Jorik Hendrickx: "Olympics are really the icing on the cake for an athlete!"
Jorik’s experience qualifying for the Olympic Games was a stressful endeavor. Not once but twice! For the 2014 Games he did not know until a month before the event that he was able to go, this due to the national requirements of the Belgian Olympic Committee. This time the international requirements were the crux, which was top 20 at the World Championships 2017. In 2016 he was 16th and having been on the world stage for such a long time, improving steadily and having a great season generally with even a 4th place at the European Championships two months before, nobody would have predicted that this would end up being his 'bad event' of the season. Making a few "stupid mistakes" in his own words, he finished in the very unfortunate 21st spot. Ironically, his sister Loena, debuting, made it!
So Jorik's season had to start in Oberstdorf, Germany, at the Nebelhorn Trophy, the last qualifying event.
"Initially I wanted to do another competition before, so Nebelhorn wouldn't be the first, but then I thought I did that last year as well, and it went well. I just had to make sure I was well prepared, fresh and mentally strong. I can do it and I have to do it! You can train as much as you want, but in the end you also have to be there mentally. And I felt really strong. For the first time I had a real team present; a physical therapist, a mental coach and of course my coach Carine. I thought it might be my very last competition, so I’d better invest a little more so it would be a success. I think working hard and handling it professionally helped."
That sounds like a good mantra, and it did work. Despite being the first skater to step on the ice for the short program, 25 skaters later, he was still in first position. He also easily won the free skate, putting him more than 26 points in total above the runner up in.
"Right now it's still all a bit of a blur, but it indeed happened; I managed to get my Olympic ticket, at the last moment possible. Second and last chance!
It was very hard coming here, it was all or nothing. I said to Carine that this may be the last training week with me, which was tough on her as well, but I had to be realistic. I did everything for it, and if that wasn't enough, that's it. I focused fully on training, on skating before this comp."
The Nebelhorn Trophy was a truly tough competition, a lot of the competitors were Olympic hopefuls and only a select few would succeed. Just looking at the men’s event: 26 skaters competed but only 6 Olympic spots were available.
"It's not really fun to have to qualify this late. I didn't have more stress, but my whole summer was about the Nebelhorn Trophy, full run-throughs of my programs etc.. Now, with my injuries (more on that later - ed) I couldn't practice the quads much anyway. Seeing the programs now, there is a distance to the podium of course. Had I been able to do at least one quad, that distance would be much smaller. But with my injuries, at some point you have to listen to your body. Of course I want to do 7 quads in my programs, who wouldn't? But you have to be realistic, so I think this is a nice level to be on. I never thought I would even be winning the Nebelhorn Trophy!"
So reaching an objective he never knew he had? Speaking of goals, when you ask most athletes about that, you'll get a wished for placement, or a score to reach, but not with Jorik.
"I know that my level the past 4 years has improved, but the level of my fellow athletes definitely has exploded. In 2010 you could become an Olympic Champion without a quad, in 2014 you could be on the podium with just one and now you will need 5 or 6 to even be in the top 5. Without one or more quads reaching the top 10 at these Olympics is very hard. So what I am going for is skating my best programs, and of course I hope the same for Loena."
We will talk more about quads later, but I wondered if he'd done anything differently this season, in preparing for the Olympics?
"Not really, it's more about planning enough recovery time, to keep the freshness, because we have to peak 3 times as opposed to 2. Training now is going well but competition keeps being a snapshot. Europeans was a bit of a let-down for me, with that 10th spot. I just have to make sure to show everything I am capable of at the right time!"
This not being his first Olympics, I asked him to reminisce a bit about the last one, in 2014.
"Sochi was a beautiful experience; everything there went as it should. The road towards it not so much; the training wasn't ideal, the competitions not optimal… Yet I very much lived towards it and it was a unique experience. I felt like the sport finally got the appreciation it deserved as well as me getting recognition for my achievement, that which you worked so hard for. When all the puzzle pieces come together like that, it's a very euphoric feeling, such a unique atmosphere. A real positive vibe stayed with me, it truly is the icing on the cake for an athlete!"
And this time he goes to the Olympics together with his sister in the same sport. How many people can say that?
"I think there have been several brother and sister teams in ice dance etc, but not sure it happend a lot divided in two different diciplines. I just said Sochi was an unique experience, but Korea will be even more so, together with Loena. I am glad though that there is some time between our competitions, so we can both focus on ourselves. At a European or World Championships these always run a bit simultaneously which does cause more stress and eat more energy. So now I can do my thing first, and a week later Loena can focus entirly on her competition. Who could have ever dreamed we'd be here together?"
