AP

Javier Fernandez’s last bow to Europe and the world

Leave a comment

The world of skating will realize his departure when the world championships opens in Saitama, Japan in less than seven weeks.

Spain’s Javier Fernandez has left competitive ice with a new achievement – his seventh consecutive European gold medal, thus becoming the first man since 1936 (and the second ever) to reach such a feat. Fernandez, the 2018 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time world champion, graciously took the time to answer NBCSports’ questions about his legacy and his future.

You are still positive that this European Championships will be your last competition?

Yes, this was my last competition. After the Olympics, I said that I would stop with this championship, and that is what I will do. I wanted to do the Europeans as my last competition. I didn’t want to end with the pressure I lived through the Olympics. The Europeans is more my house. Now it’s time for the next step in my life, after 21 years of skating, 13 straight European Championships and seven continental titles.

It’s a bit sad, of course, after all these years, but I’ll skate in other ways now. I’ve achieved every goal I had. Every one of my medals is so special. I am grateful I was able to accomplish much more than I ever thought I would be able to accomplish.

How difficult do you think it will be to switch to a new career?

At the end of the day you need to have your mind set. It will be difficult to switch from one life to the next. But the next chapter will still be related to figure skating. As long as I keep figure skating, which I have done all my life, I think it will be okay.

What do you think will be your legacy to skating?

I hope people will think of me as a different type of skater, a more complete one. Skaters are not jumps, they are about complete skating. Some skaters are like this and I am proud of them. I hope I have left something like that in figure skating.

Also, it’s good for the world to know that not only major countries can win. Everyone from any country has one’s own story. Coming from many different countries will make up different stories. I hope I can help figure skating grow in my country. I still have a lot of work to do!

Will you be a coach? How do you prepare for that?

I enjoy coaching. I’ve had many different experiences with different coaches, and I took the best part of them. There are many different ways to teach, and I took everything. I’ve always had this idea that one day I would coach.

Spain’s Javier Fernandez reacts after learning his scores in the men’s free skating at the European Championships in Minsk, Belarus. AP Photo

Will you keep doing shows?

Oh yes! That’s the point: I’ll be doing shows for some time, and coaching part-time, that means skating camps and summer camps.

I’ve already done skating camps in the summer [as a coach], but that doesn’t quite satisfy me. I’d rather work with skaters every single day. You need time to teach what I would like to teach.

Then, once my show time is over, I’ll embark into a full-time coaching career. In Madrid, if that works.

How do you explain that you managed to have such a long career? Skating careers seem to be so short nowadays. 

You need to understand the kind of a person and of an athlete you are. You can’t push you too much or too less. A skater needs to be complete – not only jump – right from the beginning, and to start growing with time. Don’t try to push yourself when you are a teenager, when your body is changing.

Also, you have to be 100 percent sure of your goal. And your goal must not be too far away. I see many people who fail because they have fixed too far away goals that can’t be achieved. You have to be fair to yourself. You know, I come from a modest family. I was raised that way: I never wanted more than I thought I could get. I always was the same person. That made my career last so long.

I could definitely have failed to win this seventh European title. You never know what may happen. But it was realistic. Had I not won, I had a back-up as well: I could have thought to myself that I came to this competition to retire, not to win. I’m glad I didn’t have to! (Smiling)

Could you talk about the way you see skating evolve? You seemed quite angry coming out of the short program. 

Yes, I was angry that my quad Salchow was deemed underrotated when it was not. Throughout my career I’ve been mad when the judges put me first after a bad skate. But I’m mad also when I skate well and get penalized. Judges have the slow motion and they can check.

You know what action I would like this to open? Judges consider landing to evaluate a jump, which is fine. But they should also consider the take-off. So many skaters rotate half a turn less just in the take-off. What is fair? And what is not?

How do you react to ladies doing quads now?

You know, some girls did triple Axels and quads already in the past. Now it seems that the sport is pushing in that direction. A Japanese and a Russian girl are landing a triple Axel again, now an American. Another Russian girl is landing a quad. It may be good, but we need to wait for a few years to evaluate how good it really is. The worst thing for skating would be that a 14-year-old girl has to retire because she can’t land her jumps anymore. Can a girl who lands a quad at 12 still land it at 25? That’s what remained to be seen.

NBCSports: Why do you think it would be the worst for skating?

Everyone who comes to the rink to watch a skating competition has to come for a reason. As a skater, you need people to follow you. I can tell you that if you skate for 21 years, you can get people to follow you and come to competitions. Otherwise why would you come, if after just a few years a skater you had enjoyed watching doesn’t even compete anymore?

Remember in not so distant years: the best thing with skating was that you could follow skaters for very many years. Those skaters contributed to skating’s popularity.

Javi’s legacy

Much has been said about Javi’s legacy, from his coach Brian Orser to worldwide skaters. Many fans and officials expressed their gratefulness in Minsk as well. We selected just four. Each one exemplifies a specific trademark from Javi.

“Javi? He brought Spain to the world of skating, and he brought skating into Spain. The first year he won the Europeans there was not even one Spanish journalist from Spain in the press room. Now his shows in Spain, Revolution on Ice, like the one he did last December, are now quite successful,” said a Spanish fan.

