China’s Boyang Jin had a bumpy start of 2018-19 season. In the first week of November, at the Grand Prix of Helsinki, his first international competition this season, Jin fell on his trademark quad Lutz-triple toe combination in the short, but managed to perform the rest of his program decently. However, during the long program, the skater fell three times, finishing 5th in the segment and overall. While the result in Helsinki was surprising but not inconceivable, three weeks later, after a long haul from Beijing to Grenoble which he almost couldn’t make it due to visa problems, Jin fell apart in the Internationaux de France, his second GP assignment, and shockingly placed 9th.
The situation triggered concern: what is happening to this talented two-time World medalist?
The conversation we had in Helsinki, at the end of his first Grand Prix event, answers some of the questions, raises others, but also shows a new Boyang Jin, determined to face the challenges of a much-wanted transformation. And his programs this season, and all the work behind them, really speak for themselves.
by Wei Xiong
When we talked to him after the exhibition in Helsinki, the 21-year-old first ensured us of his health. “My physical condition is very good. No, my performance here has nothing to do with physical condition, no worry about it”, Jin explained, and then added: “I think I was just not mentally ready for competition. This is my first international event this season, and I think mentally I was still a bit loose and haven’t got myself into the game-on mode”.
In fact, this off-season was a bit more packed than usual for the four-time Chinese champion. After 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, where Jin finished 4th, the highest placement a Chinese male single skater has ever achieved, he was involved in some campaigns to promote figure skating in China, attended several ice shows in Korea and Japan – a rare case for Chinese skaters, and took part in a domestic competition.
But what drew the most attention was the breaking news, in mid-April, that he would move to Canada to train under Brian Orser, a piece of news confirmed by Orser himself.
Silence on a particular topic
However, as time went by, Jin never appeared in Toronto Cricket Club. By the time of July, without any official statement from the skater, people started to realize this move would never happen.
“Could you tell us why you didn’t move to Canada?” – media and fans kept asking this question since then, at ice shows, on his social media accounts and, of course, at the press conference in Helsinki. “I’ve been asked this question for many times”, Jin commented, like the many other times, “but I don’t think I am in the best position to address it”. When the same question was brought up again three weeks later in France, Jin just made a wry smile, and repeated the answer again.
While the skater remained silent on that topic, he felt much more excited to share his experience working with another Canadian – Lori Nichol, who has choreographed all his competition programs in recent three seasons – and told us how the working relationship evolved this year.
“My crazy matches her crazy”
“The choreography process this year was very different from past years for me”, Jin revealed. “In the past, even though I had some ideas, I might have doubted whether it was possible for me to do that in a program. But after last season, especially after winning the Four Continents and doing well in the Olympics, I gained more confidence and I was encouraged to think about more possibilities. So, when Lori spoke to me this year, I told her some wild, crazy ideas I had been having in my mind, and let her know what I wanted to do from my heart”.
After hearing his thoughts, Nichol proposed some music to Jin, and Jin picked the ones he liked the most, and they started to choreograph the programs. Some interesting movements, like the air guitar in his short program, came from Jin himself.
“It turned out my crazy matches her crazy. That’s how we came up with the two programs for this season”.
While Jin is known for his love for edgy music like rock and electro, the musical choice of his free skate, a flamenco piece from the movie “Hable con ella”, was a surprise. “The style is very mature, don’t you think?”, we had to ask.
“But if you think about it, rock and roll music is very mature, very masculine too”, Jin answered. “I wanted to try something as mature, but in a different style. To me, flamenco is a unique dance that demonstrates mature masculinity while also being delicate”.
As it is a new performing style for him, Jin spent quite some time training off the ice: “I took many dance classes, not only flamenco, but other genres as well, to improve my body movements, and watched a lot of videos. I first learned the choreographies on the ground. It was not until I could execute those dance moves well enough that we moved to the rink”.
“But even then, we started from the transitions, we tried different entries right before the jumps this season, like the opening quad Lutz. At first, I felt it difficult to take off even for the triples; then I started to get better and added the quads. Then, when I was able to skate a complete program, we added more steps and polished it with more details”.
“I am asking more of myself this year”
This season, the (new) length of men’s single free skate is 4 minutes – 30 seconds shorter than previous seasons, but only one solo jump is removed from the required elements. This new rule arguably poses huge challenge to male skaters, who would find it more difficult to execute everything well in a jam-packed program.
Jin certainly agreed with the argument: “When I do the run-throughs, I do find it more challenging to complete a program. It is not easy to find the perfect timing to take a bit of rest in such a short time, so it takes time to get adapted to the change”.
“In past seasons, by this time I would have done the run-throughs quite well. But this year, with the change, and the fact that I am asking more of myself, I think I am far from where I want to be. I aim to transform myself this season, starting from the skating, transitions and performance”.
Like he admitted, the two-time World bronze medalist was clearly far from his best in Helsinki and Grenoble, as he struggled to pull off a complete performance. Moreover, with the new range of Grade of Execution, a failed quad is punished more heavily now, and falling on a quad Lutz costs 1.75 points more than it did under previous rule.
Maybe lowering the difficulty of the jumps at the beginning of the season would help the consistency and the scores. However, according to Jin, this was not an option.
“I won’t downgrade the layout. In my opinion, the new rule requires you to be a better skater and gives you a chance to make a breakthrough. If you can adapt to the new rule and perform the programs well, that means you are truly a great skater. I want to exceed myself”.
Competition is a mental game
Despite of his determination, when it came to actual competition, Jin still found himself a bit uncertain. “I can do well in trainings, both the jumps and the run-throughs, but I need to improve my mentality”, Jin commented. “Lori told me to stay calm and focused on the program. She said I can do them all, the jumps, and dance, the performance, but I need to stay calm”.
Jin’s coach, Caishu Fu, also spoke about his condition in Helsinki: “He has really trained a lot this off-season, and he was doing well. I think he wants to perform well too much, but he’s not quite ready yet”.
“Getting ready for the competitions is one big problem for me. I really need to learn to take control of my own condition, and be able to adjust myself in order to bring out the best of me in competitions”, Jin said. “I believe once I can solve this problem, it will be the breakthrough I have been looking for, and I will be one step close to where I want to be”.
“I’ve been on the Worlds podium and, for sure, I want to be there again, but competition result is not my end goal. My goal is to be a better self, to bring better performances in competitions. The success lies in mentality, I am competing against myself, and I need to up my game”.
On November 23 and 24, Jin competed at the Internationaux de France, the final Grand Prix event of the season. Due to visa issues, he arrived in Grenoble at the very last minute, and wasn’t able to attend official practice until the day of actual event. He then fell apart in the competition, placing only 9th, the lowest in all his senior GP events.
After the free skate, Jin revealed in the mixed zone that he didn’t have the confidence when he took the ice because he had not yet mastered the programs this season, and he lacked practices during this event. He also revealed that not only the visa issue, but being asked about the turmoil of not moving to Canada everywhere he goes, and the criticism he received afterwards, also got into his head. He would like to stay focused and adjust for the rest of the season.
Jin’s next event is the Chinese National Championships from December 29 to 30 in Harbin, the skater’s hometown.