Javier Fernández is nothing you might expect. A figure skater champion from Spain? Who knew! One of the strongest contenders for Olympic medals who treats Olympics as “just one more competition”? That’s him. A guy with the biggest smile and lively, upbeat programs, but who can strike you with the depth of his reflection and emotions – even if you’ve been watching him for years, he still finds ways to surprise the audience.
He’s nothing like you expect – but maybe everything a skater should be. His own coach, Brian Orser, thinks Javi is “our poster child for what we believe in skating – I say we, I mean Tracy Wilson and myself”. And maybe our series of interviews with Javier and Brian (to be published soon) will give you a hint why.
This is a sincere, fresh look into the mind of an elite skater, and it’s not always roses. And student & coach’s perspectives complete each other beautifully – so make sure you follow us for the second part of this series.
by Nadia Vasilyeva/Moscow
Nadia Vasilyeva: First of all, congratulations on your wonderful skate today [the interview took place right after men’s SP at 2018 Europeans in Moscow, and Javier had a comfortable lead, 12.49 points, over Dmitri Aliev].
But I wanna go back a bit earlier in the season. You haven’t had the most successful beginning, namely the Grand Prix series. What happened, and was it unfortunate for you? Or were you glad that without the Grand Prix Final you had more time to prepare for the rest of the season?
Javier Fernández: Well, if you really think about it, it was only one competition that I didn’t do good. It was one of the Grand Prix – and then I wasn’t able to go to the Final.
After, Brian [Orser] told me: “Even if you’d qualify, you were not going. We didn’t tell you, but we already decided that you were not going to the Final”. Because it was pointless for us.
But I did Japan Open, and it was pretty good, and then I did a competition in Canada, where I competed against Yuzu, and I beat Yuzu, so that was pretty good [smiles]. And then the competition in France: it wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t bad [either]. So it was pretty much only one competition that threw me off.
Sometimes it happens with you: you skate one program brilliantly, and then the other one – not so brilliantly.
Exactly. Like today, the Russian guy, Kolyada, he didn’t have a good short program, but it doesn’t mean that he’s a bad skater, or that he’s not gonna skate good.
I didn’t mean that!
[we both laugh]
I know, I just mean that sometimes a skater doesn’t skate good, there are ups and down in competition.
I understand, but with you in particular – what holds you back?
I think it’s just different competitions. Everything is different. If you are at this level, one day you go to a rink and you do everything perfectly, and you feel like you are ready to do every competition, and then you go the next day and it looks like you can’t skate anymore, you’re done, because you fail all the time.
But this is figure skating, this is the elite sport, it happens to everyone. It happened to me, it happened to Plushenko, to every skater in the world. You think – what happened? Like, yesterday I could do everything, and today I can do nothing. But skating is a lot about feelings – and, in competition, if you feel good or feel bad, it matters a lot.
“AM I GONNA WIN? I DON’T KNOW! BUT I DO HAVE MORE EXPERIENCE”
This season is especially important since it’s Olympic season. Did you change anything in your preparation for it?
The only thing I did was putting a bigger amount of programs in the training. But that’s about it. I didn’t do anything more, it’s just improving and keep training.
So it doesn’t feel any different for you, you don’t feel any extra pressure or something?
No, because we’re trying to keep everything normal. Yes, Olympics are coming, but at the end of the day it’s just one more competition. You’re gonna be on the ice and you have to do your programs. And you’re gonna try to do the best you can.
I mean, yes, it’s Olympics, and sometimes we’re like – Yes, this is different. But we try to keep it as natural as possible. ’Cause if not, you start freaking out too early.
That’s true. And you already have your Olympic experience, and there were two quite different situations, because in Vancouver you weren’t a real contender for the medals, but in Sochi you were. Which one was easier, better for you? Coming to Olympics with pressure, expectations, or without it?
I think to have expectations and to have pressure sometimes can be helpful in some competitions, and then, in some, it can throw you off.
Like I said, it depends on the feeling. Maybe one day you get mad, and you use it as a positive thing, and one day you get mad and you don’t wanna do anything. But it happens in everything, in life and in competition.
And, like you said, in my first Olympics I wasn’t ready to be on the podium, I was younger and I knew it. It was just for the experience. And then in the second one, I was fighting to be more on the podium, that’s true. But I didn’t have the same experience that I have now: two-time World champion, five-time European champion. And it’s a different story.
Am I gonna win? I don’t know! You don’t know that kind of thing. But I do have more experience to fight against if I’m not gonna feel good, or if I’m not gonna skate good, or anything.
So it gives you more confidence?
It gives me more confidence because I have more experience.
It all sounds like it’s a thing of a chance, of luck.
But as an athlete, aren’t you supposed to be in control of that kind of thing?
Not in figure skating. It’s different from just running, right? But [on the other hand] one day you wake up tired and you’re not gonna run the same way if you weren’t tired. It’s just a way to think.
I mean, of course, every competition you can be more consistent because you can fight against bad thoughts or bad feelings. And there is a way to keep yourself more consistent, more confident, but it doesn’t mean you’re gonna be perfect all the time.
