What Javier Fernandez has become

There was a time when Javier Fernandez was all about the high-flying, sharply rotated, stunning jump. Quads in particular. Well, maybe he had a bit of charisma, too, in those brown Spanish eyes.

But since he took up residence in Toronto, to train with Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson, he’s gradually learned that skating is about, well, skating:  balance, edges, power, riding the blade.

During Fernandez’s early days at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, Wilson would start her stroking sessions and at some point, she would look at coach Brian Orser and Orser would look at Wilson and they’d say: “Where’s Javi?”

He would have quickly cut out from the session. They found him sitting on a bench, a reluctant participant. Not for long, however. Back out onto the ice he went.

“Now he’s phenomenal,” Wilson said. “He can teach it, now.”

So it’s no surprise that Fernandez is staging his own summer camp in Madrid this summer with special guest stars Wilson and Orser.

Fernandez was a tad slow to come around to this Wilson/Orser way of thinking, but he’s been unbelievable in the way he has finally absorbed it. “He has actually been the one that has amazed me,” Wilson said. “If you look at his training habits and you look at his skating skills [of the past] – I remember – Brian and I do a lot of this together.”

A year and a half after Fernandez came to them, before he won his first European title, Wilson and Orser one day finally saw Fernandez skate around into something and they both thought: “He gets it.”

“It’s the sound of the blade,” Wilson said. “It’s that feeling. You just say Patrick Chan. It’s the security and the sound of the blade and it says balance and it says power. And that’s what Javi does.

“He’s come a long way.”

Mind you, Fernandez originally went to Toronto because he said he wanted better choreography, better skating skills, better spins. Perhaps it was just that he had to shake off the siesta part of his heritage in the early days. He went to the right spot.

To this point, Fernandez is a two-time world bronze medalist, and a three-time European champion. He just missed the podium at the Olympics in Sochi and finished fourth.  And along the way in his career, he scored major firsts: the first Spanish man to win a medal at a Grand Prix (Skate Canada); the first Spanish man to make it to a Grand Prix Final; and the first Spanish man to qualify for an Olympic Games since 1956. He’s a trailblazer for sure.

Fernandez rose from nothing, with less than 10 rinks in his country. The rink where he used to train is now a restaurant. He failed to even qualify for the world championships in his debut season as a senior and then ended up 35th at his first one in 2007. He was on the rise, but not quickly, finishing 30th the following year.

His big breakthrough season, under Orser, came in 2011-12, when he sizzled through the short program at Skate Canada in Mississauga, Ont., landed the only clean quad and finished first, ahead of Daisuke Takahashi and Patrick Chan. To prove that wasn’t an accident, he finished second in the free skate and took the silver medal overall. His second-place finish at the Rostelecom Cup in Russia (only .03 points behind Yuzuru Hanyu) got him to the Grand Prix Final for the first time that year.

He’s quietly a major contender for the world championships in Shanghai, but takes his marvellous Black Betty routine and the Barber of Seville (what else?) to the table. Both are good vehicles. His personal best score is 275.93 (sixth highest ever), taken at the world championships last year.  His short program score there was a whopping 96.42, the fifth highest ever!

And for the first time, he skated at home, in Barcelona, at the Grand Prix Final this season, when he finished second to Hanyu. “That was quite a learning curve for him to skate at home,” Orser said. “And he handled it really well. And it was exciting. It’s going to open up some opportunities to get skating going in Spain, and perhaps he’ll do some shows in Spain and give figure skating a boost.”

There’s a new maturity to Fernandez, who in the early days, didn’t always show up to practice on time. “He’s really treating the sport like a business,” Orser said. “I think he sees the opportunities that come along with skating well, whether it’s getting a world medal or a European title and he enjoys doing the shows. He enjoys their income. [Spain is not exactly flush with support money.]. And I think he gets it, that this is a business.

“It’s different from when I skated. I skated because it was a sport, and there was no paycheque at the end of the season.”

Fernandez likes the sporting side of figure skating, too. He’s very competitive. And he knows that he’s only as good as his last performance. How does he compare to his competitors? Among skaters who are actually showing up to this Shanghai party,  Fernandez’s best short program score has been bested only by Hanyu (who has the record of 101.45 taken at the Sochi Olympics) and Denis Ten’s 97.61, from the Four Continents this year. Next on the list of active skaters is Maxim Kovtun at 92.53, at Cup of Russia.

Free skate? Fernandez’s 189.07 from the 2013 European championship is still the fourth highest score in history. Hanyu’s 194.08 at the Grand Prix Final this season and Ten’s 191.85 at Four Continents are the only scores that eclipse the Spanish skater’s tally, among active skaters.

Total score? Patrick Chan still holds the world record of 295.27, with Hanyu lying second at 293.25. Ten has 289.46 from Four Continents this year. The next active skater, behind Fernandez is Joshua Farris with 260.01.

Yes, Fernandez is a contender, and he’s been skating well in Toronto leading up to this event. “He’s doing really well,” Orser said.

“I am so proud of him this season.”


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