“I’m aware that I’m the first Spanish figure skater to have achieved big things,” says Javier Fernández. The Madrid-born Olympian took up the sport at the age of six, and now, 15 years, later finds himself in the role of Sochi 2014 medal hopeful. “It was because my sister watched international competitions on TV and decided to take up skating – when I saw her train, I loved the look of it and decided to give it a try myself,” he recalls.
“Figure skating is a marvellous sport, made all the better by the fact that you can constantly improve, be it in your jumps, pirouettes or strides. It also makes you feel you can control and conquer the ice, even if it’s not a surface you’ve been used to all your life. The feeling you get when you’re skating fast, the emotions produced by winning a competition, and performing your routine after days and days of work: all of that is what I live for!” he explains.
Hailing from a country with less than 20 ice rinks, Fernández is the first Spaniard to accomplish a triple axel and a quad. After being crowned national champion in 2010 at just 19 and earning a place at the Vancouver Games, he became the first male skater to compete for Spain on the Olympic stage since Dario Villaba in Cortina d’Ampezzo (ITA) in 1956. A creditable 14th-place finish proved a useful springboard, as he went on to enjoy a rapid rise in the global rankings.
Over the next three years he claimed a series of landmark results, finishing second in the 2011 ISU Grand Prix, first at the 2011 Skate Canada event and third in the 2012 Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final. Then in January 2013 he took the European title in Zagreb, following up by clinching a bronze medal at the World Figure Skating Championships in London (CAN) a couple of months later.
Going against the grain for gold
Following that historic victory in Croatia, Fernández remained focused on the bigger picture. “I don’t feel like a champion yet. Winning one competition isn’t that great an achievement. I’m just going to keep working hard,” he said. He continued his development in Toronto under the guidance of Canadian coach Brian Orser, a two-time Olympic silver medallist who steered Yuna Kim to the ladies’ singles title at Vancouver 2010.
In January 2014, with less than a month to go before Sochi, Fernández mounted a brilliant defence of his European crown in Budapest (HUN), the highlight of which were three perfectly executed quads during his free programme.
He now looks ideally placed to become just the third Spanish athlete to appear on the podium at the Olympic Winter Games, after skier Francisco Fernández-Ochoa, who won a gold medal in the slalom at Sapporo 1972, and his younger sister Blanca, who landed a bronze in the same event in Albertville 20 years later.
Fernández will perform his free skate routine at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi to the well-known theme tune from the American TV series Peter Gunn, composed by Henry Mancini. “Olympic competitors often choose dramatic, serious music,” he explains.
“As per usual, I’m going against the grain somewhat by opting for something more fun. I know I can use it to express my personality. That’s my strategy. People say that when I’m at 100 per cent, I’m unstoppable. I believe that too,” he says. If he can produce his very best in February, Fernández may well make history again.