Until Javier Fernandez won his first European gold, in 2013, in Zagreb, there hadn’t been any Spanish male figure skater among the medalists of the European Championships since its inaugural edition in 1891, Hamburg. It took Spain 122 years and 105 editions to win a medal – and not just any medal – and, a year later, in Budapest, Javier did it again. This feat by itself was already glorious, but in Stockholm, two weeks ago, the 23-year-old skater from Madrid went for a hat trick – and nailed it. With three consecutive gold medals at the Europeans – the first time a skater pulls that through since Alexander Fadeev’s victories in 1987-1989 – the Spanish flag is now part of the statistics of the continental competition, a red-yellow splash of color in a sea of other different flags. This is, of course, the story of Javier Fernandez’ triumph at the Europeans and, at the same time, the story of the flag standing proudly on his shoulders…
by Florentina Tone
In 2013, at the end of the victory ceremony in Zagreb, an overjoyous Javier, wrapped in a Spanish flag, ran to his parents and friends in the audience, to be hugged, caressed, congratulated. The 21-year-old had just put Spain on the world figure skating map by winning its country’s first medal at an ISU Championships and the response of the crowd – and the compact group of Spanish fans supporting Javier in Zagreb – was amazing. There had been ladies wearing red-yellow wigs during competition – and there were tears of joy when Javier Fernandez approached the boards to celebrate his victory with the dearest ones.
A year later, in Budapest, Javier Fernandez won his second European title – and what a night this was for this talented, but very modest skater from Spain. His joy and good-humor during the medals’ ceremony were purely contagious: you should have seen him appear out of nowhere in front of Sergei Voronov and Konstantin Menshov, carrying the Spanish flag in his arms; you should have seen his wonderful large smile while posing with his team mates and coach, Brian Orser, in front of the same flag; and you should have seen Javi hurrying to his parents, friends, relatives, to get a joyful group hug. The red-yellow flag has been, once again, the star of the day.
Two weeks ago, in Stockholm, after he’d been awarded his third European gold, Javier Fernandez entered the role of a matador, with the flag as his muleta – and the silver and bronze medalists as the bulls trying to reach him. A funny scene, but a relevant one: for three years now, this has been exactly the situation in the men’s event at the Europeans – the Spaniard runs away with the gold, while the rest of the skaters are merely chasing him.
“Sometimes it is very difficult to find a good balance between being very excited and/or skating too relaxed”
One thing is sure though: this time, Javier had to fight to keep his crown, starting the competition in Stockholm with a rather shaky short program. Skating to “Black Betty” by Ram Jam, the 23-year-old fell out of his quad Salchow, stepped out of the triple Lutz-triple toe combination, to nail a gorgeous triple Axel in the second part of his routine; the Spaniard picked up a level four for the spins and footwork and scored 89.24 points. He later confessed: “This time my problem was that I was too relaxed. In fact, Brian [Orser] said to me that I was working at «second gear». Sometimes it is very difficult to find a good balance between being very excited and/or skating too relaxed. At the Grand Prix final I was overexcited, and I thought: «Whee, this is my competition!» Well, after the first jump it wasn’t. Now it was the opposite, I was too calm”.
The truth is, in recent years, Javier Fernandez’ programs have always been some of the most difficult in the entire discipline – and this season, with “Black Betty” and “The Barber of Seville”, is no exception. It takes a lot of courage from both the Spaniard and his team to even put on paper the technical content of the routines, not to mention performing them. Loads of transitions, dashing entries into the jumps – you just need to always be on the top of your game to nail them.
A day later, during the free skate, Javier fought until the very last second of the program, that demanding the role of the barber of Seville is. He opened his routine with an exquisite quadruple toeloop, followed by a triple Salchow-triple toeloop combination (the Salchow was actually meant to be a quad), a huge triple Axel and three other triple jumps; however, he fell on his quad Salchow and doubled the Lutz. Leaving the ice, he looked completely exhausted; not to mention he knew he was somehow exposed. Scoring 173.25 points for his free and 262.49 overall, he had to sit in the “winners’ area”, a premiere in Stockholm this year, and watch everyone else in the final group compete.
At the end of the group, with every remaining skater making mistakes, it was obvious he’d done enough; Javier Fernandez took the gold – and by a large margin too: 26.81 points in front of the silver medalist, the Russian Maxim Kovtun. During the press conference after the skate, the Spaniard felt the need to explain himself: “I have never experienced a competition this tiring before. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t even bow to the audience at the end. I was so exhausted. It’s not because I’m not training well. Yesterday I did a perfect run-through in practice, but today it was so hard. Still, from beginning to end I tried to do my best, I tried to give 100%. It was the best performance today, but definitely not my best performance”. And then he added: “This medal is more important than a regular European medal because it’s three times in a row. Maybe I didn’t do my best performance ever, but it’s a little bit more special than other medals as since 1989 nobody has won three European medals in a row”.
