Javier Fernandez has good memories of Skate Canada.
His first one, in Mississauga, Ont., during the 2011-2012 season, was also his first with coach Brian Orser. He left a lasting impression, throwing the technical book at his opponents, turning from afterthought into world beater. What, a skater from Spain, defeating world record holder Patrick Chan and the exquisite Daisuke Takahashi of Japan?
Well, that’s what he did in the short program, the only skater to land a clean quad in that portion of the event. He ended up taking the silver medal overall, blasting his previous best by 30 points or so. He proved to be a sensation, a new discovery, that season and qualified for his first Grand Prix Final.
That season, Fernandez’s new choreographers, David Wilson and Jeffrey Buttle, didn’t have time to design any costumes, so Orser was forced to pitch in. It was something he’d never done. He got Petra Burka to help him with the long, but for the short, he snapped a photo of a costume he liked on a “So You Think You Can Dance” show that he watched one night when he was in bed. And the costume was derived from that.
There were so many folks who thought Fernandez looked so much like a younger, competitive Orser, his body, his hair, the way he held his head.
That’s about to continue. Orser has also gone on to design all of Fernandez’s outfits and we will see them this week at Skate Canada in Kelowna, B.C. Fernandez’s short program is a sexy rock to “Black Betty.” Tom Jones has done it. RamJam has done it. Spiderbait has done it. Apparently it’s really an 18th century marching song and perhaps refers to a musket. Be prepared to hear a lot of “Bam-a-lam” lyrics. Fernandez is just the guy for it.
So Orser, pondering how best to costume his charismatic pupil from Spain, got to thinking: Years ago, as a pro skater, Orser once skated to a sexy number called “Black Dog.” And he wore a black t-shirt for it.
He found one of his old costume bags, and there it was, that black t-shirt that had brought such fun memories. And it fit Fernandez, except much to Orser’s surprise, the sleeves were loose. It was hard to believe. When Orser wore it, the sleeves were too tight. Perhaps that’s a bragging point.
But in Kelowna, Fernandez will be wearing that very shirt, and looking for all the world like Orser, again, except Fernandez is his own animal, a laid-back, likeable, candid soul who charms all the ladies at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club in Toronto – and he has been known to skate programs that send goosebumps up an arm. He did it when he won his first European championship.
Fernandez has been quiet since he finished fifth at the Olympics in Sochi, after seemingly headed for a medal until he miscounted his triple Salchows (which is what happens when a quad Salchow goes wrong.) and taking his second world bronze medal in Japan. Orser says the 23-year-old athlete is training harder than ever, and has been skating really well.
Wilson designed both of his programs this year. (His free is to the “Barber of Seville” – and how perfect is that?) He went home to Spain to spend time over the summer with his parents and sister, Laura, enjoyed the beaches, got a chance to drive Orser’s boat in Muskoka, and then knuckled back down to work in Toronto.
The first Spanish skater to ever win a medal at a Grand Prix event, at a world championship or at a European championship, has competed once this season at the Japan Open, finishing second and helping Team Europe to a gold medal.
On paper, Orser, said, Fernandez’s effort was riddled by minus marks and it looked “terrible.” Orser hadn’t been there because he had been tied up at a Junior Grand Prix event. But when Orser watched it on YouTube later, he could see that the effort was actually quite good. Fernandez fell victim again to his miscounting of Salchows. And he got no points for a spin. But Orser could see that he had just failed to hold any of the positions of the spin for two rotations. All fixable. “I could tell by the component marks that the judges liked it,” he said.
So Fernandez’s season begins in earnest this week and there’s one big carrot at the end of the first half: the Grand Prix Final is in Barcelona for the first time. Really, he must get there for home and country. Perhaps the t-shirt will help.