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Javier Fernandez’s last bow to Europe and the world

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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.

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Trayvon Bromell emerged from destruction a new sprinter, new man

Trayvon Bromell
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For Trayvon Bromell, July 4 was an independence day. His first race as a rebuilt sprinter, more than four years after he first felt discomfort in his left heel.

It was also much more than that. Bromell, whose training base is Jacksonville, Fla., arrived in Montverde, off Lake Apopka just west of Orlando, for a meet called the Showdown in O-Town.

Exactly four years earlier, Bromell celebrated qualifying for his first Olympics at age 20.

Three years after that, 364 days before the Showdown, Bromell left that Montverde track and had his coach believing he might quit sprinting.

Finally, 10 days before last month’s comeback meet, Bromell learned that the woman who taught him to be a sprinter, from age 4 through high school, had died.

That coach, Garlynn Boyd, was supposed to be in Montverde on July 4 to watch Bromell.

The time came for heat five of the 100m. Bromell leaned into the starting blocks of lane two on a wet track. He felt the weight of the last few years. He sensed his arms shaking.

After at least one false start, Bromell ran. He won the heat in 10.04 seconds.

Bromell’s personal best is 9.84, but that he approached the 10-second barrier, which separates fast sprinters from medal-contending ones, after what he endured the last four years was very promising.

Bromell found his mom, Shri Sanders. She raised him, his two brothers and his sister, by herself in St. Petersburg. She prayed over him after the victory.

He raced again three weeks later. He ran 9.90 seconds, which would have earned bronze at the most recent Olympics and world championships.

Bromell’s speed was back, but in interviews he’s reflected more on a recent personal transformation. Aside from sprinting, Bromell told  Flotrack that he crawled out of “the destruction of my past,” “the downfall of my career” and “a real dark alleyway” in this Olympic cycle.

Bromell declined to discuss specifics last week.

“I’ve got something coming out in the near future that’s going to speak and answer all the questions that people want to know,” he said, noting that it’s mostly related to mental health.

By 2013, the track world began to learn about Bromell, a 5-foot-8 high schooler who sprinted in shorts, not tights, and a headband.

He broke his left knee in eighth grade doing backflips, broke his right knee and forearm in ninth grade playing basketball and in 10th grade cracked a hip during a race.

Through all of that, he was coached by Boyd of the Lightning Bolt Track Club. Boyd began teaching Bromell how to be a sprinter before he started elementary school.

“We come from a bad area where poverty is big, and we didn’t really have a lot,” Bromell said of his family. “[My mom] worked all the time to make sure I was good, to make sure we had somewhere to live. When I went to practice, coach G was like another mom, to everyone, to every kid in the city who came in connection with us. She loved us. With my injuries in high school, my mom and coach G were the only people who believed I was special, even in times when I didn’t feel I was special.”

She fought diabetes for years — both of her legs were amputated — but Bromell didn’t know for sure her cause of death. St. Petersburg Times obituary reported she contracted the coronavirus before she died at age 54.

“I don’t even have the words to explain this pain I’m feeling,” was posted on Bromell’s Instagram the day of her death. “God knows that with everything in me, the world will know the lives you help change!”

In 12th grade, he became the first U.S. high schooler to break 10 seconds over 100m (albeit with too much wind for record purposes). Matthew Boling later broke Bromell’s record by .02.

Bromell, also a slot receiver at Gibbs High, passed on football interest from schools including West Virginia. He took a track scholarship at Baylor, known for producing Olympic 400m champions Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner.

“I don’t really like to put a kid in a box and say we expect this or that,” legendary Baylor coach Clyde Hart said in 2014. “I think he’s going to get better. He’s going to get a lot stronger. In my opinion, most sprinters don’t get their prime until 24, 25 years old. He’s only 18.”

As a freshman, Bromell won the NCAA 100m title in 9.97 seconds, becoming the first 18-year-old to break 10 seconds with legal wind (and still the only one to do so). As a sophomore, Bromell clocked 9.84, a time faster than anything Carl Lewis ever recorded.

Later that summer, Bromell shared 100m bronze with Canadian Andre De Grasse at the world championships, behind Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin, becoming the second-youngest medalist in that event’s history. He turned professional, signing a contract with New Balance, which he said is still in place today.

In March 2016, Bromell won the world indoor 60m title (Bolt, Gatlin and De Grasse were absent). His coach at Baylor, Mike Ford, still calls it the best Bromell race he’s seen in person. The Olympics were five months away.

In Bromell’s first top-level meet of the spring, he led a 200m in Rome coming off the turn. Then he slowed down considerably and finished seventh.

Three days later, he felt left heel pain while warming up at a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, Great Britain. He withdrew and flew back to Texas.

