Candid van der Perren gets nostalgic in last skate

Beloved Belgian reveals all as competitive career concludes

Belgian Kevin van der Perren saved two quads and eight triples for his final showing.
Belgian Kevin van der Perren saved two quads and eight triples for his final showing. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(04/02/2012) - Kevin van der Perren, from Belgium, ended his world eligible career in the same city where he started it: in Nice.

The veteran skater (he is now 30) has been known for his joyful character and limitless generosity on the ice. Before his last bow in a world championship, van der Perren gave what may be his best performance ever, with two quads, a triple Axel and seven other triples -- three of which in combination (he is the only one in the world to do such a feat) in a nearly faultless performance.

Prior to leaving Nice, van der Perren agreed -- in his own unconventional and frank way -- to speak of these 12 packed past years and of his plans for the future with You've had a fantastic last free program here!

Van der Perren: It's exactly what I've always wanted to finish my career with. It's my personal best. It was not easy because it's so hot in here. After the first step sequence, I just felt I was burnt out already; my legs were burning, and I thought to myself: "Whoa ... I still have 2:40 minutes to go!"

My initial plan was to leave the scene at the Europeans in Sheffield, but I broke my wrist, so we decided that I would do worlds. I preferred to end my career at a European championship, because I could get a better result than at worlds, obviously (he finished 15th here).

It's been very difficult these last months with all these injuries. Oh well, I am 30 years old! So, you did participate in the world championships here in Nice 12 years ago? You do not appear in the final rankings, however.

Van der Perren: No, because I did not qualify for the final free! We all had to go through qualifications at that time. It was really my first year on the international scene, and I could barely land a triple jump. I ended up 31st. In fact, I was not ready to come, but Belgium had no one else to present but me. Do you have good memories from that week?

Van der Perren: Oh yes, it was great! I was 18 years old, and I was so happy to see Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko live! That's all I remember, really. What has changed since?

Van der Perren: Everything has changed. Skating! My life! At that time, I was practicing skating only twice a week, and mostly for fun. I had come to skating after a Disney on Ice show. I was a great fan of Disney's. At that time, I was more involved into swimming. But after Nice I decided to focus on skating and forget about swimming. What has changed in skating these last 12 years?

Van der Perren: These last years, you really can tell which skater was raised with the old system and who has really started with the IJS (International Judging System). It is really difficult for the former to compete with the latter, really. We [the older generation] learned jumps, whereas they [the younger generation] learned jumps with transitions. We learned spins, they learned spins with positions, etc. They have been trained that way; we have not. How did you absorb components then?

Van der Perren: I never did! Not that I did not want or understand, but I simply was not capable! I can do jumps without components, or I can do components without the jumps, but I cannot do both at the same time.

You know, my first skating lesson was to learn a waltz jump, not a step! I never had strong bases to skate. I knew how to land a triple Axel before I even was aware of what a rocker and a counter were! That is just deadly to the best skater. Brian Joubert arrived one year after you, but he has the same problem.

Van der Perren: I love Brian's style, really. Today, there is so much attention given to components. The best skater can miss his jumps, he still gets high components. The athletic aspect of the sport has decreased significantly. This was especially true just a few years ago in the ladies competition. One girl could win with only three triples. It was unbelievable!

Actually, I am glad I do not pay to see a skating event, because I would not come otherwise. What I love in skating is jumps and combinations.

You know, I train in an ice rink in the middle of nowhere, in Belgium, in a place named Liedekerke. Jenna [McCorkell] (his wife) and I have the best conditions there, as we can have the ice four hours a day just for the two of us. This is just incredible! But at the same time, the ice is 27 cm (more than 10 inches) higher in the middle than by the boards. That's why I can't spin! If you start your combination spin in the middle of the ice, you're sure to end it in the boards! (He laughs again.) What else have you seen change in 12 years?

Van der Perren: Prize money! I won two European bronze medals in 2007 and 2009. The prize money decreased by a factor of two in two years. That I noticed (he smiles). Yet the popularity of skating seems to be back upward. It should be better in another two to three years. The decrease in popularity might well be linked to the IJS, actually. People do not know what is happening anymore. Who knows what a Level 4 spin is? Scores are displayed -- and so what? It was obviously much more explicit, and interesting, with the 6.0 system.

Also, a major change has been the arrival of Asian skaters. When we started, we were making fun of them. At the 2003 worlds in Washington D.C., no Japanese skater could jump triples -- besides [Takeshi] Honda. Each time we saw a Japanese competitor, we were confident that we would beat him. Well ... that has changed tremendously! It's the same with the Russians today. They have disappeared, but they are coming back strong. Look at their juniors; they are just incredible! So, would you do it over if you had to?

Van der Perren: Oh no! [He shakes his head in his hands.) Had I known how much I would have had to learn and gone through, I would have stayed in swimming! Now, fortunately, I have learned, so it's OK ... At least figure skating gave you your wife ...

Van der Perren: Oh yes. But you know, skating is so special. I had many girlfriends before, but it was just impossible to stay with them. You have to belong to the skating world to just understand it. It's not just about training and competing; it's also the way you dress, the way you talk (especially with judges), the way you need to be "respectable," as we would say. Skating is a bit of a soap opera, you know ... We should make a reality soap in skating. It would be an instant success on TV! Except it would just be the truth! (He laughs.) Television shows only what can be shown, and nobody sees what comes before or after. What are your plans for the future?

Van der Perren: I am now a full-time coach at home in Belgium. But also, we are starting our own skating show with Jenna (who finished 14th in the ladies event in Nice). We will try to launch it in Belgium and the Netherlands. The concept of the show will be a little different. I do not want a succession of stars (who are too expensive anyway, and whom many people do not know). It will be more of a real show with scenery and costumes, something that can appeal to people.

Also, I will keep practicing every day because I love skating so much. I have just had enough of competitions. How will you coach your pupils then?

Van der Perren: Obviously, I will coach them in the new system. It will be completely different from the way my own coaches did educate me. But it's mandatory now; otherwise, my skaters will have no chance.

I made the choice of jumping, rather than working on components, simply because jumps were the reasons why I came to skating. A practice session, for me, is doing quads, triples and combinations, not 10 minutes worth of steps. It has not been easy for my coach, I am sure. She needed quite some patience with me.