Spain’s Javier Fernandez sad he couldn’t medal ‘for my country’

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SOCHI, Russia – Javier Fernandez came agonizingly close to Spain’s third all-time Winter Olympic medal, and perhaps a pat on the back from the Royal Family.

The noted quadruple jump practitioner took fourth at the Iceberg Skating Palace on Friday night, falling from bronze-medal position after the short program Thursday to miss the podium by a mere 1.18 points.

“It’s sad I couldn’t bring a medal from this competition for my country,” said the 5-foot-6 Fernandez, still glistening, his navy blue España jacket collar popped. “Still fourth, it’s a good position. Nobody has done it from my country in figure skating. This is a good thing. I would love to have a medal, but not every time you can get on the podium.”

Fernandez is a student of his nation’s Winter Olympic history.

Yes, his Sochi performance was unprecedented by a Spaniard.

His 14th-place finish in his Olympic debut in 2010, at age 18, had matched the Spanish Olympic figure skating best. He rose 10 spots in four years and came close to joining sibling Alpine skiers Blanca and Francisco Fernandez Ochoa as Spain’s Winter Olympic medalists.

He will wonder what could have been.

Fernandez opened his free skate well, hitting a quadruple toe loop and the opening quad Salchow of a combination, but then he doubled what should have been a triple toe loop on the back end.

He also tripled another planned quad Salchow and doubled a triple Lutz.

“Not bad,” Fernandez said. “I did have good things in my program. I had a lot of mistakes, too. I’m sad that I couldn’t have done it better.

Fernandez, born and raised in Madrid, now lives and trains in Toronto under two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser. Orser also coaches Yuzuru Hanyu, who won gold Friday.

Spain is never far from Fernandez’s mind.

He’s been a special guest of soccer superclub Real Madrid at a Clásico match with archrival Barcelona, where midfielder Xabi Alonso recognized him.

He’s also received letters of congratulations from Spain’s king, queen and president for winning the 2013 European Championship.

The letter from King Juan Carlos I bring to mind Spain’s most infamous Winter Olympian.

In 2002, cross-country skier Johann Muehlegg won three gold medals for Spain at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Muehlegg was born in Germany but moved to Spain following a fallout with the German federation after skiing for his native country in the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Winter Games.

Muehlegg won the 30km cross-country race on the first day of the 2002 Olympics at Soldier Hollow. It was, at the time, Spain’s second Winter Olympic medal. A notable achievement for a nation that celebrates its soccer, tennis and cycling prowess.

So, the king called to express his appreciation for his adopted skier’s accomplishment. Unfortunately, Muehlegg was in standard post-race drug testing, so Juan Carlos sent a telegram instead.

It proved an omen. Muehlegg later failed a drug test in Salt Lake City and was eventually stripped of his 30km and two other gold medals he had won.

That’s not to say Fernandez’s breakout performances should be scrutinized. But he’s from a nation that doesn’t have too many positive Winter Olympic memories.

Fernandez has long sought to change that and to increase the popularity of figure skating in Spain, which has fewer than 20 ice rinks. He began skating in 1998 under tough conditions because figure skating was viewed as women-only sport.

“In Winter Olympics, I think we’ve got only two medals for Spain, right?” Fernandez guessed correctly. “That’s why I said it was going to be great if I could bring another medal for Spain in figure skating, to make more history.”

He did not hear from the king, queen or the Palace of Moncloa in the immediate aftermath of finishing fourth Friday.

“It’s hard, right?” he said. “They have a busy life. Figure skating is still not a huge sport in Spain. I guess I have to keep going and try to get more medals, get on the podium more times to bring the sport to my country and make everybody follow it and like it.”

He plans to skate through the 2018 Olympics.

“I know that [silver medalist] Patrick [Chan] and Yuzuru, they’re great athletes, great skaters, and it’s going to be hard to beat them,” said Fernandez, who was 21.7 points behind Chan and 27.17 behind Hanyu. “I have to keep improving to get those little points that I need to reach them.”

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini
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Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in Dec. 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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