olympics

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 01:  Javier Fernandez of Spain skates in the Men's Free Skate program during Day 5 of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 at TD Garden on April 1, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Eyes of Spain on Javier Fernandez as he builds for last Olympic chance

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Before Javier Fernandez became a two-time world champion, he was the fourth-place finisher in Sochi, missing Spain’s first Winter Olympic medal in 22 years by a mere 1.18 points.

He remembers leaving the Iceberg Skating Palace after competition ended on Feb. 14, 2014, surrounded by the president of Spain’s figure skating federation, his parents and Spanish Olympic Committee officials.

“They were telling me how great I skated,” Fernandez recalled while cupping a hot drink and waiting to christen New York City’s Bryant Park ice rink last Thursday night. “I wanted to skate again. I wanted to do it again, because I knew I could even do it better.”

Fernandez, who was third after the Sochi short program, had one free skate jump invalidated because he performed one too many triple Salchows. Scoring is much more complex than one jump, but many say that zero-point Salchow cost Fernandez a bronze.

Even Fernandez.

“It was just a stupid mistake that took away my Olympic medal,” he says now. “It kind of sucks, I have to say, that you were not on the podium, but it was such a cool experience.”

Today, Fernandez might be the least likely skater to make a stupid mistake. Nobody has been more consistent the last two seasons. A pair of world championships. Two Grand Prix Final silver medals. Five straight Grand Prix series wins.

“But I don’t see being fourth at the Olympics as such a negative thing,” Fernandez continued. “And that’s something what the people don’t understand. … Fourth, it was not that bad of a position. In figure skating … we never had that before. So I also got congratulated by so many people.”

Sochi is far from Fernandez’s mind as he heads into this week’s Grand Prix Final as the only unbeaten man this fall.

As great as Fernandez has been the last two years, what’s coming in 14 months is the last opportunity to fulfill his goal of capturing an Olympic medal.

Fernandez does not plan on skating in a fourth Olympics in 2022. He expects to decide after the Pyeongchang Winter Games just how much longer he will keep competing.

It has been a remarkable ascent. Fernandez, from a nation with maybe 20 ice rinks, made his world championships debut in 2007 and finished 35th out of 42 skaters.

“I’ve been in figure skating for so long,” said Fernandez, who is 25, second-oldest of the six-man Grand Prix Final field. “I’m quite tired, a little bit. I just want to, like, do the last seasons that I have left and then go to the next thing.”

Shortly after the Sochi Olympics, Alejandro Blanco, the president of the Spanish Olympic Committee, essentially guaranteed a Spaniard would win a medal in 2018. Maybe Blanco knew then that Fernandez was the only Spanish competitor in any sport to finish better than seventh.

The support for Fernandez in Spain transcends the nation’s Winter Olympic history. After every competition — win or lose — Fernandez says the royal family sends a letter to his home in Spain. After he repeated as world champion in April, the correspondence included an invitation.

“They said they wanted to meet me in person,” Fernandez said. “I was like, really?”

So he put on a suit and visited King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia at Zarzuela Palace in Madrid on April 22.

Fernandez would love to prove Blanco a prophet and to fill the royals with more pride. But the skater is also keeping expectations in check.

Any medal will do in Pyeongchang.

“Of course, I’m going to work and I’m going to train to be the Olympic champion,” Fernandez said. “But then at the competition, I cannot put a goal that I don’t know if I’m going to reach. Because at that competition anything can happen. So I would rather set up a medium goal that I know I can get. … If you say, I want to be Olympic champion. What if I don’t get it? You’re going to be sad the rest of your life because you didn’t reach your goal?”

MORE: Grand Prix Final broadcast schedule

IOC: Rio Olympics were ‘perfect imperfect Games’

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Spectators enjoy the atmosphere of the "Cidade Maravilhosa" segment during the Closing Ceremony on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A few months after the closing ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, IOC officials have a new tagline for South America’s first Olympics: “The most perfect imperfect Games.”

The International Olympic Committee held a news conference on Tuesday to accentuate the positives of the Rio Games, which were held amid Brazil’s political and economic crisis and experienced problems with empty seats, budget cuts, green water and other organizational issues.

“The Games worked,” said Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games. “Were they perfect? No. The organizers faced immense difficulties. But, in the end, you have to take your hat off. It’s extraordinary what they have delivered.”

The IOC has been going out of its way to publicly defend the Rio Games, seeking to blunt any lasting criticism and encourage potential future host cities at a time when many have been turning away because of concerns over high costs.

“As you remember in the lead-up to the Games, we are all going to die of Zika or poisoned water or we were all going to be mugged in the streets,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “As it turns out we find out that the Games were the most universal, the most consumed ever.”

“Were they perfect Games?” he added. “No. Someone described them as the most perfect imperfect Games, which I think is actually quite a good characterization. There were problems, but what is fantastic is the way those problems were overcome.”

The IOC released a stream of facts and figures to showcase the success of the Games, including global broadcast figures, record number of national Olympic committees, the first ever refugee team and performances by stars such as Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Mo Farah.

Dubi insisted the Olympic venues would all have long-term use and that the city had been transformed with a new transport system and other infrastructure improvements.

Dubi said the organizing committee’s final operational budget — the cost of running the Games, not the construction or infrastructure spending — would be announced in the next few weeks and would come in close to the original $2.9 billion figure.

“We had glitches,” Dubi said. “But when everyone comes back with a big smile, you know the Games have been a success.”

MORE: Rio Olympics the top Twitter trend of 2016

Grand Prix Final broadcast schedule

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 02: Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia celebrates after winning the gold medal following her performance in the Ladies Free Skate program on Day 6 of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 at TD Garden on April 2, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The world’s best figure skaters gather in Marseille this week, 14 months before the Olympics, to provide an early look at Pyeongchang frontrunners.

The top six per discipline from the fall Grand Prix season compete in the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual event after the world championships in early spring.

This year’s fields include Sochi Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu plus the reigning world champions in each discipline — Javier Fernandez, Yevgenia Medvedeva, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford in pairs and Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron in ice dance.

A U.S. woman failed to qualify for the first time since 2008, while the U.S. sends two men — Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon — for the first time since 2009. The U.S. also has three ice dance couples, led by world medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates.

The full fields are here.

Icenetwork.com, Universal HD and NBCSN will provide coverage starting Thursday.

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Grand Prix Final Broadcast Schedule

Day Event Time (ET) Network
Thursday Pairs short program 1:45 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Thursday Men’s short program 3:10 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Thursday Thursday highlights 8:30-10:30 p.m. UniHD
Friday Short dance 1:05 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Pairs free skate 2:20 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s short program 3:45 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Friday highlights 8:30-11:30 p.m. UniHD
Saturday Free dance 10:45 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Women’s free skate 1 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Men’s free skate 2:20 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Pairs free skate 8:30-9:30 p.m. UniHD
Sunday Highlights 8:30-11 p.m. NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live