CALGARY, FEB. 16 -- Brian Orser is attended to by a nutritionist, masseur and costumer, all of whom are here for the sole purpose of helping him win an Olympic gold medal. Carefully rolfed, meticulously psychoanalyzed and widely publicized, the Canadian world champion in men's figure skating is well groomed, if nothing else.
Orser's contingent is made up of eight people, and it is estimated that the cost of maintaining this staff is $40,000 a year, most of which is supplied by the Canadian figure skating association. Although he loathes the word entourage, it's an apt term; they are here to see to his personal details and soothe away his previously demonstrated penchant for faltering in major competitions.
Orser, 26, always has been an impeccable stylist, but his problem was an inexplicable fear of winning.
Three times consecutively, from 1984-86, Orser finished second in the World Championships. In 1984 he lost to Olympic champion Scott Hamilton, in 1985 he lost to the Soviet Union's Alexander Fadeev, in 1986 he was relegated to the silver by Brian Boitano of the United States. Finally in 1987 in Cincinnati, after enlisting the services of sports psychologist Peter Jensen and a host of others, he defeated Boitano for his first World Championship.
"I didn't know how to deal with going out to skate knowing I could win," he said. "It was a psychological problem, a mental block."
The three world champions will begin competing here Wednesday in the compulsories (which account for 30 percent of the final score), with the short program Thursday night and the long program to determine the gold medal on Saturday. Orser and Boitano, close friends and competitors for 17 years through the junior and international ranks, will engage in what is being called the "Battle of the Brians," with Fadeev as a possible interloper.
Under the collective eye of his country and more pressure than during his other world championship attempts combined, Orser will demonstrate whether putting himself under glass has worked. For the first time in his career he is favored to win the gold medal, a position he contends he is now capable of dealing with. He goes to relaxation classes, consults with Jensen twice a week, and undergoes lengthy simulations of Olympic scenarios.
"I trained an entire year as a world champion," he said. "I was never able to do that before. It was a boost and a motivator every day."
How deep Orser's fear went was illustrated at the 1986 World Championships in Geneva. While Boitano was skating his way to a gold medal, Orser hid in the locker room and turned on the shower, afraid to hear the scores. When he finally came out to skate, he fell on a triple axel to finish second. Counting his second place in the 1984 Olympics to Hamilton, it was the fourth straight silver medal for him.
Orser had attributed his previous losses to lack of training or physical problems. But in Geneva he was in perfect shape, and there was only one explanation -- psychological. He immediately sought out Jensen, who now works with all the Canadian skaters.
"I was hiding from everything," he said. "From reality. Suddenly I was in a position to win and I didn't know how to deal with it. I was afraid to step on the ice, I didn't want to be out there.
"I didn't ever want to take that risk again. In skating you have one chance a year, we train 11 months for that one night. I didn't want to take the chance of not being mentally ready again."
Orser's new self-assurance manifested itself physically. Previously considered an artistic sort who was weak on technique, he matched Boitano athletically and outdid him in style in Cincinnati. Then, he beat Boitano at Skate Canada earlier this year and for the first time won the compulsories over his rival.
A more relaxed Orser also has found some varied off-ice interests. He has part ownership in a health food store and a restaurant. The son of an Ontario politician, he has become a favored corporate speaker.
But Boitano, since his loss, also has wrought some changes that could once again allow him to surpass Orser. He hired a choreographer to make him more graceful, previously the lone weakness for a skater considered the most technically brilliant of all. Boitano, incidentally, has brought just himself, coach Linda Leaver and choreographer Sandra Bezic, and is perhaps the steadiest thinking skater around.
"I wouldn't be as good or feel as good if I hadn't lost," Boitano said. "Because I lost I went a different route."
The result is that both now claim they are skating their best and most difficult programs ever, Orser to a Russian-like score called "The Bolt" and Boitano to the theme from "Napoleon." The skate-off should be a rare confrontation between two athletes at their peak, and this time, Orser will watch Boitano skate.
"I have to think of my own performance and doing my best one," he said. "Which I think is good enough to win the gold."