Golden Skate

Breakthrough for Belgium’s “late bloomer” Jorik Hendrickx

Jorik Hendrickx

Belgium’s Jorik Hendrickx performs his long program at the 2017 European Figure Skating Championships.

Jorik Hendrickx of Belgium has been around for a while, competing at the international level since 2007. Many fans appreciate his skating, and he is an example for how hard work and preseverance can pay off when you come from a small country and don’t have much support.

Finishing fourth at the recent 2017 ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, was Hendrickx’s best result at the event so far.

“I’m extremely happy with both programs,” said the 24-year-old. “For now, it’s the maximum I can do and I feel very appreciated by the judges. They appreciate my style and all the work I put in developing myself as a skater and as an artist. I didn’t loose a bronze medal, but I won a fourth place.”

Hendrickx’s result is the best for a skater from Belgium since Kevin van der Perren’s second European bronze medal in 2009. Van der Perren, who was known for his jumping ability, was the first skater from the small country in Western Europe to win medals at ISU European Championships in 50 years.

“I could never dream of being so close to the podium, even it was still eight or more points,” said Hendrickx. “I never expected this. I did my first triple when I was 16 years old. I assume I’m a late bloomer, so we never know what will happen in the future.”

He knows what he needs to take the next step to challenge for the podium at major events: a quad. Hendrickx didn’t try one at Europeans, but instead went for clean performances with triple Axels (a jump he also mastered later than most of his peers). However, the skater has been working on the quad toe and Salchow in training.

“The quad is something I really want to integrate, but it’s not ready yet,” Hendrickx explained. “To be honest, my triple Axel is not very steady as well. I still have difficulties. The quad toe was not bad during the summer, but once the season started, I focused more on stamina and perfection of the programs.”

Although Hendrickx knows the quad is more or less a “must have” in men’s skating these days, he is not obsessed with it.

“After Sochi 2014, I was way too focused on the quad, nothing was working,” recalled the 2016 Nebelhorn Trophy silver medalist. “I put too much pressure on myself and the fun and love of the sport disappeared. I never want this to happen again. It’s such a shame. If it (the quad) comes, it will come. I will just work hard on it and see how it goes. If I want to compete against the big guys, I need one. I know this.”

Hendrickx is not the only skater in his family. His sister Loena, seven and a half years his junior, debuted for the first time this season at Europeans, placing a respectable seventh. Hendrickx cares a lot for his little sister and supports her where he can. She trains with him under coach Carine Herrygers and he also has coached her at some events in the past. Seeing his sister skating well in Ostrava meant a lot to Hendrickx. Her short program was his highlight at Europeans.

“Not because it was better than the free or than my performances, but I felt so emotional,” he explained. “She was injured last year and we were not sure if she could ever compete again. She has a severe fracture in her spine which kept her off the ice for six months. You never know how skaters come back after a major setback. I’m glad she is healthy and in a great shape. So we had to delay our first Euros together, but it was worth waiting a year.”

However, watching his little sister competing was “nerve-racking,” as Hendrickx admits. “I know how to handle my stress and how I feel at the moment, but you never know what goes on in her head. I know she is focused as well, but a lot of things can happen in a few minutes.”

Figure skating is not a big sport in Belgium. The Figure Skating Federation is small and is not well-funded. While Hendrickx, a 2014 Olympian, gets some financial support, his sister has to pay all her expenses herself and had to cancel some competitions because of that. Her brother mostly pays for her trips. Loena Hendrickx can expect some funding only if she qualifies for an Olympic spot at the upcoming ISU World Figure Skating Championships.

“We have to travel a lot and training is expensive,” Hendrickx pointed out. “My sister never received any support. We have to organise fundraisers and find sponsors, but it’s not enough and we don’t find sponsors. My parents cannot afford this. They always tried the best for me, but it was very hard. So now I feel obligated as a brother to find financial support to make it possible for my sister. We had to pay her flight to Europeans. At all the competitions she did this season, she shared the room with my coach and our parents never come to watch. So our results mean even more to me. We fight to skate.”

