Javier Fernandez

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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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European Championships analysis: Female Russian skaters stars rise fast, but burn out too soon

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Jean-Christophe Berlot is on the ground in Minsk, Belarus to cover the European Championships. This is his analysis of the pace and progression of women’s skating around the world.

Eteri Tutberidze, the renowned Russian coach, declined all interviews in Minsk, Belarus, the setting for the 2019 European Championships. The organization of the practice and main rinks made it possible for coaches to have no interaction at all with journalists during the week. Tutberidze could not be seen in the mixed zones, and she could flee the practice rink through underground paths that were not open to the press.

“I don’t know what I could say,” she politely answered when an interview request was made.

The same was true for Alina Zagitova, her star pupil. Zagitova, the Olympic champion, lost her 2018 European crown to Russian Sofia Samodurova.

Tutberidze was nonetheless quite a disputed behind-the-scenes topic in Minsk.

“The problem is that Eteri is very much criticized in Russia at the moment,” a noted Russian journalist explained. “People think that she pushes her pupils at a very young age and after a year or two they are done for the sport.”

True – Russian skating has been characterized by a never-seen turnover of its female wunderkinds in the recent years: Yulia Lipnitskaya was an instant star in 2014 and disappeared; Adelina Sotnikova won her Olympic gold and turned to other endeavors.

Yevgenia Medvedeva could have had the same fortune, had she not decided to move to Canada. The perspective of seeing Zagitova disappear can’t be discarded. And many more lesser known skaters left the radar as well.

The system has best demonstrated its nonsense at Russian nationals, one month ago, as the top three at the senior championship were not even allowed to compete on the senior level internationally. Skaters placed fourth, fifth, and sixth at Nationals were selected for these Europeans, namely Samodurova, Zagitova and Stanislava Konstantinova.

Tutberidze is far from being the sole responsible of what could be called the “Kleenex syndrome” of female skating – you take one, use it, and then throw it.

The turmoil is even amplified in Russia by the tons of hate messages that flood each day on social media. The phenomenon is far from being mastered, especially since most messages are written anonymously under a pseudonym. They destabilize the best skaters.

“I don’t want to read those criticisms, but they are actually there, as toxic as they are,” Maria Sotskova, a prominent skater until last year, explained. “Athletes shouldn’t read internet comments. They make you more nervous and make you lose some of your confidence.”

Medvedeva had to make strong decisions a few months ago: “I never expected that there would be so much negative on social media, so I’ve made a strong rule between social networks and me,” she told NBCSports at her French Grand Prix outing two months ago. “The connection with social media is running through my agent, and I’m not using it anymore.”

She has since made a reappearance on social platforms, but to a lesser extent than the past.

Zagitova had to come to a complete black-out as well.

“After Russian nationals, my parents took away my phone and gave me another one, with no access to the internet,” she said to media in Minsk. “Now I’m reading books and I’m studying for school. I don’t see or hear anything about what is being said. No social media. I only watch TV serials.”

More than any other country, Russia has created somewhat of a system – mostly unconsciously at the start, however: create the best jumpers and spinners of the world at a very young age, when children obey without condition, and make them win before puberty. Hence the proposal to raise the age limit that was presented to the last ISU Congress.

It was rejected.

Age may not be the key factor anyway, as every girl grows at her own pace. It also differs from one continent to the next.

“The Causasian and the Asian people are quite different,” Japanese coach Mie Hamada acknowledged a few years ago. “The Caucasian bodies do change much more dramatically than the Asians’. We do have body changes, but they are not as big.”

She cited one of her star students, Satoko Miyahara, as a good example: “Satoko’s body is changing, but she works very hard every day and she can reset and adjust day after day to the change. I don’t have any trouble there.”

The system is expanding fast. In Japan, new star Rika Kihira, who won every competition she entered at her first senior year (and is coached by Hamada), has three triple Axels planned in each of her outings.

Alysa Liu, the new U.S. national champion, is on par with Kihira – except she doesn’t have the age limit to compete in the senior ranks. This age limit is in itself a tough constraint on skaters and their coach; the shooting window in a skater’s life is quite short, as it ranges between that age limit and puberty. Having an Olympics take place at that precise moment helps.

How long will these young ladies keep landing their triple Axel remains to be seen.

“You have the choice,” offered Igor Samohin, coach and father of 2016 world junior champion Daniel Samohin. “Either you push them right away to do everything, but then they will have a short skating life. Or you opt for a long career and, as Brian Orser says, you go step by step. At the same time, can a coach, a parent, a federation accept to take the risk of taking time and going step by step, knowing there is an additional risk at puberty?”