“His charm, his character. That belongs to him only, and he brought what he is to skating,” said another.

“He brought the balance between the two sides of skating: the technique of jumps, as he was one of the first ones to land two different quads in a free program, and all of what makes skating (speed, glide, edges, steps). He blended the whole into interesting and fun to watch programs.”

“Why will he be missed? For his character. He is a normal person. He is a big star on the ice, but he never behaved like a star out of the ice. Some people tend to ignore us. He, not. He considers everyone in the same way, and he is kind with everyone, be it volunteers, other skaters, fans, audience, coaches.”

MORE: Behind the scenes on Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 at the European Championships

As a reminder, you can watch Four Continents and the world championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Russia track and field athlete clearance frozen due to unpaid fine

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MONACO (AP) — The program allowing Russian track athletes to compete internationally will be frozen because the country’s federation failed to pay a fine on time, World Athletics said Thursday.

The Russian track federation, known as RusAF, owes a $5 million fine and another $1.31 million in costs for various doping-related work and legal wrangles. World Athletics said RusAF missed Wednesday’s deadline to pay.

World Athletics said it would freeze the work of the Doping Review Board, which vets Russian athletes who want the “authorized neutral athlete” status that allows them to compete internationally, and its taskforce monitoring RusAF’s anti-doping reforms.

World Athletics said both bodies will be “put on hold” until its council meets to discuss the situation at the end of July.

“RusAF is letting its athletes down badly,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said in a statement. “We have done as much as we can to expedite our ANA process and support RusAF with its reinstatement plan, but seemingly to no avail.”

RusAF president Yevgeny Yurchenko earlier told the Tass state news agency that his federation’s finances were damaged by the coronavirus pandemic and that it had asked for more time to pay.

World Athletics’ statement didn’t directly address that issue, but said Russia hadn’t indicated when it would pay.

Russia was fined $10 million by World Athletics in March, with $5 million suspended for two years, after the federation admitted to breaking anti-doping rules and obstructing an investigation.

The Athletics Integrity Unit said fake documents were used under the previous management to give an athlete an alibi for missing a doping test.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Swimmer cites mom’s blood for doping ban

Jason Brown remains optimistic facing uncertain skating season

Jason Brown
AP
Leave a comment

For Jason Brown, the last figure skating season began and ended with some unexpected challenges.

On Aug. 22, 2019, the day he arrived for U.S. Figure Skating’s pre-season Champs Camp in Irvine, Calif., Brown was a backseat passenger in a vehicle involved in an accident. He sustained a concussion that compromised his training for several weeks and forced him to withdraw from what was to have been his season debut competition.

On March 16, 2020, the day Brown was to fly from his training base in Toronto to the World Championships in Montreal, he went the other direction, driving home to his family’s home in the Chicago suburbs because the world meet had been cancelled five days earlier over Covid-19 health concerns. His most successful competitive season, with silver medals at nationals, the Four Continents Championships and Skate America, left him feeling both fulfilled and unfinished.

Now Brown, 25, is back in Toronto (finally getting there June 23 brought another unexpected challenge). He is undergoing a Canadian government-mandated 14-day self-quarantine before a planned July 8 return to the ice at the Cricket Club to prepare for a season that may not take place.

None of the other foreign stars who train at the Cricket Club, including 2-time reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and reigning Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia, is expected back before the end of July, according to Brown’s primary coach, Tracy Wilson. (Brown also works with Brian Orser, primary coach to Hanyu and Medvedeva.)

We caught up with Brown, the 2014 Olympic team event bronze medalist, by phone at the end of last week for a wide-ranging conversation:

You had an unexpectedly extended family reunion, with your older sister, Jordan, 27, (and her boyfriend), younger brother, Dylan, 22, and your parents, Marla and Steven, all together longer than a week for the first time in nine years. What was that like?

Brown: It was really awesome, even if the circumstances that led to it obviously weren’t ideal. I got to know my siblings on an entirely different level, as adults. We didn’t miss a single family dinner in three months.

Jason Brown
Jason Brown makes pizza (Courtesy Jason Brown).

Who cooked for that crowd every night?

Brown: I did! Jordan (in her first year as Major League Sports Dietician for the Chicago Cubs) had a million Zoom meetings, and Dylan was finishing his undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois and studying for the CPA exam. My dad was still working, and my mom never has liked to cook.

What were your go-to dishes?

Brown: We all eat everything, thank goodness, and we all like Asian cooking. The favorites were a shrimp stir-fry with quinoa and a shrimp salad with cold noodles.

When did you learn to cook?

Brown: Over the past two seasons living in Toronto. But doing it for six instead of one is like anything when you get into a position where it’s sink or swim. I was in charge, and sometimes my sister would ask me to try things she was thinking of recommending to the players. And I used some of my unexpected free time to take some online cooking classes.

What other things did you try with the extra time?

Brown: I never had consistently done dance classes, and I took three (virtual) dance classes a week, working on different choreography and styles: hip-hop, contemporary, modern, Latin. I could feel progress in finding my own way of moving.