“The main thing is I kept fighting, but to be honest it was the hardest skate of my life”
As last year in Budapest, the Spaniard was joined on the podium by two Russian skaters: Maxim Kovtun took the silver, while Sergei Voronov, the silver medalist from 2014, was awarded the bronze.
The road to Maxim Kovtun’s first European medal has been quite hard, to put it frankly. He first competed in the Europeans two years ago, in Zagreb, the year Fernandez won the first out of his three gold medals. Though skating with elegance and showing a lot of promise, the Russian teenager only managed a fifth place – and repeated the placement the following year, in Budapest. They say “third time’s a charm”, and in Kovtun’s case the saying proved to be true – though, in Stockholm, the 19-year-old was lying in 4th after the short program. A day later, performing his free skate to “Exogenesis Symphony” by Muse, he struggled at the beginning with his quad Salchow, quad toe and triple Axel, but recovered to hit five triples and three level-four spins. The Russian Champion picked up 157.47 points and totaled 235.68 points to pull up from fourth to second. „I have mixed feelings about today, obviously I’m very happy that I was able to win my first medal at such an important event, but I am not happy with my performance. The main thing is I kept fighting, but to be honest it was the hardest skate of my life”, Maxim told the journalists.
“I’m personally very happy that it’s my second time in the top three at Europeans”
With Sergei Voronov joining Eteri Tutberidze’s group in 2013, he seemed to have finally reached the perfect place for him to grow. A struggle his career had been until then – and from that moment on the results just kept on coming: at his sixth European Championships, in Budapest, last year, he managed to win the silver medal (and what a joyous moment that was!) and in Stockholm, two weeks ago, he clinched the bronze. In between, he won the silver medal at 2014 Rostelecom Cup, he was awarded another silver at 2014 NHK Trophy and, finally, won the bronze at the first Grand Prix Final of his career, behind gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu and silver medalist Javier Fernandez. What a great season this has been so far for Sergei – and, prior to Stockholm, with the GPF bronze in his pocket, many considered him a real threat to Javier Fernandez. The 27-year-old Russian did start brilliantly his short program to “Danse Macabre”, with a huge quadruple-triple toeloop combination, but then he doubled the Axel – and found himself on the second place after the short. He later explained: “It was a struggle, the struggle with myself. As it’s the eighth competition in this season, it was quite difficult to skate”.
A day later, his free program to “This is a Man’s World” and “Come Together” included a triple Axel-double toe and three other triple jumps, but the 2014 European silver medalist two-footed his quad-triple toe, stumbled on a triple Axel and singled a Salchow. With 151.99 points for the free and 233.05 overall, he slipped from second to third. At the post-event press conference, Sergei looked happy, but tired: “The feeling of my skate and my jumps, like for all of us, was not good today. But I didn’t feel pressure, more just tiredness. My physical preparation was good, but I still feel very tired right now. I’m personally very happy that it’s my second time in the top three at Europeans and I skated against strong competitors”.
Michal Brezina, 0.11 of a point from the obsessive 4th place
For the first 2 minutes, Michal Brezina’s short program was pure perfection. Closing this particular segment of the men’s event in Stockholm, the 24-year-old Czech skater had nailed a wonderful triple Axel and a gorgeous quad Salchow, flying to what would probably have been a small gold medal for the short program; but then disaster struck: a moment of lack of concentration and Michal fell on his triple flip, depriving the program of its needed combination. The 2013 European bronze medalist picked up 80.86 points for his SP and found himself on the third place of the intermediate podium. Talking to the journalists, his disappointment was obvious: “Before the flip I was thinking, «Okay, this is easy, you do it every day». But after that I just wanted to kill myself. If there had been the combination, I could have had ten points more. But now I can’t do anything about it”. He still had hopes for the free skate though: “Apart from the combination I think it was my strongest performance of the season. I hope I can do better than that in the long program”.
Unfortunately, the following day things only got worse: carrying again the burden of closing the event, Michal completely fell apart while playing the part of Figaro. His free program, a beauty choreographed by Salomé Brunner, was the seventh of the night – and the Czech finished the event on the fifth place overall, only 0.11 of a point separating him from the obsessive 4th place he’d encountered so many times during his career (2010 Europeans, 2010 Worlds, 2011 Worlds, 2012 Europeans, 2014 Europeans – and three other Grand Prix events). In Stockholm, he could still joke about it: “I am now fifth. What to say? Still better than fourth…”
And, from where I stand, the biggest surprise of the free skate came actually from the Israeli Alexei Bychenko. In Stockholm, skating to “Nostradamus”, Alexei moved up from 7th to fourth overall – his best placement ever at the Europeans – making this a great anniversary present for himself (he turned 27 on February 5th) and his coach (Galit Chait Moracci celebrated her birthday on January 29, during Europeans)…