Examples of wunderkinds embarking into a long-term career do exist: Michelle Kwan and Irina Slutskaya, in the late 1990s, both won at a tender age and did succeed in staying many years at the top. As did Mao Asada. In those days as well as throughout the whole skating saga, the younger skaters were there to learn and grow, not to shine all at once and disappear, with the risk of mental health problems, disordered eating and depressions that spread out recently.

Samodurova and Konstantinova, the most physically mature of the Russian squad in Minsk, stated firmly that they were there to last in the sport.

Some common answers in Minsk were clear-cut: “This is sport. The wheel has to turn, and it’s just turning faster.”

If this is the route, then what sense does the age limit to access the senior ranks make?

Yet how does skating as a whole benefit from the Kleenex syndrome? The 2015 and 2016 Worlds gold medalist, Javier Fernandez, was clear, it’s penalizing skating: “Why would you come to watch a competition, if after just a few years a skater you had enjoyed watching doesn’t even compete anymore?” he asked.

The Kleenex route nonetheless seems to be favored nowadays. The embroidered tissue becomes the exception, at least in the ladies’ field. For sure the show will be quite different from what we have known it in the past.

The challenge for the best coaches of the world is to find a way to develop the Kwans and the Katarina Witts of tomorrow. Knowing Tutberidze enough, we may be confident that she is striving to do so.

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

As a reminder, you can watch the European 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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Javier Fernandez rebounds to win seventh European title, retires from competition

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Spain’s Javier Fernandez won his seventh straight European crown in Minsk, a feat only accomplished one other time in the history of the sport. No man since Austrian Karl Schaefer – who won eight consecutive European titles beginning in 1929 – has won as many straight titles as Fernandez.

He won the free program ahead of Russia’s Alexander Samarin and Italy’s Matteo Rizzo, surprising third. Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada, who took a commanding lead in the short program, completely missed his program to end fifth overall.

Results: Men’s final at Europeans

“I’m used at comebacks, right?” Fernandez had offered at the post-event press conference after the short program. And seven has always been a lucky charm.

Fernandez still had to overcome a 8.65-point gap to catch leader Kolyada, though. He did far more than that. The “Man of La Mancha,” his program music, did more than defend his chevaleresque honor. He landed two perfect quads, a triple toe and a Salchow, and two triple Axels. He wobbled on the landing of his quad toe, triple toe combination, and his major error came later in his program, when he doubled his planned triple flip, triple Salchow combination.

“I feel amazing,” Fernandez commented, joyful though not relaxed, as he left the ice. “I knew that was going to be my last skate, and I’m super proud to have been able to skate the way I did today. I was confident, I trained great: it was for a short period of time, but the training was efficient.”

Fernandez had about three weeks of practice in the lead-up to Europeans at his longtime training base in Toronto.

The precision of Fernandez’s steps, the density of his transitions, his completely centered spins, his unconditional connection with all audiences of the world during his program gave like a reminder of all of what skating will owe to him. The Belorussian audience was on its feet and sent dozens of gifts to the ice.

Samarin took the ice right before Fernandez, with 0.13 points to spare ahead of the Spaniard after the short. He delivered a strong program, highlighted with a quad Lutz, quad toe and two triple Axels. Samarin was all energy during his routine. His strong jumps, clear long lines and amazing speed embarked the audience after his main elements were completed.

Samarin was so concentrated and tense, he ended kneeling on the ice and knocked it three times with his fist, prior to rushing to his coaches’ arms. He tallied 177.87 points for his free program, a new season’s best, and 269.84 total points, a mere 1.75 points short of the gold medal.

“It is very hard to collect my emotions now and to tell how that was,” Samarin offered as he left the ice. “It was tough emotionally and mentally. I fought for every element in this program. Obviously, you want to be among the leaders and this is a big responsibility. I am endlessly happy that I was able to make not only myself happy, but also my coach.”

Rizzo had taken the ice one hour and 20 minutes before Samarin – with a brand new program to Queen’s music, who replaced his previous Rolling Stones’ medley. He delivered a solid performance, including a clean quad toe, one triple Axel in combination with a double toe, and two triple-triple combinations. The audience became very reactive at the end of it, clapping along to the beat of his music. Rizzo reached a new season’s best for his free program, 165.67 points, the third best of the afternoon. He rallied from 10th place to third overall with 247.08 points.

“It felt very emotional at the end, as I was really giving everything I had inside,” Rizzo said. “We debuted this program two weeks ago, and already I feel much more comfortable with this one.”

France’s Kevin Aymoz experienced a few mishaps, but he managed to give an emotional rendering of his Irrepressibles’ “In this Shirt” program, and to demonstrate that he would be a strong contender to be counted on in the near future. He ended up fourth overall.

MORE: Coach Brian Orser on Javier’s skating legacy

As a reminder, you can watch the European 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!