Thirty-nine years ago, Brian Orser won the novice Canadian figure skating championships in Calgary. He went on to win a world championship title and two Olympic silver medals.
Now Orser has an 11-year-old student, Stephen Gogolev, who is following in his footsteps. On Tuesday, Gogolev won the novice men’s title by more than 22 points over his closest rival, Mathew Markell.
Gogolev, whose family has gradually adopted and moved to Canada the past several years, is doing things that Orser only dreamed about. Orser was the first man to use a triple Axel to win the Canadian junior title. On Tuesday, Gogolev landed a triple Axel – as a very young novice skater, who turned 11 only last month. Many of his competitors were 14 or 15. Gogolev was one of the tiniest, just able to look over the rink boards.
Over the past month, Gogolev has also been landing quadruple jumps. He started out working on the quadruple toe loop, but then when he tackled a quad Salchow, it went swish. He stumbled out of it, but the rotation was complete. Since then, he and Orser have focused on the quad Salchow, a jump that Gogolev says might show up in a program “in two years.”
Orser says that when Gogolev can get himself into the right mindset, his quadruple Salchow is “gorgeous” and ”sweet. It’s big and clean and it’s really quite something,” Orser said.
He’s also changed his pattern going into the quad toe loop, so that it’s more similar to that of reigning world champion Javier Fernandez. Fernandez has become a gentle, supportive mentor of Gogolev, and he’s around the rink more often than Japanese Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.
“He [Gogolev] just keeps getting better and better,” Orser said. “His speed is better. His presentation is better. If we look at a video from last year when he won pre-novice, it’s night and day. Not even close.”
Gogolev is smart about it, too. Recently, when Orser and cohort Tracy Wilson were teaching a stroking class, they noticed that Gogolev sidled up to Fernandez – who also trains at the club.
“He did the whole class next to Javi,” Orser said. “And he was keeping up to him. The quality was right up there.”
Gogolev did have some problems landing triple Lutzes in both short and long programs this week, admitting to a case of nerves after not getting an opportunity to practice on the main rink at the Scotiabank Centre until the short program warmup. That’s because Gogolev was in a plane that departed Toronto for Halifax on Saturday, and encountered an intense snowstorm. The plane circled the Halifax airport for 10 minutes, couldn’t land, then turned back to Montreal for refueling. After hours on the runway, the plane returned to Toronto. Many of the novice men’s competitors from western Ontario felt jitters for the same reason.
Because Gogolev has won the novice title, he’ll have to move up to the junior level next season - yet he is still too young by two full years to compete on the international Junior Grand Prix circuit. Orser says he needs to meet with Skate Canada to determine a strategy.
“We have to get him out (internationally),” Orser said. “There are boys out there who are almost as good as him around the world that he needs to see.”
Then, when Gogolev comes up against a competitor who really tests him (he’s won everything easily at home up to now), Orser will find out just what sort of competitor Gogolev is: one with heart, who never quits. “He needs to learn how to skate like that,” Orser said.