Jorik Hendrickx – The journey continues
”I was standing there with tears in my eyes. I could barely stand on my feet, let alone skate. Lying on the bench they were taping my foot while the men’s practice kept going. The moment they played my music was the hardest; I saw everything flash by in front of my eyes knowing my debut was over."
An emotional Jorik Hendrickx tells me this while thinking back at his debut in the senior Grand Prix series, the Trophée Eric Bompard Trophy 2012, in Paris. With an incredibly hard playing field the Belgian was in an amazing fourth place after the short program. But then something right out of a bad dream happened. While warming up off ice for the men's practice, he made a misstep when landing a jump. He fell, twisted his foot and the ligaments tore off a piece of bone from his fibula.
"It was very painful, even though I first thought it was a regular sprain. After the medical treatment, I put on my costume and tried to put on my skates. But to no avail."
Jorik had no choice but to withdraw from the rest of the event and start on the road to recovery. A road that has been long, and is actually still forming. Sure, by now he did skate a small competition, and he will compete at the World Championships this week, but that does not mean he is entirely pain free. But Worlds is the biggest competition of the season, and also one of those doorways into the Olympics. A doorway Jorik desperately wants to get through.
But let's first go back in time. To where we left off with our previous article.
As you may recall we’ve been following Jorik since 2008, and will continue to do so while his career moves ahead. In said article, we left off between the Belgian nationals in November 2011, and the European Championships 2012, which were held in January. As we told you last time; at the Belgian nationals we had seen a very focused Jorik, finishing second after (now retired) Kevin Van Der Perren. The gap between their scores had got smaller and we wondered if Jorik pays attention to those things.
“Yeah I do, the difference was less than the year before, in November 2010. Which was actually kind of funny, that year the media stated after Nationals: ‘the succession of Kevin Van Der Perren is guaranteed’ – then there were 30 points difference. The following year (November 2011) there was a 13 point difference and the headlines read: ‘Kevin wins with huge lead’. It seemed like instead of viewing me as a successor I suddenly became the competition, which was weird, because I didn’t see myself like that at all.”
That triple Axel!
Not competing for the gold, but for his own goals, which this time was doing a triple Axel in the short as well as in the free program. That mission succeeded. Then his blade phobia got back into play a bit. Jorik got new skates, but the blade placement was again difficult which affected said triple Axel. That combined with a huge school project ended up cancelling the planned Istanbul Cup.
“But I had to prepare for the Europeans, so two days after New Year’s my coach and I went to Oberstdorf in Germany for a week. Michal Brezina and Caroline Kostner were there, so it was good to be in that atmosphere for a while. I trained full out and it went well, the triple Axel was better again. Then I went back to Belgium to take it a bit easier (with two shorter practices per day) and be more rested for Euros.”
The European Championships would take place in Sheffield, UK. Jorik went there with the goal to land that triple Axel in both programs, and preferably end up in the top 15.
“I left for Sheffield with a good feeling, I felt well prepared. It was an advantage to not have to skate the qualifications rounds (prelims) because the year before I was very tired skating prelims, then the short program and then the free. It was a nice surprise that for the short program I could start in the ‘higher’ group, because my world ranking went up compared to the year before. My start number was even all the way in the last group… to be honest I was happy I could go first in that group though and not have to skate right after a ‘big name’ like Michal Brezina or so. I’d rather grow a bit more into that.
And then the short program… well I made two mistakes: a step out of the triple Axel and the triple Lutz all the way to the front, which I by some miracle held on to.“
It did count!
“Yeah, but with minuses 2 or so.”
Being a perfectionist but also that triple Axel popping up again
We have gotten to know Jorik as quite the perfectionist, and almost in every talk we have included a discussion about him pointing out his mistakes, and me pointing out the good bits. It is starting to become a returning gag between us.
“Yes, it was a Personal Best, I was happy with my placement and marks, but I am an athlete, you want to do it better and better and I did make mistakes. It was a real surprise I finished before Brian Joubert and Samuel Contesti. That gave me a good feeling, but also some pressure. You don’t want to ruin that in the free program!”
