Evening falls next to the seafront in Barcelona. There to welcome us is Ioseba Fernández, one of world’s leading figures in speed skating, as he dreams of the future circuit to be located at the Front Marítim. “I’ve been to Barcelona before, but this time is something special because I have the chance to see where the World Roller Games circuit and other competitions are going to be sited,” he says.
A smile lights up the Spanish skater’s face as he recalls his recent visit together with his family to the Catalan capital, where he could not help but caress the asphalt on which he hopes to be crowned again as world champion and record holder. After three years in the official skating programme and positive first precedent in Arnhem (Holland), the 100m race will go down in history as a key chapter in Barcelona: “It may be a turning point in our sport. We need that public drive that we normally have a hard time obtaining. All the conditions are right for a race packed with people.”
Ioseba is counting down the days when he is ready to roll in Barcelona, although he is keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground. “You have to drum up extra excitement and motivation because it is going to be staged at home, but you still also have to remain calm,” he admits before telling us about his reunion with old friends like Nil Llop, the young rising star of Spanish skating, who has surprised the doctors with his “miraculous” recovery after a serious accident. “I’m very fond of him. He is a great friend and it was nice skating with him.” Ioseba can see a little of himself in this Catalan skater and confidently recalls his initial steps in skating: “Nil is going to do great at the WRG 2019.”
SELF-IMPOSED STANDARDS OF THE BEST
Despite the unconditional support of his wife, the athlete Ana Llorens, and the backing of the Centre for Sports Studies, Research and Medicine, Ioseba is self-taught and this means he has been able to polish up some technical details ever since he won his first world title in 2012. “I had spent a lot of years looking at my rivals until then. So I was lost when I won. What should I do now? Who should I study? I entered a four-year-long dynamic during which I won but couldn’t repeat it the following year. I was never able to successfully defend my title until 2017. So that’s when I said to myself: let’s prepare for Barcelona and forget about my rivals,” explains the skater from Navarra.
The recipe of his success is maximum self-demandingness in order to shave off hundredths of a second from the time clock. “I began studying my races and looking for ways to improve them. It’s a little more difficult because you can’t compare them to the guy who’s beating you, but you still have to improve your own race,” says the reigning world champion before confirming his perfectionism by warning his rivals: “There are always things you can improve until you physically start to decline.”
CONTENDERS FOR THE THRONE
Ioseba spares no praise in talking about the leading athletes against whom he will compete for gold in Barcelona. There are several outstanding figures in the 100 metres. Mexico’s Jorge Martínez “is going to be one of the strongest”, as is South Korea’s Jinyoung Kim or Colombia’s Edwin Estrada, who won silver in the last world championship. The Spanish skater also includes in this group Iran’s Mohammad Salehi, who just might be a revelation. These skaters stand out as the “chosen ones”, although the margin among them is very tight and “other rivals may also always surprise you, like Venezuela’s Sebastián Guzmán, for example”.
Nor does he hesitate in identifying some of the favourites for the track competition, including outstanding figures like Germany’s Simon Albrecht and Colombia’s Pedro Causil. Ioseba would also wager on the other Colombian skater who may qualify for Barcelona, possibly Andrés Jiménez, and he is similarly full of praise for France’s Gwendal Le Lepivert in the 500m and 1,000m races.
EXCITEMENT IS SPELLED BARCELONA
This large group of rivals does not faze the confidence of this skater from Navarra, who at 29 years of age will confront what just may be his last major international event. He had already weighed up this decision before the first edition of the World Roller Games, but the Barcelona event breakthrough changed everything: “I’d planned to retire in 2017, after the WRG in Nanjing. That was a very good championship for me. I competed in four events and reached the podium in all four, something that no other skater has managed to do, and I think very few speed skaters. I was at the top of my game. I’d just become a father and was able to enjoy that championship with my son. That was my greatest wish. When it came true, I spent a few weeks thinking and decided to quit.”
But the actions of the Royal Spanish Roller Sports Federation were essential in convincing Ioseba to continue with his prolific career when it came to the 2019 challenge. “Barcelona is something that is very exciting, a world championship at home. It is a unique opportunity to be able to enjoy it with more relatives or more people than usual. After thinking about it for a while and feeling I was ready to confront the challenge, I decided to continue until Barcelona, but there were still two years left when I made that decision so I decided to focus on Barcelona. I forgot about 2018 and undertook a long-term preparation process with the aim of arriving here and breaking the two world records.”
Focusing on the WRG 2019 was liberating for him in terms of the competition events of 2018, when he again made a difference to reach to the top. But his objective remained firm: “I’ve been training for a long time to skate a very fast 100m race in Barcelona and be able to celebrate my first track world title. All my world championship titles until now have been for road competitions.”
“Everything is going well at the moment; I feel very comfortable and my preparation is going according to plan. Every day I train with the aim of being the best,” Ioseba admits. But he doesn’t shy away from the fact that his reward has already been guaranteed away from the asphalt: “No matter what the final result, I’ll finish the race and my wife and son will be there to hug me. Maybe being a father has made me see things differently. What I do is very important in my life, but it’s not the most important thing,” he claims.
HISTORIC TURNING POINT
The second edition of the World Roller Games means the arrival of the world’s biggest roller sports event in Europe. It is seemingly an unbeatable opportunity to consolidate this event: “Barcelona is going to be a litmus test for the WRG format. It can help us all because it will allow you to go see your colleagues from other disciplines on days when you’re not competing. It will also help us to get to know each other better and provide more support among all athletes.”
Commercial interest should also be a mainstay of the event in order to make it a turning point: “One of the objectives has to be that all the venues and facilities are filled with more people and a brand can somehow become interested in another discipline and there are increasingly greater possibilities for sponsors.”
He claims with total conviction that fans will be offered a truly attractive range of competitions: “Barcelona is going to host the best Speed Skating World Championships,” Ioseba concludes, convinced as he is that the speed skating races will attract large crowds because of their outstanding venue locations. Ioseba Fernández has these titles and respective world records in his sights. It is truly going to be a magnificent speed skating show.