“Fighting” also includes overcoming poor training conditions. Since the ice rink in their hometown of Turnhout has been shut down, the siblings train in a temporary rink housed in a former printing plant.

“It is not made to be an Ice rink,” Hendrickx shared. “It’s extremely cold and the quality of the ice is not what it should be. The most important thing is that I didn’t have to change environment, my school, coaches, medical team. I get rest at home between practices. It works, but it’s not the best facility. We always laugh – if we can do it here, we can do it everywhere. Just make the best of it.”

The three-time Belgian champion is popular with fans due to his friendly personality and emotional style. He likes to tell a story on the ice, hence his choice of “Life and Death” for this season’s free skating.

“After ‘Titanic,’ I wanted something more powerful, but still with a story,” Hendrickx explained. “That is how we created the free. It is dramatic and still very emotional.”

The short program was originally a deep house remix, but it was not well received at his first competition Nebelhorn Trophy end of September. The skater then received a lot of phone calls to change it. Hendrickx then came up with a new short to “Broken Vow” which he debuted at Finlandia Tropy.

“I also got a lot of negative comments on ‘Titanic” at first, but I believed in this program, so we kept it,” Hendrickx explained. “It worked after a while, and Josh (Groban’s music) is made for my body and I feel very connected to this music.”

Off the ice, the skater studies sports marketing. Right after Europeans, he started an internship with the distributor of Speedo (swimwear) in Belgium.

“I finished all my school courses and passed all exams,” he said. “This internship is a very important last part of my education. I will do a large research project for the firm. I got accepted by two companies and eventually I chose Speedo, because it was more flexible.”

“I need time to practice as well,” he continued. “If everything goes as planned, I will get my degree of business in July or otherwise in October. It’s going to be a very busy period, but then I can completely focus on skating during the Olympic season.”

While Hendrickx hopes to compete at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeonChang, Korea, he has not yet made plans beyond that.

“We’ll see from there,” he said. “I’m very sensitive to injuries and I have to listen to my body,” he said.

In fact, Hendrickx battled injuries in the past, a groin injury in 2008 and a fractured ankle in 2012.

“2008 changed my vision on skating,” he offered. “Being healthy and working hard to become the best skater I could be. If you don’t do all the triples at age 16, you start thinking if this this the right sport. In 2012, I was very sad. I mastered the triple Axel and then I fractured my ankle. I wasn’t sure to make it to the Olympics.”

These two injuries don’t bother him too much now, but after the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Hendrickx needed to undergo knee surgery and as a result, sat out the post- Olympic season.

“My left knee is still very sensitive. This is also the reason why I cannot overtrain practicing quads,” he explained. “I do a lot of exercises, but figure skating is a very demanding sport for your body. It’s about finding a balance between hard training and what is healthy.”

Hendrickx, who can see himself coaching or in a marketing job after his active career, feels he is still progressing.

“My first Europeans was in 2010 and it feels like yesterday,” he said. “Life goes by so fast. I always feel like catching up. In Belgium, they always compare me to Kevin van der Perren. He always has been my idol and he was and still is a great jumper. But you cannot compare this generation to the generation now. I want to stand out for who I am and what I accomplished, but I feel like I’m in the middle. I can still grow and hopefully I will.”

This pre-Olympic season is not finished yet, however. Hendrickx has set goals for it, but they have nothing to do with results.

“The goal is, honestly to enjoy every single minute. I don’t set results as goals, but more progressive goals. I did two good Grand Prixs and a successful Euros,” he noted.

To prepare for Worlds, the skater plans to compete at the Challenge Cup in The Hague at the end of February and at Printemps Cup in Luxemburg the second week of March.

“The schedule can still change depending on how I feel,” Hendrickx concluded. “Worlds is the peak of the season.”

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