Ice Network

Fernández: In quad debate, more not always better

Six-time European champ leaves door open to compete beyond this year
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Javier Fernández feels that too much emphasis is placed on quads and not enough on transitions in figure skating today. -Getty Images

Just hours after winning his sixth consecutive European title, Javier Fernández talked to icenetwork about his Olympic preparation and shared his views on the balance between quads and transitions in the evolution of men's figure skating.

Icenetwork: You said you wanted to return to Canada quickly after this event. What makes you so frantic?

Fernández: Brian [Orser] (Fernández' coach)! Brian does. Brian wants me back home as soon as possible. I have to go back to work. We need to put in as many hours of practice as possible -- run-throughs, everything. We're trying to be 100 percent at the Olympics. We still have a few weeks of training to be ready to skate the best program of the season!

Icenetwork: What kind of a work do you think you need to do?

Fernández: I won't change anything more to my programs. I'll just refine and do more programs. Of course, it's the Olympics, but you shouldn't start freaking (out) too early.

There are two ways to make a program more complicated: one is to add difficult jumps; the other, which is my way, is to add complicated transitions in between elements. Both ways are tricky. Both make the job of a skater harder. Adding transitions will make your jumps more difficult.

I once thought I would add a quad loop to my programs. I decided not to. It wouldn't make sense. If I were younger, I would. I land it, but I don't practice it.

Icenetwork: And yet other skaters are coming up with three new quads. How do you feel about that?

Fernández: When I see my results I get at competitions and compare them to theirs, I tell myself that I'm not doing that bad! With a clean program, I know that I can make it. We all want to do that much, but sometimes we miss the point we're trying to make.

I think that the more quads you add, and the more you make your body suffer, the more tired you are. And if you're tired, you also risk more. That's a problem for the younger skaters. By doing more quads all at once, they don't let their bodies acclimate and get into a place where they feel comfortable. If you're not comfortable, you won't be as confident with your programs, at least in the longer term. You can injure yourself more. And in a competition, what you need is to be most confident in your jumps.

That's why I think it's better to go step by step rather than throwing out all the quads at once in just one year. It's not like Yuzu [Hanyu] or I added everything at once. We started by adding a triple axel, then a quad one year later, and a couple of years later another quad. Each time, we waited until our programs were well balanced, with good skating skills and good transitions.

There are skaters who have not even landed a quad in practice: Why would you want to throw out a quad in competition if you haven't landed one in practice?

Look at the ladies right now: Mirai [Nagasu] has a triple axel, but you won't see 20 girls throwing out a triple axel right away. As a result, women's programs are much more consistent at the moment than the men's. We've seen quads before -- Mao [Asada] landed a triple axel, Miki Ando landed a quad salchow -- and we will see more quads as time goes by -- slowly, not all at once.

Icenetwork: Can transitions add to quads or are they exclusive from each other?

Fernández: Another problem with quads is that they need so much preparation on the ice. If you have five quads, you've lost two minutes worth of transitions! And you'll have a hard time getting 10s for transitions if the first two minutes of your program are devoted to quads!

Icenetwork: You are one of the very few skaters in the world whose transitions' mark is comparable to your other component scores -- that is, often the highest of all. Do you work specifically on transitions?

Fernández: We work a lot on steps. Brian and Tracy [Wilson] (one of Fernández' coaches) always come up with interesting ideas. It's funny: Sometimes the transitions we do during our stroking exercises may become a part of the program. That happens mostly in the summer, as we are preparing our programs, but we keep working on them throughout the year.

I actually love transitions. I didn't as much before. When I arrived in Toronto, my coaches taught me what these transitions should be. I was feeling them more and more as I worked on them, and they made me feel quite special, as not so many people do that, you know?

Our choreography will change throughout the year (to include more transitions). Working on a program is just like using a new pair of shoes. At first they hurt, but then walking becomes easier and easier. But when things look too easy, they don't work. You need to find the right balance between skating easy and having everything flow, and making things too complicated. So, each time we add some difficulty to maintain the balance, and we work at [the programs] to make them look smooth. That's how we have the best program at the end of the season!

Icenetwork: At this stage in your career, are transitions and steps your best friends?

Fernández: When you get older, jumps get harder. I have gray hair now! You don't have the same ability (when you are older). (Your) body feels heavier, you know. We feel less agility. We're still young, that's true (Fernández is just 26 years old), but at this level, you can feel the difference.

Shoma Uno can do, like, 20 run-throughs in one session, and still be able to do 10 the next day. Meanwhile, we just will do one, and the next day it's a mess (he laughs). But, you know, I like to do it, nonetheless. I love having to do it once a day. I enjoy my schedule, I enjoy practicing -- and then I need to show it in actual competition!

Icenetwork: Have you adapted your practice sessions?

Fernández: For sure. I do every jump two times during each practice. Two triple axels, two quad toes, etc. Then, if everything is good, I leave the ice. Why do more to just risk more?

Icenetwork: How do you see the Olympics?

Fernández: I may be going to win, I don't know. You never know. Figure skating is quite different from running. You can't control everything. Sometimes you wake up tired and you don't skate the same way. You can work a lot, but that doesn't mean you're going to be good every time. This is a sport of imbalance!

Icenetwork: Do you know when it will be a good day?

Fernández: It is very interesting to see how a little thing can change your day. Even a small interview, or going to the bank in the morning, can change your day. That's why we try to keep 'day to day' really easy, to keep a good feeling day after day.

Balance is everything: in your life, in your practices, in everyday life -- and in skating, of course. That's what Tracy and Brian are really best at. They try to make every day the same, every day well balanced, with no ups and downs and no trouble for any of us. They know there are so many things running in our heads, so they try to keep it simple.

Icenetwork: Will we have a chance to see you skate again next year?

Fernández: Maybe I'll throw in one more competition and go for seven European titles? You never know! Sometimes you wake up and say, "I want to achieve this goal!" Or maybe, after two weeks of vacation, I'll feel so bored that I'll say I need to go back to skating.

Seriously, I'll sit down after the [Olympic] Games, and we'll check. We'll decide. Just like in skating, step by step, right? How many (European) titles did [Karl] Schäfer get? Eight? That's two more (he grins). And [Evgeni] Plushenko? Seven? You never know. ... It will all depend on how my body goes and on how long I feel strong enough. I don't think I'll do one more Olympic cycle, but doing one or two (more) seasons, Grand Prix or Europeans...why not?

(After thinking a little) You know, you always need to be thinking a step ahead. If you put a ceiling above you too quickly, you're blocked, and it's not good!