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

Leave a comment

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.”

Who is Italy’s greatest Olympian?

Alberto Tomba
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Italy ranks sixth on the total Olympic medal list, thanks in large part to its fencers. Italian fencers have won a leading 125 medals, more than double the nation’s total in any other sport. The Italians are known for their personalities, from La Bomba to the Cannibal, with six of their best detailed here …

Deborah Compagnoni
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only Alpine skier to earn gold at three straight Olympics. Compagnoni overcame a broken knee as a junior racer and life-saving surgery to remove 27 inches of her intestine in 1990 to win the Albertville 1992 super-G by 1.8 seconds. It remains the largest margin of victory in the discipline for either gender since 1968. The following day, Compagnoni tore knee ligaments in the giant slalom. She returned to win the GS at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Compagnoni ended her Olympic career with the biggest rout in a GS at a Winter Games, prevailing by 1.41 seconds in Nagano.

Klaus Dibiasi
Diving
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only diver to win the same individual event three times. The Austrian-born Dibiasi took platform silver in 1964 at age 17, then three straight golds through 1976. Dibiasi was coached by his father, who was 10th on platform at the 1936 Berlin Games. In his final Olympics, Dibiasi held off a 16-year-old Greg Louganis, who would go on to challenge, if not overtake, Dibiasi as the greatest male diver in history.

Eugenio Monti
Bobsled
Six Olympic Medals

Regarded by many as the greatest bobsled driver in history. Monti captured two silver medals in 1956, missed the 1960 Winter Games that didn’t include bobsled, then two bronzes in 1964 and a pair of golds at age 40 in 1968. On top of that, the nine-time world champion is remembered for an act of sportsmanship in 1964. In between runs, Monti lent a bolt off his own two-man sled to a British team whose sled was damaged. The Brits took gold, ahead of both Italian sleds.

Alberto Tomba
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

“La Bomba” dazzled by sweeping the giant slalom and slalom at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, after dubbing himself the “Messiah of Skiing“ beforehand. Known for his man-about-town ways, Tomba offered one of his gold medals to East German figure skater Katarina Witt should she fall short in her event. After Witt repeated as gold medalist, the story goes that Tomba showed up with a bouquet of roses and an autographed picture of himself, made out out to “Katerina.” “I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.,” Tomba once said. “Now I live it up with five women until 3 a.m,”

Valentina Vezzali
Fencing
Six Olympic Gold Medals

An 18-year-old Vezzali was an alternate for the 1992 Olympics, forced to watch on TV as the Italian women took team foil gold. Vezzali made the next five Olympics, winning medals in all nine of her events, including three straight individual titles, the last as a mom. Vezzali finished her career with nine total Olympic medals, 25 world championships medals, a flag bearer honor at the 2012 Opening Ceremony and as a member of Italy’s parliament.

Armin Zoeggeler
Luge
Six Olympic Medals

“The Cannibal” retired in 2014 as the first athlete to earn a medal in the same individual event at six straight Olympics. Zoeggeler earned silver and bronze medals in 1994 and 1998, then overtook German legend Georg Hackl for gold in 2002, followed by winning at home in Torino in 2006. He held on for bronze medals in 2010 and 2014, behind the new German luge star, Felix Loch, who would be coached by Hackl. Growing up on top of a steep hill, Zoeggeler began sledding at age 7 to catch the school bus at the bottom.

GREATEST OLYMPIANS: Germany | Liechtenstein | Japan

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Kurt Angle recalls devastation, exultation of Olympic wrestling gold medal

Leave a comment

Kurt Angle doesn’t remember much from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but he won’t forget that moment of deep emotional pain.

In the 100kg final, Angle and Iranian Abbas Jadidi were tied 1-1 after regulation and an overtime period.. Eight total minutes of wrestling. They also had the same number of passivity calls, forcing a judges’ decision to determine the gold medalist.

After deliberation, the referee stood between each wrestler in the middle of the mat. He held each’s wrist, ready to reveal the champion to the Georgia World Congress Center crowd — and to the athletes. Angle, now 51, has rarely watched video of the match. But he distinctly remembers, in his peripheral vision, Jadidi’s left arm rising.

“I thought I lost,” Angle said by phone this week. “So right away, I was like, s—, four more years.”

Turns out, the Iranian was raising his own arm. An instant later, the referee suppressed Jadidi. He lifted Angle’s right arm. The wrestler sobbed.

“I had so much emotion because I was devastated and then I was told that I won,” Angle said. “It was a very odd experience. I didn’t know how to handle it. It felt like my father died all over again. That’s how much grief I had. Then, all of a sudden, you won.”

Angle thought of two people immediately after he won, falling to his knees in prayer. First, his father, David, who died in a construction accident when Angle was 16. Second, the 1984 Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz, his coach who was murdered by John du Pont six months before the Games.

Angle went on to become one of the most famous U.S. gold medalists of the Atlanta Games, due largely to a two-decade career as a professional wrestler, including as a world heavyweight champion with the WWE.

It would have been different if the referee kept Jadidi’s arm in the air. Angle went into the Olympics knowing it would be his last competition, but only if he took gold. Anything less, and he would continue on, perhaps into his 30s and the 2000 Sydney Games. Despite everything Angle went through just to get to Atlanta.

In the year leading up to the Olympics, Angle lost Schultz, broke his neck at the U.S. Open and, five minutes before each match at the Olympic Trials, received 12 shots of novocaine to numb the pain long enough to advance to the next round. Angle later developed a painkiller addiction.

Angle, a Pennsylvania native, was part of the Foxcatcher club when du Pont shot and killed Schultz. Angle said he wasn’t consulted for the 2014 film “Foxcatcher,” but he thought it was well done save a few instances of dramatic license.

“Unfortunately, I hate to admit this, but if it weren’t for Team Foxcatcher, I probably wouldn’t have won my gold medal,” Angle said. “I probably wouldn’t have known Dave Schultz, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did. It sucks because, to have to thank John du Pont for the ability of allowing me to pay me to wrestle full time and win a world championship [in 1995] and Olympic gold medal, that was huge, but he killed Dave Schultz. The club would have thrived to this day. It just sucks it turned out the way it did, because it made me the best wrestler in the world. Dave Schultz had a lot to do with that, but a lot of wrestlers that followed could have not had to worry about money and could have trained and competed.”

Angle shared his gold medal with, he estimated, thousands of people before housing it in a safe.

“The gold was wearing off,” Angle said. “One kid, I remember, I was at an elementary school, and he grabbed my medal by the ribbon and started twirling it around real fast. He let go of it, and it hit the wall. There’s a big dent in my gold medal. That was the last time I brought it to an elementary school.”

Angle announced in 2011, at age 42, that he was training to come back for the 2012 Olympic Trials. He never made it, calling it off with a knee injury.

“But I trained hard for it,” Angle said, noting he still kept up appearances with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. “I will tell you this, I wouldn’t have made the team. My goal was to place in the top three. I just missed the [thrill of] competition.”

It meant that Angle’s last match remained that Olympic final. His last moment as a freestyle wrestler having his arm raised.

“All I wanted to do was win a world championship and an Olympic gold medal, and I did them both,” Angle said, sobbing, just off the mat that night in Atlanta. “If I died tonight, I’d be the happiest man in the world.”

MORE: Most decorated U.S. female Olympian on front line of coronavirus fight

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!