Boitano, by contrast, had only Leaver and Bezic. Asked if, for her Brian, she was all those other people rolled into one, Leaver lightly responded, "I certainly don't tell him what to eat." Boitano himself addressed the matter of an entourage with this gentle dig: "I have tried sports psychologists before, but I find they can't tell you anything you can't tell yourself. If you step on the ice and think, I've sacrificed sugar for a year, have been drinking concoctions I don't like—all for this one performance, it just puts more pressure on you."
Pressure, pressure, pressure. The word kept coming up, partly because of Orser's past reputation of choking at big competitions—a reputation he had successfully rebutted with a flawless performance at the 1987 world championships, in which he had taken the men's title from Boitano. And the pressure had a visible effect on Boitano, too. Normally garrulous and accessible, he cut off all media interviews except mandatory press conferences. "'I remember in Sarajevo Scott Hamilton tried to accommodate everybody, and he ended up not skating his best," Boitano said shortly before the competition started. "I'm focused enough to know what my job is." He even tried to avoid watching the Olympics on the tube, which was difficult because he was in an eight-man suite with the other male skaters on the U.S. team. ABC kept promoting the forthcoming Battle of the Brians. "I kept telling the rookies to turn that television off!" Boitano said.
On Wednesday, during the compulsory figures, which accounted for 30% of the scoring, 12 members of Orser's family scattered about the arena, hiding behind spectators so that Brian O wouldn't see them. "That's something new here," admitted Orser, "only because when I see my family I want to skate so well it sometimes backfires."
Each time Orser stepped on the ice to skate one of his three figures, Peter Jensen, his sports psychologist, repeated, "Just you and the figure," a phrase that had worked well during their pre-Olympic simulated run-throughs. Every step of the day was carefully planned. Orser listened to relaxation tapes after the first figure, and sat and watched the Olympic flame in McMahon Stadium after the second. Orser, whose seventh-place finish in figures cost him the gold in Sarajevo, skated well. He finished third to the Soviet's Alexander Fadeev and to Boitano, who clinched second with a final figure so perfect that Leaver came out onto the ice to photograph it when the compulsories were over. Teetering on the ice in her heels, she gushed, "That's the best figure I've ever seen in competition." As she pointed out the subtleties, face flushed with pride, one couldn't help thinking that here, etched in the ice, was the product of her 16 years of coaching: a perfect figure in the Olympic Games from a skater who had once been an awkward eight-year-old. "That makes my week," she said and meant it, though there was very much more to come.
In Thursday's short program, Orser skated first among the leaders and gave a marvelous, energetic performance that brought the crowd to its feet. It seemed, at the time, an omen that this competition would belong to the host country's Brian, particularly when Boitano skated a mistake-free but cautious program that was good for second place. When Boitano is on, he skates his short with the attitude of an arrogant boy on a pond, cocksure and showy. But on this night he was very much the careful technician. "He did exactly what I wanted," insisted Leaver. "He skated clean. Maybe in his head he was skipping to the next jump, but in the short, they nail you if you make a mistake. It's O.K. to be cautious."
Fadeev, who was world champion in 1985, was indeed nailed when he fell on his combination jump. He finished a dismal ninth in his short, a showing that eventually cost him the bronze medal, which was won by his countryman Viktor Petrenko.
The night clearly belonged to Orser, the 26-year-old from Orillia, Ont., but while on the surface everything was sweetness and light between the two Brians—they posed for pictures arm-in-arm, thumbs-up—Orser took this snipe at Boitano's style: "What's really neat is that we both skated our best, and after all the hype about Boitano's new artistic side, what put me ahead was my artistic marks. I seem to be skating well under pressure."
"I was dying for my Brian to say he could have skated better than he did," said Bezic later that evening. "Because he was better at the U.S. Nationals last month. He's got to be magical on Saturday."
And that is exactly what Boitano was. Pure magic or fantasy or whatever is the stuff of dreams. "I had been told as a child that no one ever skated their best in an Olympic performance," Boitano said afterward, cradling the gold. "My dream was to change that, to prove it didn't have to be that way. I would have hated to win the gold medal with anything but my best."
For his part, Orser wanted that gold medal any way he could get it—best, worst, or indifferent—and he thought, when he first skated off the ice, that, despite the triple flip, he might have won it. "I had no idea how Brian Boitano had skated," he said, "and when the second marks came up, I still thought maybe I'd done it." No Canadian man had ever won the singles competition in the Olympics, and he wanted to be the first. Besides, Orser knew what the silver felt like and, both blessed and cursed by a champion's mentality and pride, silver didn't do it for him. "I came in here with one and only one thing in mind," he said. "And that was to leave here with the gold medal. Life goes on. I don't feel I have to apologize for anything. I gave it a good shot."