Then interest in Plushenko is not surprising given his big personality and even bigger list of accomplishments. After winning the Russian nationals this season, the Russian Federation had to petition the ISU for special permission to allow him to compete at the European championships, as he didn't have the prerequisite minimum score achieved in an international competition during the current or most recent season. Understandably, the ISU granted him an exception.
What this tells me is that the skating world is eager for stars.
Look no further than Toronto, the training location of two-time Spanish men's champion Javier Fernandez.
Fernandez has been on the scene and slowly making a name for himself for the past couple of years, and I, for one, have had my eye on him.
His rise took on meteoric proportions in the fall of 2011, when he won the short program decisively ahead of defending world champion Patrick Chan at the Skate Canada ISU Grand Prix event. He took the silver medal (the first of two in his Grand Prix events this season) marking the first time that a Spaniard had ever won a medal at an ISU Grand Prix event. He also became the first Spanish man to qualify for the ISU Grand Prix Final, where he took the bronze medal.
This is a lot to take in for Fernandez, who moved to Canada to train under coach Brian Orser in the spring of 2011. Orser knows a thing or two about quality skating, and he defines a quality skater as "someone who makes an impact. It's not only the colour of the medal, it's somebody who has taken the sport in their own direction. People like Janet Lynn and Katarina Witt [and] Lynn Nightingale, all of them made an impact in their own way."
Style to burn
Fernandez is the real deal as far as I'm concerned. He has style and personality to burn, as well as the necessary technical ability, including two different quads, that puts him front and centre on the elite figure skating men's landscape.
This wasn't always the case. Fernandez's results were not what he hoped for in the 2010-11 season, when he finished ninth at the European championships and watched his former coach Nikolai Morozov's other prized male skater, Florent Amodio of France, win the event. Those results prompted Fernandez to consider a change. In considering the different options, he came back to the idea of Orser in Toronto, where Fernandez had trained in the summer of 2010.
I spoke to Fernandez in mid-January at his training base at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, where he held court on several different topics. Pj: What made you move to Toronto and Brian Orser? JV: After Europeans in 2011, Nikolai [Morozov] told me he decided to work more with Florent [Amodio] and Miki [Ando]. I understood he wanted to do that and I agreed with it. So I decided before worlds to try and find a new coach. I was (in Toronto) in the summer of 2010, so I came and tried for the summer again and stayed. Pj: You have many passionate and devoted fans. How does that influence you? JV: I am very happy for that. I try to have a lot of contact with my fans. In Russia and Quebec City, I tried to have meetings with people and to spend some time and say hello. At the end of the day, they are the ones who pay for the tickets. I am a normal person at home so I don't always think about this so I try to make sure that I have time for the fans. Pj: What is the hardest thing for you about not being at home in Madrid? JV: Sometimes it's hard. Your friends, your family, your mom's food is all there and that's the things I miss the most. Pj: What is your strength as a skater? JV: I'm a good jumper; I know that if I have to say one thing. I would like to be able to control my nerves more in competition. Pj: Tell me your biggest challenge heading into Europeans and worlds. JV: For Europeans, I would like to do my best. I would like to do the best programs that I can. I want to be happy with my programs. If I am 10th but do good programs that would be good. I want of course to be on the podium but skating my best programs is better. Pj: How do you size up your biggest competition? JV: "It's funny, I used to watch Plushenko when I was younger and I will be sharing the ice with him at Europeans and will be fighting him for my place. I will be trying to do my best without thinking of anybody, although I know that Plushenko is still a very important skater. Pj: What does Brian Orser bring to you in his coaching?
JV: I think it's a little of everyone; Tracy [Wilson], David [Wilson[ and Brian. I think this team has helped me a lot. In the last five or six months since I have been here, it's been components and spins and beautiful programs. Pj: People say that you remind them of Brian in your skating. How do you respond to this? JV: I don't want people to think that they tried to teach me the way he [Brian] used to be. When Brian and David skate, I follow them. Maybe it's because Brian and I have the same choreographer with David that it looks that way. I believe that everyone has their own personality. I do. Brian does. So does everybody else.
Pj: Can you finish this sentence for me? Skating is...
JV: I can say skating is a sport of emotions. For me it 's a sport where one day you can cry, then the next day it is the happiest day of your life and then the next day it is something else. Some days you can do 40 quads in a row and the next day nothing. You don't always know why. It is amazing.
For more from Javier Fernandez, I asked him to answer another few questions on video:
PJ KwongPJ is a self-proclaimed Word Broker who goes by the motto: I read them. I write them. I speak them. A degree from the University of Toronto studying Modern Languages has been put to good use as a bilingual PA announcer for, among other things, the last 5 Olympic Games, the FIFA U-20 2007 Men's World Cup and numerous international figure skating events since 1993.
Working as a figure skating coach for the last 25+ years led to commentating opportunities from CTV/TSN, ABC, Tokyo Broadcasting, CBC, Fuji TV, Seoul Broadcasting and CCTV among others. CBC has been home to Pj's skating voice, writing and commentary opinions since 2007. She would tell you that although working in skating is where her passion lies; she is the voice of lots of commercial projects, a blogger on her own site, a public speaker and with "Taking The Ice: Success Stories from the World of Canadian Figure Skating" a published author. You want opinions? She's got them. Follow her on Twitter to see.