Fernández' path to success unlikely as they come

Javier Fernandez (third from right) with (l. to r.) his parents, sister, girlfriend Miki Ando's daughter, Himawari, and Ando last summer on a Spanish beach.  (Courtesy Javier Fernandez via Instagram)

Javier Fernandez (third from right) with (l. to r.) his parents, sister, girlfriend Miki Ando's daughter, Himawari, and Ando last summer on a Spanish beach.  (Courtesy Javier Fernandez via Instagram)

There are many unlikely and compelling scenes, both professional and personal, in the script that recounts how Javier Fernández got to the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships in Boston this week as the defending men's champion.

It's a screenplay just waiting to be made into a biopic.

Start with how he was discovered, convinced to move to the United States and helped financially by a leading international coach, Nikoli Morozov, despite Fernández' thoroughly unimpressive skating when Morozov saw him at a summer camp in Andorra.

Continue with how he was admittedly not the hardest-working guy in the rink most of the time.

Have him become the first Spanish man in 54 years to compete in the Olympic Winter Games two years after coming to North America.

Then make him bounce around as Morozov moved his training group from New Jersey to Russia to Latvia until the instability caused so much stress for Fernández that it led him to Toronto and Brian Orser in the summer of 2011.

Get him into a settled situation at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club and watch Orser prod Fernández into adopting the work ethic that has helped make him the first Spanish skater to win a European title (he has since added three more) and the first to win not only a world medal but, two years later, the world title.

For a little soap operatic touch, put him in a long-distance romance with a two-time world champion from Japan, Miki Ando, who previously was in a relationship with Morozov. Have Fernández introduce Ando in the gala at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona last December (when he won the silver medal) before she surprised him by skating an exhibition routine and then have them skate as a pair in a Madrid Christmas gala last December. Bring Ando to Boston to cheer on her boyfriend in a men's event that begins with the short program Wednesday night.

Make Fernández' two main rivals at worlds a Japanese, 2014 Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who trains with him at the Toronto Cricket Club; and a Canadian, three-time world champion Patrick Chan, who trains in suburban Detroit.

Flesh out the story with an older sister, Laura, 27, a Spanish champion who twice skated at worlds; a Navy officer father, Antonio, who worked extra jobs to pay for his kids' skating; a mother, Enriqueta, who is a mail carrier; and a 5-year-old cat, Effi, who lives with Javi in an apartment near the Cricket Club. Oh, yes, Fernández is allergic to cats.

Finally, make him a thoroughly unpretentious 24-year-old who often walks or bikes up a steep half-mile hill to the rink, spends summer vacations with his family in tents at a campsite near a beach on Spain's Almeria coast and still can go unrecognized in his hometown, Madrid.

"At first, it was like, 'We have a figure skater? On ice? In Spain?'" Fernández said.

When he beat Hanyu for the world title last March in China, one of his soccer-mad country's sports dailies, Marca, put him on the front page.

"To steal that page from soccer…," Fernández said, shaking his head while vainly searching for words to explain just how big a deal that was.

That may be the unlikeliest scene in this story, which began when the 6-year-old Javi followed his sister -- now studying to be a pediatric nurse -- to a Madrid rink. He, too, fell in love with a sport hard to find in a country that had just 14 indoor rinks and 600 registered figure skaters among a population of nearly 47 million when Fernández won his first of four straight European titles in 2013.

"I never thought I would be up at that level," Fernández said. "If you told me I would be world champion one day, I would have thought, `You are screwed up.'"

Five years earlier, after Fernández finished 35th and 30th in his first two appearances at the world championships, he went to the fateful camp where Morozov was a guest instructor.

"I can see you have a big talent, but you are not using it and are not motivated," Fernández recalled Morozov telling him. "'If you want to come to New Jersey and train with my team," the coach continued, "you have to do it in 10 days.'''

Fernández, then 17, answered yes before asking his parents, who supported his decision despite knowing they would struggle to afford it. The Spanish Ice Sports Federation could offer little financial help, so Morozov, who coached Shizuka Arakawa to the 2006 Olympic gold, filled in the gaps.

"He took a risk to say, 'Come to me,''' Fernández said. "He paid for costumes and didn't charge me for training at first."

When Fernández arrived in Hackensack, New Jersey, late in the summer of 2008, Morozov was coaching Ando as well as soon-to-be Japanese men's champion Nobunari Oda and then reigning world junior champion Adam Rippon of the United States.