In Sheffield, we heard that the practice ice was in very different condition than the competition ice, which led to a lot of falls and not that great practices. Jorik confirms, but doesn’t waste his breath on it. That’s the situation and you just have to live with it. For the free program he got a start position in the second best group.
“During every competition I feel myself slowly losing energy. This time the triple Axel was on a bit of a downwards spiral. After the short program it didn’t really want to work in practice, I stepped out of it a lot, and also took a lot of falls. The rest of the jumps went okay though. Luckily the free program was almost mistake free – beside that triple Axel.”
But it counted. That was your goal!
“My goal yeah, but it was landing them perfectly!“
*sigh* Your goal was top 15, and you were top 10!
“Yeah. That’s true... but I am very careful when making predictions. In my head it was top 10, but I said 15.”
Okay, I’m not a mind reader here, so I couldn’t know that. But did he perceive these Europeans as a success then?
“I was happy with the result, the free was pretty good and I got a high technical score. Sheffield for the most part was great, only the bus-trip... We were in the city center. The idea was to be able to do some sightseeing, but that is not where my head was at that moment.”
This had to do with the hotel not being close to the ice rink (even though there were actually hotels in the vicinity, a “cheaper” Etap, and an affordable Premier Inn).
Kevin’s withdrawal and consequently going to Worlds
Somebody who was not having good practices there either was Kevin Van Der Perren, who injured his wrist between the short and the free program and ended up pulling out of the competition. We just had to ask Jorik how he dealt with this.
“I thought his practices did not go well. So much doubt! I never saw him like that, he is my idol. But there was a lot of pressure on him. When he withdrew, I had to focus on my goal and my program and not just stand there. Carine (his coach) and I decided that we would talk about it later, but right then was not the time.”
This may sound harsh, but that’s exactly the way athletes need to handle these situations. At a moment like that all that counts are their own achievements. And Jorik handled this very well, ending in a very good 9th place. After Europeans end, all eyes turn to the World Championships and Kevin’s withdrawal changed the situation quite a bit.
“At the start of the season I never thought I would be going to Worlds. There was only one spot for Belgium; Kevin is still better than me so he would go, simple. At Europeans he said it was his last competition, so Worlds became a goal for me and we planned towards it. And that is what Kevin initially said after the free/withdrawal as well. Before Euros there had been a communication stating that Kevin didn’t want to go to Worlds, but if he’d change his mind, the best placed skater from Euros would go.“
But technically, there was no best placed skater because Kevin withdrew; he had no official placement. In the communication there was no clause about injuries or withdrawals or such, so when Kevin took the decision he would like to go to Worlds after all, the federation had to play it by ear and ended up deciding that Kevin would be the one going. A tough decision to make, and understandably this was something Jorik had to adjust to as well.
“I was disappointed after that decision, because I did plan on doing Worlds, with my practice schedule and all, so initially I fell into a black hole. But then we decided to do some other competitions instead. In the end I am glad I didn’t get to go. I look at it two ways: Kevin could have messed up and not made top 18, and then I would have to qualify for the Olympics next season. Or I could have messed up entirely. I had had a great season so far, but there would have been a lot of pressure on me because I would have been ‘the guy they sent instead of Kevin, who had been in the circuit for 10 years’.“
That is very true. Nevertheless, the actual week the World Championships took place must have been hard.
“It ended up being a fun week. Of course I was quite down (and my coach too), we didn’t know how to behave, the goal was gone. Yes, it was hard, I cannot deny that, but it is not like I don’t understand it. I am happy Kevin had a nice farewell.”
He takes a side step, explaining he is certainly not complaining and that he realizes in some ways he is very lucky.
“If I had been in America I would never have been able to do international competitions. Skating in Belgium means less competition from other skaters, so more chances to compete internationally. But more competition also means more stimulation and thus more motivation. Now without Kevin… on that end there is a black hole as well.”
He is surely right about that.