And even more so, while the two siblings are in Korea preparing to compete, their mum was on the way over there. Jorik does not often have his family present at competitions, simply because all the travelling is very expensive. But having 2 of your children compete in the Olympic Games is something you really don't wanna miss out on, so they arranged a crowdfunding campaign to be able to afford this.
"I truly don't understand how everyone can take their family everywhere. Having mom here in Pyeongchang is really unique. There is almost a week between our competitions and it's very costly to stay here; the hotels aren't cheap, and neither are the tickets nor the travel. But it worked out, with thanks to all of our supporters!!"
Great news, as a mother really should not miss out on such an achievement! Of course we hope the Hendrickx clan will have a great time in Korea!
We moved on to talk about his programs. In our previous interview he joked about the life and death battle themes of his programs, so I jokingly inquired if after a boat (Titanic) and a car, now the catastrophe was himself, since his short program is to the song Je suis Malade (I am sick -ed).
"Hmm… I think I'm known for emotional programs, which is also my strength, so I should use that. You could go for an 'out of the box' program, but this year I opted for two programs that would bring out my strong points… and I'm a skater who likes to use long lines, deep edges and much expression. So we chose two programs to suit my style.
I found the music myself. I would have never thought I would skate to Je Suis Malade, but this version, the sound of the voice of the singer (Francesco di Cello -ed) gives it dimension for me. It touches me deeply and luckily no one else has used this version yet.
Je suis Malade is all about someone’s heartache, so it's again about love and suffering and pain. It helps me to work around a theme. This helps me to really get into it and excel, and bringing it out more. The hard thing about it is to make sure it won't become too much, too dramatic. There has to be a balance and I try to get people drawn into the program. Not go all out crazy and pull mad faces, but subdued, it really comes from my heart. So I want to nuance the music and expression."
That it came from the heart was very clear when I saw this program live for the first time, at the Nebelhorn Trophy. I actually had tears in my eyes at the end of it, which I told Jorik.
"… Yeah… thank you! Actually, it was quite hard on me too. The pain I tried to portray in the program, I actually felt it! You know like how ice dancers or actors in a play really get into it; I really had pain in my heart! It sounds a bit dramatic maybe, but I just felt it, it touched me."
It makes a big difference when someone really feels it, as opposed to only pretending he does. But Jorik did state at the press conference that he's not an emotional guy...
"Yeah, on the ice I am, but I mean, I don't cry easy, I don't get mad quickly. I think I am more expressive than emotional. Off the ice I'll show my emotions less fast. I guess it's the way I deal with it; I show my emotions on the ice mostly. Expressive and emotional... it's not the same thing, but they touch each other."
The free program is also about emotion, and if you ask me, the most important one of all."It's all about love: it is a search for love which won't be found. The middle piece after the steps is "I want to fight for it, I do want to accept love, but end up throwing it away, resulting in despair."
That does not sound very uplifting.
"No, but if it had Concerto de Aranjuez the entire time, it would be too melodramatic and I thought it would be interesting to break the step sequence a bit earlier, so we added something with a bit more spunk; Ain't it funny with Jennifer Lopez. Which is funny because my choreographer‘s (Adam Solya) first reaction was "Absolutely not! You can't skate to Jennifer Lopez!" I asked him to just add it and try, and he ended up agreeing with me, that it'd fit and it breaks the drama a bit. The judges seemed to agree, I got nice GOE.
At times I feel really introverted, and if I watch the program back on video, it does seem to suit, more introverted in the beginning and then it goes all out at the end. It looks like we handled that smartly. I looked for bullet points and what story I wanted to tell, and when I could let loose.
That's how we practiced it too, yes, we do highlight my strong points, but since I don't do 7 quads, the easy jumps really have to be there. 'Easy'... okay as a matter of speaking… easier."
We both laughed at that addendum.
Which makes it a good moment to pause the rest of our talk / article here. We talked about so much more, like quad jumps, his future, potential coaching, finances, it would be a bit much to stuff in this one article especially during these hectic Olympics time, don't worry though, we'll reveal the rest in the near future!
For now we say good luck to Jorik, and of course his sister Loena at the Olympics in Korea!
In case you would like to read more, and you happened to miss 'the story on Jorik so far' you can catch up here: