By Hiro Yoshida
At the age of 27, Spanish figure skater Felipe Montoya has secured his dream of competing at this month’s PyeongChang Olympic Games. With just a few days left until his debut at a global event, he is ready to show the world his very best.
The odds were against Montoya making it to the Olympics. Last season he ranked third domestically behind Javier Fernández and Javier Raya, both of whom were selected for the 2017 European and World Championships. While two-time World champion Fernández was always certain of being on the Olympic team, the battle for the second spot behind would be intense between Montoya and Raya.
In July 2017, the Federación Española Deportes de Hielo (FEDH) announced that the skater with the highest combined score at the 2017 Golden Spin of Zagreb in Croatia and the 2017 Spanish National Figure Skating Championships in Jaca would earn the right to join Fernández in South Korea. Montoya focused his preparations accordingly.
“For the first part of the season, these two competitions were the most important to be in top condition,” he said. “I did this with a lot of vision and it was nice to be able to work for this.”
Montoya’s first competition of the season was the Open d’Andorra in November 2017 which he comfortably won. A mere two weeks he travelled to Croatia for the first of his two showdowns with Raya. In the short programme, he took a five-point lead over his compatriot with a score of 65.70, two points shy of his personal best. The difference was even more stark in the free skating with Montoya posting a personal best of 127.39. This gave him a personal best total score of 193.09 and a cushion of just over 26 points on Raya.
At the Spanish Championships a week later, Montoya fluffed a triple Lutz and fell on a double Axel in his short to cede an 11-point lead to Raya. However, he rallied in the free and beat Raya by just over eight points in that segment. Despite finishing third overall, he only lost three points of his advantage from Golden Spin and booked his place for PyeongChang. It was an emotional moment for Montoya when he realised his dreams had come true.
“I was in shock,” he said. “It was crazy. I didn’t believe that I was on the Olympic team and I cried so much. I just wanted to hug my mum.
“It was the only chance I had to qualify for the Olympics and it came true.”
Montoya was also picked for the 2018 European Championships in Moscow, Russia last month. In the short, he had a tight landing on a triple Lutz and could only salvage a double toe loop to put in combination with it. He was just about able to manage to qualify for the free with a score of 61.23 for 22nd place. He struggled with some of his jumps in the free but was able to move up with his score of 120.49 which put him in 20th place overall with a total of 181.72. This was Montoya’s first major event since the 2016 European Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia and he used it as a dress rehearsal for the Olympics.
“I didn’t remember this feeling to be in this kind of ice rink in a big stadium,” he said. “This is a kind of preparation for the Olympics.
“The work is almost already done. I don’t have to do anything, but practices. I will look at some details and work on my concentration. After nationals we wanted to rest, but we couldn’t.”
Montoya has one new and one old programme this season. For his short, he is skating to “Cold Song” arranged by Rafa Alegre. It was choreographed by his coach Ivan Saez who also suggested Montoya perform the routine in a striking white costume. It is an unusual choice in the sea of dark colours of the men’s event.
“To go with the white costume was my coach’s idea,” Montoya explained. “He’s very creative and he’s always trying to find a way to make a difference between other skaters. He’s an artist.”
He has returned to a previous programme that he skated to two seasons ago. “La Cumparsita”, a tango, is what he feels is the essence of his skating.
“I skated to it two years ago,” Montoya said. “I’m so happy too because, considering all my free programmes, this was my favourite. It speaks to a lot of things with which I identify, a little bit of me.”
He has watched his fellow countryman Fernández, who is one year younger, climb to the top of the sport and help popularise the sport in Spain. They have known each other since their early days of skating and Montoya has been most impressed with how Fernández has developed mentally.
“When we were kids, he was the kind of guy who was always moving, never stopped, and was very active,” Montoya said. “Sometimes he was a little bit crazy. He changed and took a lot of responsibility. He is another person now.”
Although Montoya has competed alongside Fernández at Europeans and soon the Olympics, his next goal is to make it to the World Championships before he retires from skating. While he has achieved the minimum technical score for the free, during this and last season the score for the short has eluded him.
“I have a chance at the Olympics and after it,” he said. “Javier Fernández and Javier Raya are going to Worlds, but I will be prepared in case anyone will not be able to go.
“One of my goals is to be in a World Championships, so if not this year probably I will work for that for next season.”
Unfortunately, his family will not be able to watch him live in South Korea due to the distance and cost involved, but he is looking forward to soaking up the Olympic atmosphere.
“The most exciting thing about the Olympics is to skate in the rink, in the arena, with the spirit of the Olympics and feel that I am on the best stage that any skater wants to be. I am so proud to be able to step on this ice.”