Ice Network

Practice, competition interchangeable for Fernández

Spanish skater speaks about challenge of being defending world champion
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Javier Fernández is trying to win his third career medal at the Grand Prix Final. -Getty Images

Spain's Javier Fernández stands in second place heading into the free skate at the 2015 Grand Prix Final. He graciously agreed to talk to icenetwork about the way he is handling the competition this year, one year after the first major skating event was ever held in his country -- last season's Grand Prix Final.

Icenetwork: At the press conference after your short program, you said that the most important thing was that the audience was happy. You did not even comment on your performance!

Fernández: I couldn't be mad at myself! (Fernández tumbled several times during his short program.) Everyone was happy with my performance. You know, we have to give people a show. It's good when people enjoy a competition.

Icenetwork: You mean you can feel when people enjoy a competition? They are clapping, anyway!

Fernández: You know, there are different ways of clapping. There are different ways of clapping in sync with your music. Sometimes they will clap after a jump. We feel it when the audience is into it, how it supports every skater.

Icenetwork: Do you think every skater can feel the same?

Fernández: Oh no, we're all different. Some will need more power and extra adrenaline, which they will take from the crowd to get the energy they need. For years, I thought that if the audience was not supporting me, I would not even be able to finish my program. Now, I've done so many run-throughs that I know I can, whatever the support I get.

Icenetwork: You elected to skate your free program to Frank Sinatra's Guys and Dolls this year. How did you pick that music?

Fernández: David Wilson, my choreographer, had the idea. He listened to the music, and he liked it. Then we watched the movie. It was fun to watch, an old movie, with so many guys dancing and singing and playing dice and betting money. … We thought it was a great idea for a program.

Icenetwork: Do you have a specific story you want to convey with the program?

Fernández: In this program, I'm just a guy you'd see in the movie, shaking and throwing dice, just a normal guy…I suppose I like betting! (laughs)

Icenetwork: Last year you said that you felt overwhelmed by your environment (at the Grand Prix Final). Between the music and the environment provided by the audience, how do you cope with that?

Fernández: We're used to working with our music every day. We get comfortable with it. But when you change environments, everything changes at once. Each single competition is different. So everything changes all the time. People will support you here more than there, or in a different way. The level of energy you will get from the crowd will not be the same. Your own nervousness will be different, too. Emotions change at every competition.

It's hard! We need the energy of the crowd, but it can play against us. We love it when people applaud. But you can be overwhelmed by their energy. We need to (maintain) balance all the time. I try to keep myself as calm as I can. I try to transfer my practice level into the competition. But it's not easy, as in competition you're more nervous; there is more power and adrenaline!

Icenetwork: At what point in the program can you feel that?

Fernández: When the music starts, the program goes automatic. I know what comes next, but I don't pay attention. When everything goes well, that's when I start to enjoy the program -- I can look at the judges and the audience. But at the start of the program, I need to be secured.

Icenetwork: Yet you have jumps spread out in your program.

Fernández: Yes! Let's say that after my first three jumps, I can feel how my body is. I can see if I feel good or not. If it's going well, I can focus more on skating, interpretation or other aspects.

Icenetwork: Did your world gold medal change anything in that respect?

Fernández: Winning a world championship does not mean that you will win another one! It's a tough sport, and competition is not easy. I knew that this season, after winning a world championship, would not be easy. More people are coming at you; people will see you differently; your life changes a little bit.

But everything will depend on the competition itself. Everyone can have a good or a bad day. The only thing you can assume may be the skaters' consistency. Yuzu [Hanyu], Shoma [Uno] and Patrick [Chan] are really consistent. These guys may have the biggest chance (to defeat me).

Icenetwork: You are consistent, too…

Fernández: Oh yes, I also.

Icenetwork: You even got several 10s for your components!

Fernández: Yes! When I arrived in Canada five years ago, I was in the 7s. Now I am in the 9s, and I have received some 10s (for interpretation and choreography). Maybe that had happened before, but it was more random, I don't remember. This season I have had some in all three competitions. We've worked really hard since I arrived in Toronto.

It's hard also to change the judges' minds on your skating. They see us skate season after season, and they don't see us change. It's just like when you see your friend growing: If you see him every day, you don't see him grow. When you see an earlier picture of him, that's when you notice he has grown!

As a skater, you need to impress the judges and show the changes you've made. It took a while, but we managed.

We do study programs on TV. The thing I can't explain is why the mark for transitions is always lower than the others. There are never any 10s awarded! (He thinks a little.) At least that way we always have room to improve. It's good that the judges don't give 10s for free -- we need to work on it!

Icenetwork: So tonight in your free program, you will try to transfer practice into competition?

Fernández: Exactly. I always say: "The training sessions are the competition, and competitions are the training." Training is a competition with oneself; it's meant to make you feel more secure with yourself and happy with your skating, when you have good run-throughs and good programs.

Competitions are just like lessons. We learn so many different things at a competition. We're humans. We feel different every single day; we may feel tired or with lots of energy. When you feel tired, you can skate a perfect program, and when you feel powerful, you can mess it up. We know the things we need to do, and the things we need not to do. But still, one day I will feel amazing and fall five times, and the next day I'll feel tired and injured, and I'll skate the best program of my life. That's something you can't control. … I do feel confident, however. I know that I am ready, and I can do it.