Jorik Hendrickx "It is so unique to share this journey with my sister"
Can you believe that a skater, who just placed 4th at the European Championships, practices in a temporary ice rink, located in an old factory? That is the reality for Belgian Jorik Hendrickx and also for his sister Loena, who came 7th at the Europeans. This is because their old training base in Turnhout had to close and the local figure skating club came with this location as a solution.
"It is indeed an old factory plant where they put down an ice surface; you can imagine it's pretty cold, and it's lit with four football lights. We turn them on and off ourselves, and in the beginning one was very hard to turn on, so we even skated a lot with only three!"
Explains a laughing Jorik. He doesn't seem to mind one bit though.
"We are very grateful, we get fixed hours to train there, while before we juggled between training in Turnhout and Eindhoven, which was quite a puzzle at times."
Placing 9th in 2012, 2014 & 2016 at the European Championships, Jorik seemed to have a subscription on that spot when he competed, but this year he managed to break through that mold to finish in 4th place.
"Europeans was an unique experience. I did the maximum I could do and am very pleased that I could demonstrate good skating in both the short and free programs. It was great to be there together with my sister, especially because she had to miss the championships last year (more on that later - ed). We encourage each other, give each other tips. We certainly never imagined to get into 4th and 7th places!"
Music choices and handling feedback
This season actually kicked off really well, with a second place at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf. Jorik then skated a different short program, which he changed just before the next competition, because he received negative feedback. Interestingly, the year before he had a free program to the soundtrack of the Titanic with a spoken part. This was also heavily critiqued, but he stuck to it. What made the difference?
"Last year I fully believed in the program, I felt like it could really work, it was a creative concept. After the feedback and giving it some thought, we did make some small adjustments. We took out some parts of the music; mostly a bit of screaming from drowning people, but I really felt like the program could evolve. This year's short program, the Deep House techno got the understandable critique that if you use this kind of music you need to go for it 200% - be very dynamic. Adam Rippon has the same kind of program and he is of course very flamboyant, which I am not. At competitions I am much more introverted and more in my head so I didn't think this would come out right.
Other people were saying this music is fast which does not display your core qualities, which are skating skills, long lines, expression. These were also valid points and I didn't think I could really evolve / progress more within this program. So I talked it over with my coach, Carine Herrygers, and my choreographer, Adam Solya, and we decided to change it. Then I had 3 days before the start of the Finlandia Trophy. I pondered if I should go back to last year's short program but I didn't really want to. I discussed it with Adam for 2 days and we listened to a lot of music. And even though the song I chose, Broken Vow is also by Josh Groban, just like last year, I really felt it. I did wonder if it wasn't too much the same but now at competitions I get a lot of compliments and positive feedback. Judges say 'this is your style and you have to stick to it'. I do really want to experiment but they say 'you have to experiment within this style, so yes be smart, keep using your strong points.' And it feels good when I'm on the ice."
With last year's short program music You Raise Me Up , you had a real emotional connection - was that also there with this song, or is that something that has to grow?
"You raise me up started as a show program which I used in a pretty dark period, the injuries, my grandparents who passed away... The song isn't written for that, but I made that connection. I had that connection even more with the Titanic, the song that played when we carried my grandmother's casket was one I chose, and it was a part of the Titanic soundtrack. We didn't end up using that specific one, as that was too emotional for me, but it made me want to use the music even more. Even though it is not the most original music, it has been used a lot, which is why we added the voice over... which was a 'hate it, or love it' situation. But it was also a program that just had to go well, then all clicked, but if something was off.. well then the ship really sank." (laughs)
At the Nebelhorn Trophy press conference he explained the story of his free program 'The battle of Life and Death' but we didn't quite catch it entirely, so at the Belgian Nationals Titia and I asked him to explain the story again.
"It starts with a car accident, you really hear that in the music, and then it's literally 'the struggle between life and death', as my character tries to survive the crash. The start is powerful, I want to show the fighting spirit. In the middle part there are angels that take the soul from the body and in the end love prevails and I stay alive.
Sometimes I see commentaries on Twitter 'Again a battle of life and death for Jorik Hendrickx, last year Titanic now this.' (chuckles) Oh well, then it was a boat, now it's a car. We try to be creative and unique, and tell a story. That really helps me. In practice that is a bit harder, but when there is an audience, I truly am in character."