You are a relentlessly optimistic person. Was there any time when the uncertainty really got you down?

Brown: The only time was when my (paternal) grandmother died on Mother’s Day. She was 89, and it wasn’t related to Covid, but it was hard on our family not to see her at the end, even if it brought us all together even more.

Did you ever hit a low about when and whether skating was going to be able to come out of this?

Brown: As you said, I’m a very optimistic person. As of now, my goal – and I have always said this since moving to Canada – is the 2022 Winter Olympics. I want this season badly, but my focus is on 2022. I’m trying not to look at what this could possibly mean for the future, but if it snowballs toward 2022, I think we will have a different conversation.

Then it would probably be like what a lot of the 2020 (Summer) Olympians and hopefuls are feeling right now. I can’t let myself get down about it, and I can’t imagine what they are going through. I look at how they are adapting and moving forward. My eyes are set on the ’22 Olympic Games, and we’re not in a place where I’m thinking about those being cancelled.

It seems clear from what you just said the that the possibility of no 2021 season has crossed your mind, and you’re taking a mindset of, “I can deal with that.”

Brown: Yes. Absolutely.

How will it affect you personally and the sport in general if there is no 2020-21 season at all or no international events?

Brown: I know how important the pre-Olympic season is for development and experience. It’s a huge opportunity to learn and grow, to try new things and take on risks before the pressure of the Olympic year. And it’s important just to have the chance to compete against some of the people you will be going against for Olympic team spots.

But I’m looking at the positive. As of now, rinks are open, and we can train. We have the time to fine tune some things we don’t have time to focus on when we are getting ready for competitions.

How will you handle it if you can keep training but they cancel the Grand Prix Series and then maybe nationals and worlds?

Brown: That’s a great question. It is something I would have to re-discuss with my coaches. If we can keep training and the season is cancelled, that’s one thing: we’ll start right then working on programs for the Olympic year. If there is a season, depending what it looks like, we will be strategizing to maximize the competitive opportunities we get.

I’m prepared to move forward if there is no season, if there is a full season or if there is something in between.

Have you thought about what programs you might use if there are events this season, given the lost preparation time? Last year’s? New ones?

Brown: As of now, my coaches want me to keep expanding and work on new programs. Two weeks before the first time I went to cross the border, I was able to work on short programs with choreographer Rohene Ward at the Fox Valley Ice Arena (in Chicago’s west suburbs). We did a couple programs with very different styles – one easier and one more challenging that will take more time to find its rhythm. If I get to compete just once or twice or on short notice, the harder one might not work. (He chose not to provide any details until Orser and Tracy Wilson have seen the programs.)

As far as a free skate, (choreographer) David Wilson and I are still in the thinking stage. We’re waiting for more information about plans for this season.

Wait. You said, “the first time I went to cross the border…”

Brown: (He laughs.) I first tried to do it June 14 at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. (Canada’s current border crossing rules for U.S. citizens require an “essential” reason for entry, which can be a job.) I had some letters, including one from my billet family saying they would shop for me during my quarantine, but the day I arrived, the supervisor I needed to see was not working. They told me to get a hotel in Michigan and return the next day, when they deemed me non-essential. I drove back home, collected letters from U.S. Figure Skating, Skate Canada and Skate Ontario and decided to try June 23 at Buffalo, because (U.S. ice dancers) Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker (who train in Montreal) had successfully gone that way the day before. And I was approved. I totally respect how hard it was to get in.

So you are, in effect, so close and yet seemingly so far from competing again. Can you see a season taking place?

Brown: I think it’s really hard to see that, even trying to be as optimistic as possible. At the end of the day, it’s about safety, about the well-being of the athletes, the coaches, the officials, the judges. You want to make sure everyone feels comfortable, and that it’s in their best interests, health-wise. As much as I want to compete and get out there in front of the fans, I want to do it in a safe manner. There’s no reason to cut corners right now.

What kind of shape are you in now?

Brown: Decent shape, but I would need at least a month of training before I felt I could run a full-out free program, start to finish, without collapsing.

At the end of last season, after several up-and-down or simply disappointing seasons, your performances were a more mature version of the Jason Brown from 2014 and 2015, the skater who had made the 2014 Olympic team with an incandescent free skate, won the 2015 U.S. title and had his best finish (fourth) at Worlds. Where does that put you now?

Brown: It was an incredible end of the year or, as I look at, of the bloc of time I have been in Canada (since June 2018). Brian and Tracy always talk about this 18-month period, the time needed to adapt to new technique and be comfortable with the coaches. It really was a struggle, even in my second season with them. It finally came together after those 18 months.

The way those last two events (nationals and Four Continents) went was a proud moment for me and my coaches. At nationals, I cried in a kiss-and-cry for the first time ever, because it had been such an emotional journey. Then my going to Four Continents a week later and backing it up, so it wasn’t, “Oh, nationals was a one-time fluke.” The technique is in me now.

The one thing that nags me was popping the quad attempt (at Four Continents). But I had the mentality of “I’ll get it at worlds.” Not having the chance is my only regret.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: U.S. figure skating champion Alysa Liu changes coaches

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!