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September 24, 2017

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Fernandez feels alien in soccer-mad Spain

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Two-time European champion Javier Fernandez admitted that he sometimes feels like an Eskimo who plays volleyball as he tries to get a look-in in soccer-mad Spain.

Fernandez claimed a second straight continental men's crown in Budapest on Saturday after a slow start to the season to set himself up as one of the contenders for the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month.

"It's like an Eskimo playing volleyball, it doesn't really go with Spain," said the 22-year-old, the first Spaniard to medal at both Europeans, and worlds where he got bronze last year.

Despite the difficultly getting sponsorship, the skater from Madrid has made steady progress after placing just 28th in his first Europeans in 2007 followed but 35th at worlds later that year.

"At that point at worlds I was young and didn't know what I was doing," he said.

"But slowly going up I started believing in myself and before I knew where I was, here I am."

Fernandez trains in Toronto with Canadian coach Brian Orser, but said that despite his success he is not well known in Spain and has problems getting sponsorship.

"It's figure skating, not football!" he said.

"Spain is having a lot of problems with the economy now so it's hard to find a sponsor. It's really expensive to be away. But now we have OHL (construction group) which is really helping us.

"Sometimes it's a little bit hard but it's good to have sports people who get medals to inspire people and get new people coming through and having rinks built."

"Now is a big time for Spanish skating because we have a lot of good skaters."

Performing to the "Peter Gunn" soundtrack, Fernandez had three quadruple jumps, although he stepped out of the quad toeloop and the second quad Salchow.

He nailed a quad Salchow, but under rotated the triple toeloop in this combination jump, including a triple Axel and four more triple jumps in his routine.

Fernandez achieved a season's best of 175.55 points for the free skate and 267.11 overall, far short of world champion Patrick Chan's world record 196.75 and 295.27 at this season's Paris Grand Prix.

He nevertheless took gold ahead of Russian veterans Sergei Voronov, 26, who scored 252.55 overall and Konstantin Menshov, 30, who achieved 237.24.

But Fernandez still believes he has a chance against Canada's Chan and his Japanese rivals — Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida and Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 Vancouver bronze medallist.

"The top 10 or top 15 (can win), skating is like that," he said.

"You can see skaters that did nothing last year, they had a bad season, and this year they're world champion. Skating is up and down."

After his Budapest success he will not be heading back to Spain as he did last year but straight to Toronto and back to the rink.

Orser, who lead South Korea's Kim Yu-Na to the women's Olympic gold in Vancouver, also believes he has a shot at the title in Sochi.

"He had a slow start to this season with the Grands Prix but I knew that this type of performance was in him," former two-time Olympic silver medalist Orser said.

"At the beginning of the season I think he got a bit spooked about the Olympics looming and the expectations being European champion and a world medalist.

"When he started to digest this and train accordingly things have started to fall into place. It's all about peaking and timing. Some people have great nationals, Grands Prix, but don't do well at worlds.

"None of his three quads were prefect, perfect, but we've all seen him do these.

"There are a lot of points there (he can get) — triple lutz, step sequence. Then you have the magical moments when everything goes right and that bridges the gap too.

"On paper it looks like a big stretch (with Chan) but it's not. It's do-able."

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