[half seriously, half smiling] Does your coach agree with that way of seeing things?
Well, he was a skater himself, so he knows all about this.
Are there any things that can help you to get into that mood for competing?
Yeah, we practice so much and it’s all for competing. But, I don’t know [he pauses to think], I guess everybody has their own feelings. One day you wake up and it’s like the best day of your life. And another day you’re like – I really need to work.
You know, in skating we are on ice, it’s different than being on the floor. We’re in skates, and it’s cold, and you don’t wanna fall… It’s an imbalanced sport. So if you don’t feel great, you have a big percent of falling on your run-throughs.
HOW DOES A SKATER RESEMBLE CHARLIE CHAPLIN – AND VICE VERSA
This season a lot of skaters decided to return to their old programs, that they probably feel more confident with, while you decided to have two brand new programs.
I don’t like going back to the programs. For me it’s like stepping backwards. It’s not – but I feel like it’s taking a step backwards and getting back to something you already did.
And it’s Olympics, and it’s special, and it’s supposed to be surprising for everybody – and going for something that was done in the past… it’s not me.
But still, the theme of your short program – you kind of already did that in the past. Of course, it was a different program, but why have you decided to go back to Charlie Chaplin?
Well, we decided to do it because we wanted to show people that you can do the same character with two different pieces of music.
And to show that the Charlie Chaplin that people had in their minds, the one cute, nice, funny… [we wanted to show] that you can do something more dramatic with the same character. And with better skating, of course. To do something different, but with the same character.
But why Chaplin in particular? Do you have some personal admiration for him?
Hmm… I mean, I do like Charlie Chaplin, I think he’s awesome. He had his own way to be in the movie, and then his own way to be off the movie. It’s like with skaters – on the ice you’re one person, and off the ice you’re different. I do like him a lot, but I think it’s just about the character, I don’t know if we match – but I think we do [smiles].
It’s true, it suits you really well! And as for the free program, the Man of La Mancha. Who chose it, and does the fact that it’s a Spanish theme have anything to do with the Olympic season?
Actually, David Wilson, my choreographer, he had it in mind for a while. But they didn’t tell me. He told me later, like: “I have this music in mind for the Olympic season, and I hope you like it”.
We were listening to that, and I thought it was an awesome idea.
So for them it was actually related with the Olympics, because it was something Spanish, but not like traditional… I mean, it’s traditional, because it’s the Man of La Mancha, but it’s not like flamenco or Carmen. And I thought it was an awesome idea, so that’s why we did it.
You work with David Wilson a lot, probably more than with any other choreographer. What is it about him that makes you wanna entrust him with your programs?
I think we match, and he already understands the way I skate. And he creates a program that’s also comfortable for me, from the beginning – and then he makes it more difficult after.
Like, when we do the choreography, we kind of get used to the choreography after some time, and then it looks easy. Even if it doesn’t feel so, but it looks easy – and you always have to have [it] rebuilt with your choreographer, ’cause he’s gonna put more difficult things, or things that look more difficult.
It’s like when you buy a new pair of shoes – maybe the first time it hurts. But then, with time, it gets comfortable. And it’s the same thing with the program.
But why do you need more difficulty? So you don’t feel too relaxed or…?
No, it’s just a way to make programs better and better. If you do a program that looks too easy… I mean, there are two types of easy. It can look easy because you skate amazingly and everything flows, or it can be something like – what was that? That was not hard at all.
So it’s a way of improving a program day by day.
“WE’LL SEE IF IT’S GONNA BE MY LAST SEASON OR NOT”
This is your 12th European Championship, and you are aiming, hopefully, for a sixth gold medal. How does that make you feel?
I think being five-time European champion got me already into the history of figure skating a little bit, in a list of people who got so many European titles in a row. I think the one who’s got more than me has 8, and it was a long time ago. So that’s actually something really cool.
So if I get the 6th one it would be even better, it would be awesome. It’s not just one more European title, it’s like – 6 times in a row!
And especially if it’s your last season…?
Well, we’ll see if it’s gonna be my last season or not. Maybe I’ll throw one more competition here and there… You never know [smiles].
Maybe I’ll go for next Europeans. Maybe, instead of 6, I’ll go for 8. Like, you wake up one day and you’re like – I want this goal! And I’m gonna go for it! Like deciding to go for figure skating when I was a kid. You never know what’s gonna happen.
Ah, I see. Because there were talks about this season being final for you…
Yeah, but you see, you say something, and then things get bigger, and people start talking, and suddenly you’re an Olympic champion when you’re not! [laughs]
So you’re not retiring until you are actually an Olympic champion?
[both laugh] No, first I have to do the Olympics. I’ll sit down, see how I feel.
The only thing I know is that I’m not gonna be skating for somebody else. Nobody’s gonna push me to skate. If I’m not gonna skate – then I’m not gonna skate. If I skate – it’s because I want to.
And right now you don’t know how you’ll feel at the end of the season…
Maybe I’ll take like a two-month vacation, and then I’ll be like: This is boring, I need to go back to skating. [smiles]
Javier Fernández becomes Javier VI, King of Europe – a detailed photo-story of his presence at 2018 Europeans