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.”