Battle of the Brians – Boitano vs. Orser
In preparation for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Brian Boitano of the USA and Brian Orser of Canada were considered two of the best male figure skaters of their generation.
Though it was never a true head-to-head matchup, as other figure skaters were also competing for Olympic Gold, the media in both America and Canada still feasted on this “Battle of the Brians,” as they billed it, and the end result certainly did not disappoint.
Born October 22, 1963, Brian Anthony Boitano is an American figure skater who was born in Sunnyvale, California. Skating since a child, Boitano etched his mark on the world scene in 1978, winning a bronze at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships.
Perhaps serendipitously, he defeated future rival Brian Orser for that medal. However, Boitano’s fame wasn’t earned until 1982, when he became the first American figure skater to successfully land a triple axel. In ’87, he would introduce his signature move, the Tano triple lutz – a move often imitated in today’s sport, but rarely duplicated.
Over the course of his illustrious career, Boitano would win an amazing 10-straight professional championships – 5 of which were World Professional titles, and 4 Challenge of Champions titles. Throughout the mid ‘80s to mid ‘90s, Brian Boitano was perhaps the most dominant figure skater on the planet.
Born December 18, 1961, in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, Brian Ernest Orser is a now-retired professional figure skater. Still an amateur in 1977, Orser shocked the skating world by winning the national title that year. The follow year, competing at the Junior Worlds, he finished just behind Boitano in 4th place, but in 1979, Orser would claim his second national title at the junior level. Orser would go on throughout the ‘80s with a string of medals and podium appearances, cementing his legacy as one of the best.
With an impressive 8 national titles to his name, 2 Olympic medals, and a world title, Orser is one of the best figure skaters in Canada’s storied history. He’s still very close to the sport today, acting as the director of the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club.
The Battle that Captivated the World
In the 1977/78 skating season, the world didn’t realize that Brian Boitano and Brian Orser would be such fierce, closely-matched rivals for years to come. The two young men facing off on the junior level didn’t sound any alarms. But as the Brians blazed their way through the ranks during the early to mid ‘80s, it became inevitable that, in the 1988 Winter Olympics, the Brians were at the top of the game, unmatched by anyone else. And, yes, the two would face off for Gold.
What made it such a fantastic story wasn’t necessarily two men close in age and close in talent. Rather, what made it such a huge storyline was that an America, Boitano, threatened to walk into Canada and take the Gold from the nation’s favorite son, Orser. It was a meeting of the giants; and while Boitano might have held the slim lead on paper, everyone knew that one bad landing, one missed turn, and even one slip of the skate could make or break the match.
The male figure skating competition had a few different legs. Orser placed first, Boitano second, in the short program round, while Boitano edged out a second over Orser’s third in the compulsory figures section. Like a movie script, the heat was on the two men as they approached the final round of the battle, the free skate. Accounting for 50% of the score, the man to win the free skate would take home the Gold.
In the free skate, Boitano had a beautiful, clean performance featuring 8 triple jumps, 2 axels, and a slew of other moves and combinations. Orser’s performance, following Boitano’s, starting off just as cleanly. However, Orser made a mistake on a jump and ultimately omitted a planned triple axel from his routine. This propelled Boitano, still an amateur at the time, to a 5-4 split win over Orser to take home the Olympic Gold.
Though Boitano won, the match was so close that no one ever viewed Orser as having lost. It was one of those Frazier-Ali scenarios which would go down in history as one of the greatest bouts ever.