Skating into the history books
Javier Fernández López made Spanish sporting history during his storied career, winning six European men’s figure skating titles and two world crowns before becoming the first athlete from his country to win an Olympic Winter Games medal on ice when he claimed bronze at PyeongChang 2018.
Dedicated to his sport
“I’m aware that I’m the first athlete to achieve a lot of important things for Spanish skating,” said the Madrid-born Fernández, who took his first steps in the sport at the age of six. “My sister watched competitions on TV and decided to start skating,” he explained. “I used to love watching her train, so much in fact that I decided to get involved too.
“Figure skating is a fantastic sport,” added the Spanish star. “It feels great when you start to make progress with the jumps, pirouettes and steps, and you have that sense that you control the ice, that you can master it, even though you weren’t born on it. The feeling of speed you have when you skate, the excitement you get from winning a competition, and presenting your programme after days and days of hard work… that’s what I live for.”
Breaking new ground
Blessed with a unique talent, despite hailing from a country with fewer than 20 registered figure skaters, Fernández was the first Spanish skater to land a triple axel and then a quadruple jump. After winning the national title in 2010 aged only 19, he earned a place at that year’s Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, becoming the first Spanish figure skater to grace Olympic ice since Dario Villaba at Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956.
Fernández placed 14th on his Olympic debut and continued his rise up the ranks by scoring a series of firsts for Spanish figure skating, taking second place in an ISU Grand Prix event in 2011, third in the 2012 Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final and winning Skate Canada the same year. The pioneer then hit the big time in 2013, becoming European champion in Zagreb (CRO) and a World Championship bronze medallist in London (CAN).
Onwards with orser
Speaking after his ground-breaking triumph in Zagreb, he said: “I still don’t feel like a champion. I don’t think winning one competition is such a big deal. I’m just going to keep on working.”
Fernández continued to hone his skills at his Toronto (CAN) base under the watchful eye of his coach Brian Orser, the Canadian former two-time world champion who guided the Republic of Korea’s Yuna Kim to the women’s title at Vancouver 2010.
The Spanish skater retained his European title in Budapest (HUN) in January 2014 and then headed to Sochi, where he carried his country’s flag at the Opening Ceremony before embarking on his quest for an Olympic medal. He would fall just short. Third after the short programme, he eventually came in fourth after a disappointing free dance, with Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu taking the gold and Canada’s Patrick Chan and Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten completing the podium.
Raising his game
After making it three European titles out of three in Stockholm (SWE) in January 2015, Fernández achieved another landmark for Spanish sport that March in Shanghai (CHN). Skillfully executing a free programme containing two quadruple jumps, six triples and multiple technically challenging pirouettes, he edged out Sochi 2014 champion Hanyu to win his country’s first figure skating world title.
Fernández retained both crowns the following year, claiming a fourth consecutive European title in Bratislava (SVK) and a second world one in Boston (USA), where he produced a scintillating performance to once again beat Hanyu, scoring personal bests of 98.52 in the short and 216.14 in the free.
Then, on 29 January 2017 in Ostrava (CZE), the Spaniard made it five European golds in a row, dancing his free routine to the sound of three Elvis Presley numbers. Only one man has achieved such a feat before: former Olympic champion Ondrej Nepela of the former Czechoslovakia, who collected his five straight continental titles between 1969 and 1973.
A sixth straight European title
Fernández’s choice of music for the Olympic season was the theme music from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times for his short programme and Mitch Leigh’s score for the musical Man of La Mancha for his free. A Spanish champion for the eighth time in December 2017, he then won his sixth successive European title in Moscow (RUS) the following month, equalling the achievement 82 years earlier of Austrian Karl Schäfer, who was unbeaten on the European scene between 1929 and 1936. Given that record, Fernández was a genuine contender for gold at PyeongChang 2018, which he announced would be his final Winter Games.
Prior to the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, Spain had only ever won two medals: Francisco Fernandez Ochoa’s slalom gold at Sapporo 1972, and his sister Blanca’s in the same event at Albertville 1992. A third medal would come the country’s way on 15 February, when Regino Hernández took bronze in the snowboard cross.
Fernández was in superb form the following day at the Gangneung Ice Arena, lighting up his short programme with a quadruple toe loop/triple toe loop combination, a quadruple Salchow and a triple Axel, all of which have a high level of difficulty. His performance earned him 107.58 points, leaving him second behind his Toronto training partner Yuzuru Hanyu.
“I’ll be happy tomorrow if I find myself in the same position,” said the Spaniard at the time. “I’ve been training to come first but everyone knows just how amazingly talented Yuzu is. I’m going to fight hard and if I win, I win, and if I finish second, I finish second. And if I finish third, I’ll still be happy.”
Bowing out with bronze
Fernández turned in a near-perfect display in the free, producing two quadruple jumps (a toe loop and a Salchow in combination with a double toe loop) and no fewer than seven triples in a brilliant routine in which he gave free rein to his artistic creativity. The Spaniard under-rotated on an attempted quadruple Salchow, however, and could only manage a double toe loop. The points he dropped as a result ended his hopes of catching Hanyu and saw him slip to third behind another Japanese skater, Shoma Uno.
“It was a great experience, and even though it wasn’t a perfect performance today it was a quality one,” said Fernández, after winning his country’s first ever Olympic medal on ice. “Everyone skated so well. A lot of work has gone into this and it’s taken many years for me to achieve my dream and win an Olympic medal. Now that I’ve got it I can rest easy and enjoy this result with my family.”
Fernaádez subsequently left his Toronto training base to return to Madrid with some major projects in mind, chief among them the creation of an elite performance centre, a move into coaching, the development of his sport in Spain, and the staging of ice galas.
Wherever his future lies, in the competitive arena or not, the elegant skater has made sure of his place as a Spanish sporting legend.