Following Jorik Hendrickx's career since 2008 has been an interesting adventure with a lot of ups and downs, tensions and laughs. Starting out when he was a 16 year old skater, really seeing him grow up, and grow into himself. And how often do you get the chance to not just follow one skater, but also his sister's career along the way? Seeing her as a young girl in 2010 and now this amazing breakthrough into the senior circuit at only 17. Our last update with Jorik already dates back to 2014, right before the Olympics, and a lot has happened since. We'll pick his journey up from there, and in case you missed 'the story so far' you can catch up here:
Trying to keep up
He reached his dreams to compete at the Olympics and with a 16th place he realized his goal of making it to the top 24. YAY...right?
"Well, actually after Sochi that was pretty demotivating. I had worked really hard in the summer and felt like I didn't make much progress. So I was wondering what do I want to do now? I have been to the Olympics, that was my dream. I never thought I would even be there and I was 16th! If I stay around, can I do better in 4 years? To focus another 4 years of my life solely to this sport... it is top sport and you have to put your everything into it and I'm not sure if I can keep up, with this fast rising level in figure skating.
That's what I feel like I'm constantly doing; trying to keep up; I only learned to jump my triples when I was 16, the triple Axel when I was 18 /19 years old. Suddenly I was standing in between those tops skaters and I only just mastered those jumps. Still I had to execute them and I had to go up against those athletes who did those jumps for for 5-6 years already. And as soon as I mastered those triples, everybody started to do triple -triple combinations. Then I could do triple-triple combinations, everybody did triple Axel and as soon as I learned the triple Axel, everybody came with the quad."
And now they do several quads...
"Right. I worked my butt off that summer to focus mostly on jumping quadruple and the joy had completely gone, I had trouble with the triple Axel and with the other triple jumps. My body got exhausted and I needed to have knee surgery and then the rehabilitation to get to my old level was very hard, which made me miss out the entire post-Olympic season.
And then I realized it would be a shame if I quit now. I have worked so hard to get there, I finally got financial support, people believe in me and I still believe I can do better.
My sister Loena started to make a name for herself internationally, which pulled me up a bit. Her last competitions went really well and I realized it would be very cool to share that experience with my sister. That's unique. So I said, I will work really hard but I am also going to try to find a new balance refind the joy, the fun in skating. "
Successful season for one sibling, drama for the other
"So during the season 2015/2016 I slowly came back, highlighted at the NRW Trophy, where I suddenly ended up between those big names and I had a real good score. Loena earned her first qualification score for Worlds, before me actually! Which put some pep in my step as well, positively that is. I was really looking forward to going to Europeans and Worlds together."
Which unfortunately never happened...
"No, her injury put a monkey in that wrench, she walked around in a corset for about 6 months... She had a fissure in her L5 or L4 (lumbar vertebra), slowly formed and aggravated by training and competing.If it ripped entirely, her career would be over, so she had no choice but to put it on hold for a while. She couldn't even walk properly, so when that period was over, her muscles were almost completely gone. Suddenly then the situation was reversed and she had to get motivated by me."
Because in the meantime, Jorik returned to his competitive schedule and his reserved 9th place at the European Championships in Bratislava...
(Jorik laughs) "Indeed. My Europeans were not my best. With the short program I was actually pretty satisfied. I have had some problems in the preparation again with my blades, with some small injuries so in the end the result was kind of ok.
The Coupe de Printemps was great again, I was in good form, and then before the World Championships I started to get a little bit worn out but I still did much better than at Europeans. All in all last year was pretty successful and my most successful one so far actually. Especially considering I was coming back from that knee injury and the dip and all. I was super happy to be back!"
We heard that after the knee injury he learned a new technique for the Axel.
"I wouldn't call it an entirely new technique. I tried to train in the United States, but it didn't work out for me so well. I wasn't used to training so many hours. Returning to work with Linda van Troyen and Alexei Mishin my technique improved. My coach Carine Herrygers also went with me to learn, so that I keep doing it consistently. Of course I keep working on all jumps."
And the inevitable question.. what is the status of the quad, will he attempt it in competition?
"I can fall it backwards! (laughs) In practice we're really working on it. In summer it goes really well, but when the competition season starts, you have to focus on the entire program, work on your condition. I am not really a jumper, but it's not a hopeless case, I'm still trying. In practice I got it either fully rotated, but then I fall, or I keep standing but then I wasn't fully rotated. If I really want to be in the European top, I do need at least one. I am well aware of that. "
Loena's return and the Grand Prix Drama
"After Worlds last year I stayed a week longer, at a friends house and met up with a few skaters (Anna Cappellini, Ondřej Hotárek, Michal Březina with his fiancée, Valentina Marchei with her best friend), just for a vacation. That was really fun and also needed bit of rest. And after I focused a bit more on school. In the summer I worked a lot with Linda van Trojen again, first in Switzerland, then we went a week to Alexei Mishin and she came to Belgium as well. Slowly Loena was allowed to train a bit again, starting with 20 minutes. She progressed quickly, luckily, as you never know if one can recover from something like that. When her muscles started to return her body also got some shapes and curves, so we worried a bit about puberty...but luckily that turned out well."
