GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA -- As skaters are busy going through their final warm-ups and checking their nerves, coaches have something else to worry about: costume changes. Take Brian Orser, Canada's two-time Olympic silver medalist who coached Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez to gold and bronze medals, respectively, on Saturday. During the men's figure skating competition, he went from representing Korea to Japan to Spain, sometimes within minutes.
"I'm kind of like an ambassador of global figure skating," he said. "I'm proud of all of them."
Orser's juggling act required three different jackets, with one tie to match them all. For South Korea and Japan, it was black jackets with each country's flag; for Spain, a bright blue parka.
Orser is representing five countries in the Pyeongchang Games: Korea, Japan and Spain in the men's competition, and Kazakhstan and Canada in the women's. But he actually owns only two of the outfits (for Korea and Spain). For his native Canada, he borrowed from another coach, while the Japanese federation loaned him clothes, including his blue-and-red tie that matched with all the jackets on Friday. He still wasn't sure then where he'd get his Kazakh outfit from, since his final skater, Elizabet Tursynbayeva, had not yet arrived in Pyeongchang. It's enough wardrobe changes to make a seasoned actor's head spin, but Orser takes it in stride.
"It does take me some time when I'm in my room to make sure I've got the appropriate pieces so that when Javi's skating I'm wearing the Javi stuff, and when Yuzu's skating, his," Orser said. "Then I have something neutral for the six-minute warm-up."
He paused. "Switzerland is what I should have," he added. "That's very neutral."
In an inherently nationalistic competition like the Olympics, it may seem strange that coaches shuffle between federations or that skaters from different countries train together. But because figure skating is a subjective sport and there are few elite-level coaches to go around, athletes often bunch together. For example, American ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue train at the same rink in Montreal with Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, the two top teams in the world.
"Because our sport isn't as cut and dry as 'I run this far and this fast, and I win,' the competition isn't really there," said Hubbell. "I'm not doing the same steps as Tessa and Scott, or Gabby and Guillaume. We want to win, but it's not as directly comparable, so it's easy to train together and cheer each other on."
There are no rules actually requiring coaches to wear each country's stripes, so some coaches simply decide to dispense with the distraction, like Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, Canadian coaches who will be helping Americans Hubbell and Donohue along with their French and Canadian training partners in ice dance on Monday. They'll simply be wearing black.
"I might use a red scarf because it's the color that is in every one of the flags," Dubreuil said. "Black and a little red scarf will do it."