Even while his world is changing all around him, swallowing him, passing him by perhaps, Javier Fernandez is stepping out this year with an I-am-who-I-am elegance.
And it’s refreshing.
He’s not the same skater he was when he showed up on Brian Orser’s doorstep six years ago as a laid-back Spaniard with loads of charm. That’s when he was a quad guy, so innately gifted that his jump prowess prompted Yuzuru Hanyu to come to Canada to skate with Orser, too. Hanyu wanted to learn from Fernandez. At the time Hanyu had one quad. He has learned, in spades.
But in the meantime, Fernandez has became much, much more than a jumper, drafted into the stroking-footwork-skating programs of Orser and co-host Tracy Wilson, whose ice dancing skills have transformed many a skater into well, a real skater. Watch Javi’s footwork. It’s a treat.
“I think this season is going to change a lot figure skating,” he said, after finishing second to Yuzuru Hanyu with a big score of 101.20, still about 11 ½ points behind the Japanese star.
If left to current devices, Fernandez sees skaters of the future loading up their programs with quads galore, but what else? He thinks things need to be reined in a bit.
“A lot of things are going to be fixed,” he said optimistically. “A lot of things are going to change. I think the younger boys are pushing into a different way, and something is going to go after this year.”
Of course, he’s speaking about a push to limit the points allotted to quads at the International Skating Union congress that takes place after an Olympic season in the wake of young skaters like Nathan Chen, Boyang Jin, Hanyu, Shoma Uno and Vincent Zhou loading up with four-rotation jumps.
“I think if skating doesn’t stop the quads, it’s going to be everything quads,” Fernandez said. “And what about the person who do only one quad and have the best skating in the world? He’s not going to have a chance… So my point is, if we don’t stop the quantity of quads that we do in the free program, then we are going to lose a lot of figure skating. “
He’d rather a world championship become a battle of who is the best all-around skater, the best spinner, the best footwork artist, rather than “the person that does seven quads.”
He does not know if the change he’d like to see will happen. “We will see,” he said.
Yes, Fernandez has not only worked on footwork, but he’s also paid special attention to spins. And you could see the improvement in his short program to Charlie Chaplin.
Fernandez said he’d had the same spins for the past three years, but he wanted a change. If everybody has the same spins, your spins won’t be a wow, he reasons. The answer: different spin positions. He felt it important to update his spins in a season that means a lot to him.
He doesn’t know if he’s going to continue competing after this Olympic season. He said he wants to show people his best skate, in case it’s his last.
So the spin positions, thanks to help from Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club spin coach, Paige Astrop, (Brian Orser calls her the spin doctor), he’s found spin positions that match the music. That’s a rare treat, actually. He’ll do a spin that looks like a bird with a broken wing. He’ll do a spin that jumps a bit for joy.
It’s all possible because although Fernandez has done a Charlie Chaplan program before, this short program version is very different and far more sophisticated than the usual fare with mustache and cane and turned out shoes.
.”It’s not easy to find positions that fit the program 100 per cent,” he said. “And also something that not everybody is using. But we actually did find some and they don’t bother the spin much.”
The Charlie Chaplin that Fernandez did in the past suited his personality: charming, happy, romantic. “He was always in love,” Fernandez said.
“This one is in the beginning more dramatic. It’s like, what is going on? This is not Charlie Chaplin! This is a different idea of Charlie. That’s what we were looking for. It has a little Charlie touch. We wanted to give Charlie Chaplin a second chance. “
His free program is to “Man of La Mancha,” ending with “The Impossible Dream.” It almost sounds like a farewell and it’s magnificent. It’s perhaps the story of his life.
Fernandez’s effort in the short program also left Orser speechless. Fernandez isn’t used to competing this early in the season, and he’s still looking for the pacing and rhythm of his routines. It’s easy at home. Not so easy at a competition. “It was his first pancake,” Orser said.
Fernandez told Wilson he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to smile. Said the sage Wilson: “You can never lose, Javi, by smiling.”
His marks were remarkable, Orser said. He did only a quad-double, when he intends quad-triple. He got all level fours. Although Fernandez was about 10 points behind Hanyu in technical bits, he was close on his heels in components: only two points back at 46.55.
And choreographing elements like spins? “You don’t see that very often,” Orser said. “You don’t see a lot of creativity. Yuzu is extremely creative and Javi’s going that way. When we get to the stage where we’re starting to choreograph spins, we’re in a good place, rather than just teaching them to count [rotations].”
Should Fernandez step aside after this year, it will leave a very large empty space. He’s a beloved two-time world champion. And he’s revolutionized skating in Spain. He has rained on a dry spot. And he’s done it with charm and integrity.