In the beginning of the new season, the skaters get assigned / invited to Grand Prix competitions. In the senior competitions this is usually by name - Jorik got invited to two Grand Prixs; Skate America and Trophee de France. In the junior competitions this is by country. Belgium got three.
"Charlotte Vandersarren (left in photo), the girl who went to the World Championships 2016, got assigned one and Loena the other and then the one of them who performed best would get the third. Which is a fair arrangement. But then the flight to Russia was so very expensive, with a necessary transfer in Moscow it was 1500 euro per person. Times 2, is 3000 euro. I told Loena: 'You have the choice, either you do one Junior Grand Prix, or you do 4 senior competitions.'
Our budget is pretty tight, we do have a few little sponsors, but to spend 3000 euro at once, you can do so much more with that. She thought about it, and her ambitions for the season, which is of course Europeans and senior Worlds, maybe Junior Worlds. She wants a chance for the Olympics, so the senior competitions are more important, for the transition from junior to senior and name recognition."
A little background here. Jorik receives financial support from 'Sport Vlaanderen' and several sponsors like AA drink. Loena receives nothing so far from the federation or the government. Having the same coach, they plan their competition schedule together and they also arrange several fundraisers, fighting for their mutual skating ambitions, with real life events and online. (click the link to support them!)
"Of course Junior Grand Prixs and Junior Worlds are very fun to do, but in the end those are not the results that count for the future plan. On the other hand, for our government, to be viewed as 'talent' it is good to show the junior results. For Junior Worlds she perhaps could reach the top 12 easier than seniors. It's a shame for the upcoming talent, it's so hard to get support. In many sports it's first the federation who invests and then the government, but we have to see how we arrange it for ourselves. And I try to help Loena as well as possible, but I have no money tree, unfortunately. It's a puzzle. Another full time job! Studies, athlete, manager. " (laughs)
Juggling studies and sports
Speaking of education, Jorik studies sports marketing at the Johan Cruijf University.
"I'm in my last year now so I still have a full program. I started my internship at All Sport Benelux Distributor of Speedo in Belgium in January, right after the European Championships. Luckily it is pretty calm, only Wednesdays half an afternoon, doing a few tasks but mostly observe and working on my thesis. Hopefully after the World Championships, in April and May I can focus 2 months completely and be done with my studies and then start to prepare for the next, Olympic, season.
That's why I could not do it a year later, I'd end up postponing it another year while now I'm fully up-to-date and with my head in the material, if I wait to 2 years it will be much harder. I am already regretting that I put it on hold in the past, but it was so much easier to just skate, especially when you are competing so much. Strangely enough I got more sponsoring from Bloso (now Sport Vlaanderen -ed) when I didn't study, so right now I actually gave up part of my salary because I'm also trying to finish my studies."
That sounds strange to us. Shouldn't the funding be based on how much hours one puts in the sport?
"It has to do with not being an athlete full time. Yes I do train just as much as before and do just as many competitions. I do understand it, those are the rules. It's just not a clear cut choice; I earn less, have less time, I have no rest and no social life. (laughs)
I have to honestly say it's not really satisfying to combine it all, I am very eager to learn and be a perfectionist and this just isn't an ideal situation. I miss so many courses and I have to catch up so much, it's not that I don't get good marks but I still can't follow it as intensely as I'd want to and gather as much knowledge as would be possible if I could devote all my time to it."
But studies one is able to delay, a sports career not.
"That's true and that's why I focused more on the sport, but I still want to combine it, I have to be realistic, I will never be a world champion and there is life after sport."
Now fully caught up, we're back in the here and now. The World Championships start tomorrow, March 29. Loena's competition will start immediately and Jorik's the day after on March 30.
"The preparation for Worlds was unfortunately not optimal. I had a dip after the Challenge Cup (which both he and Loena won - ed), mostly fatigue, and now I'm dealing with some small injuries which limited my training a bit. I am not putting more pressure on myself, especially after the 4th place at Euros. I'll just focus on the short and free program and will see where that ends up.
Of course we also hope and aim for qualifying for the Olympics. Loena also hopes to show good and stable programs, to continue the consistency of the season and close it off on a good note. We worked really hard so we hope for the best!"
Which is exactly what we wish them as well!