An X-ray revealed a bone spur growing near his Achilles. The Olympic Trials were in four weeks. They had to modify training and hope to minimize the pain, putting off potential surgery until after Rio.

Bromell made the Olympic team, placing second at Trials to Gatlin in 9.84 seconds. He trained for Rio in a pool and on an anti-gravity treadmill. When he sprinted, it was often on grass and not in spikes.

Ford felt it was a victory that Bromell even qualified for the Olympic final, where he finished last in 10.06 seconds.

“I wasn’t going to run,” Bromell said. “I was telling myself that I was just in too much pain.”

Five nights later, Bromell lined up against Bolt for the anchor leg of the 4x100m relay. He felt no pain.

As Tyson Gay neared with the baton, a dashing Bromell turned his head back for a moment to ensure the handoff. Bolt, in the adjacent lane, opened a slight lead and extended it down the straightaway.

Bromell, in dipping to try to edge Japan’s Asuka Cambridge for silver, stumbled and tumbled on the blue track. As Bolt made the final decelerating pose of his Olympic career, Bromell’s loose orange baton flew in the background.

As Bromell tried to catch himself hitting the ground, the heel pain returned. He couldn’t walk off the track. Officials brought out a wheelchair. Bromell departed believing his anchor secured the bronze medal.

Minutes later, he left a medical room on crutches and was told the team was disqualified. Mike Rodgers and Justin Gatlin exchanged the baton out of the zone.

“I gave everything that I could, almost just throwing myself just to try to get the medal, then it was just like, dang, we got DQed,” Bromell said. “I just couldn’t win in the situation. I got hurt going into the Olympics, then I couldn’t really perform how I wanted to in the 100m and then this. I’m taking an L after L after L right now.”

He underwent the post-Olympic surgery. Bromell was in a boot for two months. He said he did no rehab exercises for six months, per doctor’s instructions. Scar tissue built up. He went 10 months between races and, in his return, was eliminated in the first round at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships. Bromell didn’t feel right and had the heel re-examined.

I don’t see how you can run 10.2, a new doctor told him. Your tendon should have torn off the bone.

Bromell underwent another surgery and started over again. This time, he went two years between races. On July 6, 2019, Bromell took a misstep about 70 meters into a 100m heat in Montverde and eased up, clocking 10.54 seconds.

Ford feared it was the Achilles, but Bromell taped up the foot and lined up for his final. Halfway through that race, he blew an adductor muscle in his upper leg. Bromell returned to his hotel and spoke with Ford.

“I thought he may quit,” said Ford, who had coached Bromell for nearly four years.

Bromell stayed in Florida to consider his next move. Ford flew back to Texas. They decided a change was best. Bromell spoke with Reider, who developed a knack for helping athletes return from leg injuries.

Christian Taylor, the 2012 Olympic triple jump champion, switched takeoff legs after knee pain and repeated as gold medalist in Rio. De Grasse joined Reider’s group in November 2018 after a pair of season-ending right hamstring injuries. In 2019, the Canadian earned 100m bronze and 200m silver at the world championships.

“[Bromell’s] expectations were just to be like he was before, at some point,” Reider said. “The expectations for me were just to get him to a point where we could see if we could actually train. When we got in, there were some basic functions he couldn’t do.”

Bromell did what Reider called rudimentary strength and conditioning exercises those first months. He began sprinting in earnest in March.

That Independence Day race — the 10.04 — was his first in four years without pain, Reider said. Neither Ford nor Reider was surprised by that time or the 9.90 on July 24.

“We made some steps to be able to be an athlete and not a rehab project,” Reider said. “I think he can run faster than he’s ever run.”

Bromell lives by himself in Jacksonville. He has other passions, notably photography.

He sees a counselor regularly after a difficult stretch of years. He emerged from what he called “situations I probably shouldn’t have been in.” He plans to reveal specifics later.

“I stopped doing a lot of things in my life that was destroying me,” he said. “I stopped having pain and hurt in my heart and having it consume me. … I started reading my Bible more. I started reading books more. A lot of things that helped me evolve as a human. To have more peace, live properly and not destroy myself from within.”

Bromell doesn’t know where his 2015 or 2016 World Championships medals are. He doesn’t assign as much value to them as he does three-page essays that he received from college fund applicants in 2018. He promised $10,000 each to five students, choosing the recipients based on their submitted life stories.

“There’s people out here that were literally writing in their essays, Tray, your fighting, your drive to not give up helped me to not commit suicide tomorrow,” Bromell said. “Imagine reading something like that. Who would’ve thought this little kid from south side St. Pete could have an impact just by running 100 meters. That’s my gold medal.”

MORE: Usain Bolt would unretire if one man called

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Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

MORE: Looking back at Yuna Kim’s 10-year gold medal anniversary

Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

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

MORE: Nathan Chen is surprised, grateful and posing questions about figure skating’s restart

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