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 Friday 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.
“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?”Follow @nzaccardi