Feature | Figure Skating

Figure skater Javier Fernandez on coaching future, Spanish ham and mentor Brian Orser

The PyeongChang bronze medallist reveals his plans ahead

Figure skater Javier Fernandez is nearing the end of his competitive career. After returning from PyeongChang 2018 with a bronze medal for Spain, he is now looking to move into coaching.

He left home as a teenager simply looking to improve his figure skating.

As he neared his 20th birthday, it became obvious that Fernandez could become a world-beater.

He's spent the last eight years training with legendary coach Brian Orser.

Orser has coached some of figure skating's biggest stars in the past few years - like Yuna Kim and Yuzuru Hanyu.

After two world championship wins, six European titles and eight national championships - Fernandez says that his last competition will be the ISU 2019 European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus.

The next step looks to be passing his vast knowledge to a new generation of Spanish skaters as he spreads his love of the sport across his native country.

The Olympic Channel podcast spoke to Javier in Japan.

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Javier Fernandez of Spain competes during the Men's Single Free Program at PyeongChang 2018. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Have you thought about the next season coming up yet? What’s the plan for Javier Fernandez?

The season coming up, I have actually talked about (it with) Brian (Orser) about doing a few more competitions. Maybe, we can do a competition here in Japan at the beginning of the season and then maybe do the European Championships. But, I think that will be it. We’ve got to be smart and we need to know when to step away. Figure skating has improved a lot in the past years. So, that will probably be the end of my competition career. I (would like to end at the) Europeans just because I didn’t really get to say goodbye to everybody and, of course, the Olympics have more than figure skating involved. That’s why, I think, I (will choose) the Europeans: because it’s a competition I’ve been to so many times.

Brian Orser is known for training world-beaters like yourself, Yuzuru Hanyu, Yuna Kim and now Evgenia Medvedeva. What is it about Brian that is so special?

I think it’s the team that Brian has and how he treats every skater differently. It doesn’t matter if you’re working with the same people… he treats us different. And, I think, when you have a good team, when you have a good schedule, everything it works well because everything is planned. You know what you’re doing the next day and it makes your day-by-day training less hard because it’s hard being an elite athlete, it’s definitely hard.

And, if you do pursue a coaching career, what have you learnt from the man you’ve been with for so long, Brian Orser?

I think one of the things I’ve learned the most is that every athlete and every skater, they’re different and you cannot treat them the same way and you need to work with them differently. That’s one of the things I really saw in the schedules you put to every athlete or even the day-by-day training. It’s not the same for everybody, so you need to really make that work happen and you need to treat every person (to suit their personality). I think that’s a good point to start.

Javier Fernandez of Spain performs during the Figure Skating Gala Exhibition (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

He spoke about his relationship with his skaters and he said with you it’s almost a fatherly relationship. How important was that for you, being so far away from home, from such a young age, having that kind of figure in your professional life?

Some of the skaters actually have their mum or dad come to Canada. With my family, it was never like that. I was always by myself, since always. When I left home, my parents stayed at home, working, and I was just pretty much by myself. So, actually having a person that is more than your coach, someone who hangs out for dinner, or you do things together, or he cares about you when your sick, he comes or he calls me and he says do you need medicine, because I can bring them to you. It’s just a good feeling. It’s not just a coach relationship, you have something else, you have actually a friendship. As I said, elite sports are really complicated and to have something like this, a connection with your coach that is really good. It makes it much better.

Evgeni Plushenko has said that Hanyu is the best ever. Would you agree with that, and what do you think he has that no one else does?

I think, Yuzuru, he’s a winner. He doesn’t take a second, or he doesn’t take a third. He wants to be the first and he is really good at that. He sells everything that he does on the ice, he sells really well. He is an amazing athlete, a great figure skater. I just think, he works a lot, and that shows in the competitions. I want to believe, being that way, being a winner, always trying to improve yourself, working really hard, is just the best way to be. That’s why he has been in the top for a long time and a lot of other skaters, they can’t. They cannot be for four, five or six years on top. It’s a hard job to do. I did it, he did it, a lot of skaters did it but not everybody can do that.

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You’re obviously from Spain, it’s not known much for it’s winter sports or for its figure skating in particular. How did you choose figure skating when you were young, how did you first get into that?

I got into figure skating because of my sister. She decided to go to take lessons in an ice rink in Spain, in Madrid, and then I went with my parents to pick her up a few times and then after a little while I just liked it. So, I told my parents that I wanted to do figure skating with my sister and that’s why I started. I was six years old.

I’ve heard there has been comparison with the movie Billy Elliot. In that, you were very young and you really wanted to do figure skating but you were the only boy doing it. Do you agree with that comparison?

