Olympian Sees Epic Night of Men's Skating

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SIX years ago, one of the major duels at the Winter Olympics was trumpeted as ``The Battle of the Brians'' - a showdown between American Brian Boitano and Canadian Brian Orser. Both Brians have checked in at the Lillehammer Games, only in quite different capacities.

Brian Boitano seeks to repeat his triumph at the 1988 Calgary Games; Brian Orser serves as an expert skating analyst for Canadian Television.

Orser gave serious consideration to an Olympic comeback, a possibility this year in part because of Boitano's call to open the Games to professionals and the passage of something called the ``Boitano rule.'' But Orser says his conditioning ``wasn't coming back as easily'' as he wanted, and that he ``couldn't come up with a good enough reason'' to come back. He skates professionally with the Stars on Ice tour.

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Orser says he sees the men's competition this year as the greatest gathering of talent in one event ever. The showdown, which begins tonight and concludes Saturday, brings together two Olympic champions (Boitano and Ukrainian Viktor Petrenko, the '92 winner), four-time world champion Kurt Browning of Canada, and two intriguing spoilers: Elvis Stojko, who defeated Browning for the Canadian title; and Scott Davis, who recently beat out Boitano, his role model, at the United States championships.

``Technically, they're all brilliant,'' Orser says. ``It's not a matter of who does more triple jumps; they all do them. It will come down to who can manage their nervousness, remain aggressive, and skate a clean program.''

The dilemma that Orser foresees for the judges is the very real possibility that at least two of the top contenders will skate nearly flawless programs.

``At every Olympics there are always one or two performances that are sort of magical, that really stand out, that people talk about for a long time,'' he says. ``I am quite certain that that will happen again. I think the judges will judge by what happens that night [Saturday].''

In retrospect, that is exactly what happened in the ``Battle of the Brians'' in 1988, when Canadians hoped that Orser could win the gold for the host country in Calgary's Saddledome, which is about twice the size of the Olympic skating arena here.

Boitano skated first and produced perhaps the best performance of his life. Orser, who had finished second to American Scott Hamilton in 1984, was the runner-up again.

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