'Super Javi' prepares for European Championships farewell

Spain's sole Olympic figure skating medallist Javier Fernandez bows out in Minsk at the end of a spectacular career.

Javier Fernandez ends his journey from the Madrid suburbs to the pinnacle of figure skating at this week's European Championships in Minsk.

The 27-year-old is seeking his seventh consecutive European title, having told Olympic Channel in November of his plans to retire two weeks before announcing it to the world on Twitter.

Two world titles and an Olympic bronze medal make him by far Spain's most successful winter sportsperson.

And in an era dominated by skaters from Asia and North America, including his long-time training partner Yuzuru Hanyu, Fernandez has led the way for European men.

Yuzuru Hanyu sends heartfelt message to Javier Fernandez ahead of retirement

Yuzuru Hanyu sends heartfelt message to Javier Fernandez ahead of retirement

Fernandez elected to skip the 2018-19 ISU Grand Prix campaign in order to focus on his Revolution On Ice show in Spain.

But now he's preparing to compete for the final time in his career.

Javier Fernandez performs at the PyeongChang 2018 figure skating gala
Javier Fernandez performs at the PyeongChang 2018 figure skating galaJavier Fernandez performs at the PyeongChang 2018 figure skating gala

Humble beginnings

As a six-year-old, Fernandez tried skating after watching his older sister Laura take lessons in Madrid.

Young Javi had a rebellious side, playing tricks on other skaters and not listening to his instructors.

But when he applied himself, he showed precocious talent particularly with his jumping, landing his first triple when he was 12.

Having flirted with football and tennis, Fernandez followed his sister - a Spanish junior singles champion - to the Jaca Skating School in the Pyrenees some 400 kilometres north east of Madrid.

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#tbt I miss you sister!😢

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With mother Enriqueta accompanying the young Fernandez siblings, father Antonio - an army mechanic - stayed in the Spanish capital to earn money to pay for their living expenses.

But with Javier unhappy at his progress, and hurt by locals in the small town saying "skating is for gays", they returned to Madrid after two years.

After competing at two senior World Championships, Laura considered a switch to ice dancing but then opted to quit skating aged 20 to pursue her studies.

Javier was also contemplating retirement having, like Laura, been to two Worlds without making it past the short program.

Javier Fernandez falls in his short program at the 2007 European Championships in Warsaw
Javier Fernandez falls in his short program at the 2007 European Championships in WarsawJavier Fernandez falls in his short program at the 2007 European Championships in Warsaw

Timely discovery

In 2008, and with a hockey career proving tempting, Fernandez went to a skating camp in Andorra.

There he was discovered by Nikolai Morozov, an Olympic ice dancer who coached Shizuka Arakawa to gold at Torino 2006, and world champion Miki Ando.

The Russian offered to train him for free in the United States, and Fernandez, without telling his parents, accepted.

Fernandez recalled his conversation with his parents when talking to El Pais in 2016.

"I told them, 'It’s a dream. I want to try it.' And my father replied, 'You’re not just going to try it, you’re going to make it.'"

While the tuition was free, Fernandez's expenses were far from cheap and Javi received no financial help from the Spanish skating federation.

Father Antonio took on additional work repairing helicopters while his wife Enriqueta started work at a post office.

Despite upheaval and homesickness, Fernandez improved markedly and his 19th at the 2009 World Championships ensured Spain would have a men's singles berth at the Olympics for the first time since 1956.

He was 14th in Vancouver after finishing a credible 10th in the free skate, but a change of scenery would soon see him enter the sport's top ranks.

Javier Fernandez in the free skate on his Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010
Javier Fernandez in the free skate on his Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010Javier Fernandez in the free skate on his Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010

Orser link-up

After the 2010 Games, Fernandez set a new personal best to finish 12th at the World Championships.

In May, Morozov took on French skater Florent Amodio before relocating to Moscow having been approached by the Russian government to help home skaters prepare for Sochi 2014.

Fernandez followed him with Morozov's team also training in Latvia.

But after Amodio won the European Championships in January 2011, where Fernandez finished ninth, things changed.

He later told Hielo Espanol, "Nikolai focused more on him [Amodio] than me and, little by little, things were not as I expected in training."

That June, Fernandez announced he was joining Brian Orser, who had guided Yuna Kim to Olympic gold, in Toronto, Canada.

The switch brought immediate results.

Javier Fernandez and Brian Orser after the free skate at Skate Canada in October 2011
Javier Fernandez and Brian Orser after the free skate at Skate Canada in October 2011Javier Fernandez and Brian Orser after the free skate at Skate Canada in October 2011

He smashed his personal best to take second at Skate Canada in October 2011, compared with fifth place 12 months earlier.

And another runner-up finish at the Rostelecom Cup, behind a certain Yuzuru Hanyu, saw him reach his first ISU Grand Prix Final.

Fernandez had arrived on the world stage, and he edged out Hanyu to take the last spot on the podium in Quebec City.

In front of him were 2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi and reigning world champion Patrick Chan.

2011-12 ISU Grand Prix Final podium (L-R): runner-up Daisuke Takahashi, winner Patrick Chan, third-placed Javier Fernandez
2011-12 ISU Grand Prix Final podium (L-R): runner-up Daisuke Takahashi, winner Patrick Chan, third-placed Javier Fernandez2011-12 ISU Grand Prix Final podium (L-R): runner-up Daisuke Takahashi, winner Patrick Chan, third-placed Javier Fernandez

Hanyu's arrival

Fernandez failed to maintain that form for the rest of the season, finishing sixth at the Europeans before a disappointing free skate dropped him to ninth at the World Championships.