It depends how you look at it. It’s a sport, but it’s also an art and, at the end of the day, you’re dancing. When you put a new sport in a new country, there are a lot of comments and a lot of ideas about the sport. Those comments can be good ones or they can be not as good. But I was kind of person who didn’t really care. I had my life doing figure skating and I had my life outside the sport - in school or with my friends. It’s 2018 now and people have already started to change their minds about everything. So I’m pleased that the work that we’re doing at home, because it’s a new sport, the people are getting it.


You moved away at such a young age from Spain to Canada. You must have missed it. Were you homesick, right at the beginning, and do you still get homesick?

Yeah. Always. Home is always going to be home. They treat me so well, everywhere I go in figure skating, and I’ve been for eight years in Toronto and they treat me amazingly. (But) when you are away for so many months you want to go back... sometimes you’re not even allowed to go at Christmas. So that’s one of things I’m really excited about, when I have time off, I would like to spend a long time at home and just go back to how it used to be years and years ago, when I was able to spend like full months just at home.

What are the main differences living Canada to living in Spain?

Well, the winter, that’s one of the things. Because of the weather, we have a more 'outside' world (in Spain). In Toronto, they don’t have much of that... but it’s just different. I really like some of the things from Canada and from Toronto, (there are) so many people from different places. They have an amazing lake, houses and cottages. I’m always really excited to do a little escape - a weekend in the lakes. But, at home, of course, it’s just my home. I have my food, I love the food. I love the weather, I love the people: it’s different.

Talking about food, I’ve got to ask – Canadians are famous for their bacon, you’ve got the jamon in Madrid. Which would you choose?

I’d choose the jamon from Spain because it’s just so good. I mean I love bacon, don’t get me wrong, but the jamon is so special.


How is the planning going for your Spanish show Revolution On Ice?

It’s going well. It’s a lot work. We only had three cities, now we have five cities. It’s something new that we’re doing in Spain. We just want to make a figure skating show that is going to build the sport. Like, you go to see a circus and you know you’re going to see a show. That’s what we’re trying to build in Spain. And yes, it is a lot of work, but I think it’s going to be a good success, just because we did it and we saw the reaction from the people and we want to keep building, making it better and bigger.

The show is going to have traditional Spanish elements, like flamenco, in there. How do you make that decision to include that kind of Spanish element? Does it come very naturally to you?

It is not something that you’re born knowing (how) to do it, you really need to work. It’s a dance, at the end of the day, flamenco is one of our dances. (The show) will have live music, it’s going to have a little bit of flamenco. We also have a project to come to Japan and do maybe like a flamenco show, also, but that would be in the future. But it’s going to be mainly just bring the top skaters in the world, with really good live singers and just try to create something that nobody has seen, even in the figure skating world. We want to come up with something where they’re like ‘I want to go to Revolution on Ice because in this show I can see something that I cannot see in other shows.’ So that’s why it’s a lot of work.

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Did you always want to incorporate flamenco into your style?

It is a good style, I’ve got to say. People really like it, I like it. But I’m also the kind of a skater that likes to change my style and show that I can do more than one thing. That’s why every year, even in the competition, I show a different kind of skating, a different kind of program, a different kind of music. So even if I do something flamenco, I like to do something later that (will) probably be totally different.


You’ve achieved so much over your career. Looking back, when you do eventually retire, maybe later this season, what will be for you the proudest moment out of everything you’ve done?

When I was a kid I was never the kind of person that thought about being the greatest skater, or being one of the top skaters in the world. I never thought about that, until I was maybe almost like 19, 20. That will be the thing I will be more proud of and I did have hard times, because I’ve been away from home since I was 17 and of course my parents were not there, my people were not there. Sometimes it was tough. So getting through all the experience and arriving that far, I think that will be the most proud thing I will be of myself.

And is there a medal for you that holds particular weight, that when you won that medal it was really important for you?

PyeongChang - that was my third Olympics. I was fourth in Sochi and I knew PyeongChang was probably going to be my last Olympics. So it was my last chance to get a medal. I did train to be Olympic champion but every competition is different. I won the bronze but I went for a medal. I didn’t go for gold, or silver or bronze but I wanted a medal because I knew it was going to be my last chance. And I did. So I was really proud, really proud.

Javier Fernandez on podium after winning medal

Is there anything, looking back on your career, that you would have done differently?

I don’t have so many regrets in my career. I think everything I’ve done is because I wanted to do it. I work hard for everything I’ve done. I’ve (achieved a lot) because I’ve had great people around me and I’ve put a lot of effort into skating. I don’t think I’d change anything.

Javier Fernandez was this week’s big interview on the Olympic Channel Podcast. Each Wednesday we reach into the mind of someone Olympic. We want you to think like an Olympian.

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The interview and questions were shortened to make them easier to read. Olympic Channel producer Rachel Griffiths conducted the interview.