After 18 months, the group became nomads, living in dorms and hotels while training in Russia and Latvia. That existence got old for Fernández by the summer of 2011, so the Spanish federation helped arrange his visit to the Cricket Club for a summer session with its coaches, including Orser.

Fernández immediately liked what he saw. The coaches weren't as sure.

"When Javi first came, he wasn't an athlete, just a talented boy with no discipline, like a pleasure skater," said David Wilson, who has become Fernández' primary choreographer.

Said Orser: "It was a battle at the beginning."

Fernández was used to the Russian philosophy of rarely doing full run-throughs of programs in practice. That approach was reinforced when he won his first Grand Prix Series medals after just a few months of working with Orser. Less encouraging results at the 2012 Europeans and worlds helped convince him otherwise.

"That's when I had to dig in my heels and train him harder," Orser said. "He was lazy. He is not lazy anymore."

Fernández said he now does more full run-throughs in a week of practice than he did in an entire season with Morozov. His newfound commitment began to pay off the next season, when his mastery of quadruple jumps propelled him to the historic European title and a landmark world bronze medal.

In 2014, he won another world bronze after a fourth-place finish at the Olympics, where he missed a medal by barely one point. In 2015, he upset Hanyu for the world title.

This season, as Hanyu delivered what NBC skating analyst Johnny Weir called "otherworldly" performances to win the Grand Prix Final, Fernández did the best free skate of his career but finished a distant second.

That result has led Fernández to increase his technical value for worlds, with a second quadruple jump in the short program and a second triple axel in the free skate. Even if he nails those jumps, Fernández likely cannot outscore an error-free Hanyu.

"It's different to be world champion than to feel like you need to be world champion," Fernández said.

"We both have pressure. I'm sure he is thinking, 'I can't let the Spanish guy beat me again.' And I know it's going to be hard.''

Although he can be a show-stopping performer, as reflected in this year's free skate to Guys and Dolls, Fernández realizes he trails Hanyu in some of the other areas that factor into figure skating's five categories of program component scores.

"I know I have improved a lot, but I also can see my weaknesses, which are some of the skating skills and the presentation," he said.

Fernández insists the rivalry with Hanyu has not complicated their relationship, which does not extend beyond the practice rink in Toronto. It helps that Hanyu, a megastar athlete in Japan, spends a few months each winter training at home.

And maybe it also helps that Fernández is managing another relationship with a renowned Japanese skater, 2007 and 2011 world champion Ando, that was complicated from the beginning.

Fernández first was intimidated by her.

"She was Miki Ando, and I was nobody," he said.

Then there was the matter of her off-ice relationship with Morozov, who is 12 years older than Ando. No sparks flew between Ando, now 28, and Fernández until three years after both had split with the Russian coach.

In that time, Ando gave birth to a daughter, Himawari, who will be 3 next month. Ando, who retired from competition in 2014, has chosen not to reveal the father's identity.

Fernández announced on Instagram that he and Ando were in a relationship soon after he competed in the Japan Open in October 2014. Since then, they have been able to see each other for an aggregate of only 3-4 months of the year. Some of that time is when they perform in shows together.

"I always thought she was cute," Fernández said, "but I never said anything to her. I can't even explain how the relationship began. It just happened one day."

They communicate daily, mainly via voice messages because of the time difference between Toronto and Ando's home in Yokohama. Since both have only rudimentary knowledge of each other's native tongue, English has become their common language.

Fernández provides Ando with financial support for Himawari.

"We're in a relationship, and if I want it to go farther, I have to be responsible," he said. "A child is expensive.

"She says, 'Oh no, it's (the child) not yours,' but I like to do it. So I say, 'Can you please take it? This is just for Hima, use it if you need to buy her clothes.' But she does not like to take the money. She does not.''

His Instagram feed includes a 2016 New Year's card with a picture of him, Miki and Hima, and a beach photo of the three of them from last summer that also includes his parents and sister.

"We want to take this step by step," he said of the relationship with Ando.

The final step in his competitive skating career could be the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, unless Fernández lobbies successfully to bring the 2019 European or world championships to Spain. Hosting either would be both a first for the country and a fitting final scene for the unlikely story of Javier Fernández, who has turned a seemingly quixotic quest for a Spaniard into a tale impossible dreams are made of.

(This article originally appeared on icenetwork.)