At those Worlds in Nice in March 2012, Hanyu won his first major senior medal as he took bronze behind Chan and Takahashi.

Weeks later, the Japanese youngster joined Orser in Toronto.

Guided by 'dad' Orser, the pair went from strength to strength.

Fernandez won his first European title in 2013 despite only being reunited with his skates the day before competition having lost them at Zagreb Airport.

Javier Fernandez celebrates victory at the 2013 European Championships in Zagreb, Croatia
Javier Fernandez celebrates victory at the 2013 European Championships in Zagreb, CroatiaJavier Fernandez celebrates victory at the 2013 European Championships in Zagreb, Croatia

He also took bronze at the World Championships in London, Ontario, becoming the first Spaniard to win a world figure skating medal.

Hanyu was fourth in Ontario after winning his first Japanese national title. But the 2013-14 season saw him take over at the top.

Fernandez struggled with boot issues early in the campaign, but managed to retain his European title before going to Sochi with genuine Olympic medal hopes.

Sochi setback

Spain had won just two Winter Olympic medals before 2014.

Blanca Fernandez Ochoa took bronze in the women's slalom in 1992, 20 years after big brother Francisco won gold in the men's slalom at Sapporo.

The skating Fernandez carried the flag at the opening ceremony, but a crucial miscalculation cost him a place on the podium.

Lying third after the short program, Fernandez switched from a quad Salchow to a triple during his free skate.

A triple Salchow was also his last jump of the competition and, having already performed it, the second was rated an invalid element scoring him zero points.

That proved decisive as Denis Ten beat him by 1.18 points for bronze with Hanyu taking gold ahead of Chan.

Fernandez bounced back from that disappointment in Saitama, taking his second consecutive world bronze behind the all-conquering Hanyu and Tatsuki Machida.

World champion

Seeing his training partner reach the pinnacle of figure skating spurred Fernandez to greater heights.

An error-strewn short program left him fifth in the 2014-15 Grand Prix Final on home ice in Barcelona, but he bounced back to take second behind Hanyu.

And Fernandez got it right three months later at the World Championships in Shanghai.

Trailing by less than two and a half points after the short program, Fernandez produced his best free skate of the season to become Spain's first figure skating world champion.

2015 World Championships podium (L-R): runner-up Yuzuru Hanyu, winner Javier Fernandez, third-placed Denis Ten
2015 World Championships podium (L-R): runner-up Yuzuru Hanyu, winner Javier Fernandez, third-placed Denis Ten2015 World Championships podium (L-R): runner-up Yuzuru Hanyu, winner Javier Fernandez, third-placed Denis Ten

A year later, Hanyu led his training partner by 12 points after the short program in Boston.

But Fernandez came up with the free skate of his life, 30 points better than Hanyu, to claim back-to-back world titles.

Olympic honour

Fernandez continued to duel with Hanyu for number one status, with Shoma Uno making it a three-way battle.

He led after a personal best short program at the 2017 World Championships in Helsinki, but a fall on a quad Salchow was the first of a number of errors.

Fernandez dropped to fourth overall as Hanyu rose from fifth to first to clinch his second world title.

At the start of the Olympic season, Fernandez beat Hanyu in the Autumn Classic in Montreal.

But he could only manage sixth place in his first Grand Prix assignment, the Cup of China, later revealing he had been suffering with a stomach complaint.

And despite claiming victory in the Internationaux de France over Uno, Fernandez missed out on the Grand Prix Final.

The Spaniard warmed up for PyeongChang by securing his sixth consecutive European title in Moscow.

But he saved his season's best for Korea.

Second place in the short program, behind Hanyu, left him in good shape for a podium finish.

He was then fourth in the free skate - behind Nathan Chen's quad-filled routine and his two Japanese rivals - which was enough for third place and Spain's fourth Winter Olympic medal.

He told Olympic Channel, "I did train to be Olympic champion but every competition is different.

"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."

He and Hanyu's delight at sharing a podium again was momentarily broken when Fernandez said PyeongChang would be his last Games.

While Fernandez is still advised by Orser, he no longer trains at the Toronto Cricket Club.

And the Canadian coach recounted a sweet story of how Hanyu misses his old buddy.

"With Yuzu, we are everything. We are friends, we are teammates, at some point we have to be rivals.""With Yuzu, we are everything. We are friends, we are teammates, at some point we have to be rivals."

Minsk and beyond

Fernandez admitted to Olympic Channel in Madrid last month, "I'd like to have trained a bit more," ahead of the European Championships.

But he will be among the favourites, with Michal Brezina, fourth in December's Grand Prix Final, and Russian national champion Maxim Kovtun expected to be his main challengers.

Later in January, he will announce the schedule for the next Revolution on Ice show at the end of the year with plans afoot to expand the tour from five Spanish cities.

Sources close to Fernandez told Spanish news agency EFE that he intends to take the show to Japan and China, and perhaps Qatar and Mexico, in 2020.

He also intends to continue working with young skaters at his annual summer camps and help increase participation in the sport.

There are now 21 indoor skating rinks in Spain, an increase of 50 percent in the past six years.

That rise in interest and participation is down to one man alone, and 'Super Javi' will continue to be an ambassador for his sport long after his competitive career is over.

Skating world pays tribute to Javier Fernandez ahead of final competition

Skating world pays tribute to Javier Fernandez ahead of final competition

Spanish Winter Olympic medallists

Sapporo 1972

Francisco Fernandez Ochoa, gold, men's slalom

Albertville 1992

Blanca Fernandez Ochoa, bronze, women's slalom

PyeongChang 2018

Regino Hernandez, bronze, men's snowboard cross

Javier Fernandez, bronze, men's singles figure skating

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