Wednesday, August 25, 2010
It wasn't the only change "Queen Yuna", as she's known in Korea, has made since her breathtaking performance at the Olympics. She also switched management teams in April, scrapping IB Sports, the Korean company that made her one of the five wealthiest female athletes in the past year with an estimated $9.7 million in earnings, to start her own agency, All That Sports, which is run by Kim's mother, Meehee Park. Those 25% management fees are now all in the family.
The announcement of the coaching change was made by Orser's management agency, IMG. Let the P.R. war begin.
This is all changing hourly, but here's a synopsis of what's come out so far.
1) Orser tells various media outlets he was blindsided by the news of the coaching change, which he and coaching partner Tracy Wilson received from Yuna's mother on Aug. 2. Orser adds that Yuna didn't know what was going on either. He suspected something was amiss, he says, because his emails weren't being answered. He also felt "disrespected" when he learned second-hand that Yuna's new short program was being choreographed by Canadaian ice dancer Shea-Lynn Bourne, with whom Orser had never worked. Orser claims money has nothing to do with the split, that he never had a contract with Yuna, that he never got a bonus from her for winning the Gold, and that he was the lowest paid coach at that level in skating, charging her only $110 an hour. But he loved Yuna and wished her well.
Facebook page she is "disappointed and saddened" that Orser would pretend to be blindsided, and that she couldn't sit idly by and let her mother take the blame for the coaching change when she, too, was involved. She says that she is an adult and she and her mother made the decision together. Yuna further contends the relationship between her and Orser was never as perfect as the media made it out to be, and that it had been increasingly "awkward and ambiguous" in the last few months. She also says the fact that Mao Asada of Japan, her arch-rival, approached Orser about coaching her was not the main reason she was leaving. She implies, though, it was a factor.
Okay, here's what I think.
Money has to be the main reason for the split. Orser's claim to the contrary doesn't pass the smell test. If he truly didn't get a bonus after Yuna Kim won a gold medal, he has every right to be angry. The girl made almost $10 million last year! Furthermore, he is represented by IMG, and all IMG cares about is money. You think his agent at IMG is going to let him charge only $110 an hour to the Olympic favorite with no incentives built in? Ha! IMG also owns Stars on Ice, which Yuna Kim does not skate for. My guess is that IMG was applying some sort of heavy-handed pressure on Kim, who has her own skating show in Korea, to join Stars, and it blew up in their face. They may even have been using Mao Asada as a weapon: If you don't want Brian to take on Mao, you should skate with "Stars..." this winter. I wouldn't put it past them. They only know heavy-handed.
The sad thing is that such a successful team should now be broken apart. Yes, as Yuna said in her Facebook message, skater's change coaches all the time. But not after they win an Olympic gold medal and skate two programs for the ages. At least not when the coach is as easy going and positive as Orser and his coaching partner Tracy Wilson are. The laid back, relaxed atmosphere at the Toronto Cricket Club, where they coach, was the perfect landing spot for the stressed-out Kim when she arrived there at age 15. I visited there last December, and, despite all the pressure she was feeling from home to win, Yuna was clearly happy training under Orser. I don't believe the problems that developed originated between the two of them. And one thing was and is certain: her mother, Meehee Park, calls the shots. Yuna is not going to buck her. Somehow IMG and/or Orser ran afoul of the mother, and it caused the rupture of a terrific skating partnership, one that created what I believe to be the finest gold medal performance in Olympic history. It'll be interesting to see what develops.
Posted by E.M. Swift at 11:22 AM