Sunday, February 20, 2011

February 20, 1988: Battle of the Brians

CALGARY, Alberta - It was a natural rivalry: two men named Brian, one Canadian and one American, battling over the years for figure skating supremacy. Canadian Brian Orser got off to a faster start in his career, claiming the silver medal in the 1984 Olympics and finishing second at the 1985 World Championships. American Brian Boitano finished fifth at those same Olympics and third in the World Championships. It was only the beginning of the rivalry.

In 1986, Boitano broke through and beat Orser at the World Championships. The next year, Orser beat Boitano at the Worlds, held in Cincinnati. Seeing his rival take the World Championship from him on his home turf, Boitano became determined to return the favor for the next year's Olympics. He changed his program and got a new choreographer. Before long, the two skaters were considered virtually equal, and the 1988 Winter Olympics were highly anticipated as a way to settle the argument about who was better.

There were three stages to the Olympic figure skating competition in 1988: the compulsory, the short program, and the long program. Boitano was ahead after the compulsory skate, but Orser had the better scores in the short program. While Boitano was still ahead by a hair, the gold medal was going to come down to whomever won the long program portion.

Boitano went first, skating a technically perfect program with no mistakes. Orser went second, and wasn't quite as good, stepping out of one triple flip at the beginning and only doing one of his planned two triple axels. Still, the judges were split. Of the nine judges, four gave better marks to Orser and three gave them to Boitano. The remaining two had them tied, but both gave Boitano higher technical marks. Since the technical scores were the tiebreaker, those two judges' scores ended up in favor of Boitano, giving him the gold by a 5-4 margin.

Following the Olympics, both competed in the 1988 World Championships, with Boitano again beating Orser. That was the end of their competitive rivalry, as both turned professional after that.

While Boitano got the better of the head-to-head rivalry by winning the Olympic gold medal and two World Championships, Orser still had a career to be proud of. Along with his two Olympic silver medals, he never finished off the podium in his amateur career.

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