Donovan Carrillo is preparing for the most important season of his young career. The 21-year-old from Zapopan in central Mexico earned himself a place at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games after finishing 20th at the 2021 World Championships. When Carrillo takes the ice in Beijing next February, he will be the first figure skater from Mexico to do so in 30 years, following on the heels of Riccardo Olavarrieta who competed at the 1988 and 1992 Games and Mayda Navarro who represented Mexico at the 1992 Olympics.
Like many other skaters around the world, Carrillo endured some downtime in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after his rink in León closed on March 17 and did not reopen until September 24. Carrillo and his coach, Gregorio Nuñez, used the time away from the ice to work on strengthening exercises while they searched for other ice options.
“We adapted the workouts when the pandemic started at home. I live with my coach and this facilitated in an important way because we were able to spend a lot of time doing strengthening exercises and work on other areas such as elasticity, coordination and off-ice exercises,” Carrillo explained. “Fortunately, some rinks in other cities opened in July and this helped me to get back to training, so since July my coach and I traveled to different cities to train before our rink re-opened.
“Throughout the confinement, I was also working and preparing myself with my sports psychologist. She supported and helped me a lot to cope during that time with many visualization exercises, meditation, etc. so I did not lose my motivation.”
For Carrillo, whose dream has always been to represent his country at an Olympic Winter Games, the World Championships were the most important competition on his four-year agenda. But in order to compete in Stockholm, he first had to earn the minimum technical scores required to compete at the Championships. Carrillo achieved that goal at the Challenge Cup in The Hague in February where he finished ninth and earned the necessary scores.
Having competed in a bubble environment at that competition, Carrillo had an idea of how the event in Sweden would play out. He, like every other skater who attended, said, “it felt very safe.”
“It was a World Championships that was very different from other years because the skaters could not have the same closeness or coexistence. But I felt safe due to all the protocols and measures that the organizing committee and the ISU had in place to carry out such a successful and safe event for all the skaters, coaches, staff, etc.”
Carrillo, a skater who thrives on the energy of audiences at competitions, found the vast empty arena in Stockholm a little “strange at first” but said he adjusted quickly. “Little by little I got the idea that competitions might be like this for a while. Personally, I really enjoy when there is an audience. For me it is an extra motivator to know that I can share my emotions in my presentations with an audience.
“Although this time the spectators could not be in person from day one, I felt the support of many people through messages and spirit. For obvious reasons they could not be there in person, but I felt the skating fans were showing all their love to the skaters from a distance. I was motivated by that — skating for all those who watched us from home, seeking to bring them joy and hope with my performances.”
While the organizing committee had arranged activities at the hotel such as table hockey, video games and a basketball hoop — as well as a terrace where skaters could get fresh air — Carrillo said that one of the things he enjoyed the most was the view from the skater’s dining room. “We had a spectacular view of the main rink where we could enjoy the training and practices of the other skaters while we were preparing our meals.”
Due to misinformation that was posted online, many people were confused about the qualification process and did not know that ultimately all the men that qualified for the free skate at Worlds earned an automatic berth at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
Carrillo was one of those who were unclear about the process. “I had no idea. I even had many doubts about what the official classification process was because during the Championships there were two different theories among some skaters and judges. But I feel like not knowing anything helped me because I had the opportunity to skate with love and enjoy my programs, trying to do my best but not focusing all my attention on qualifying.
“For me it was a lot of fun because I knew my goal was to qualify for the Olympics, but since I really had some doubts about how the process to qualify worked, I just tried to do my best and decided to fight through the programs until the end. When I learned I had earned a place it gave me great pleasure because it is something I have dreamed about since I began skating. Finally seeing that achievement materialize filled me with a lot of pride and joy because it made me realize that every effort, every sacrifice was worth it.
“I am very excited, not only for me but also for the next generations. When I was younger, and I told people that my dream was to reach the Olympics, many times they took it as a joke. Someone who achieved big things in this sport once told me at my first Junior Grand Prix that because we are Mexicans we cannot achieve anything better than last place at internationals, and that it was crazy to imagine another result. The good news is that I didn’t listen to that crazy comment. I don’t believe in that and I don’t want this mentality in the next generations in my country.
“Now, in a certain way with my result, I have shown that no dream is too big when you are willing to do everything necessary and keep a firm focus on what you aspire to. I want to bring hope and motivation to the new generations. That is one of my biggest goals in life.”
Carrillo and his coach have decided to keep last season’s free skate (“Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” by Osvaldo Farrés and “Sway Mix” by Pedro Infante) but will rearrange parts of the program. “Because I love the songs I feel like I can still give so much more to that program,” said Carrillo. “For the short, we are going to collaborate with a choreographer whom I greatly admire. It will be something very different from what I have skated before but that challenge excites me a lot.” Though Carrillo did not name the choreographer, he is currently attending Benoît Richard′s summer camp in Courmayeur.
Nuñez said the technical content for his student′s programs next season has been decided: one quad in the short and two in the free. “Donovan is a very balanced skater, but I think there is always something to improve and that is why we will focus on improving the component part, and work mainly on his skating skills.”
There is also something special planned for what Carrillo will wear next season. “I would like to surprise all my fans and the skating world,” he said with a laugh. “The only thing I can say is that I will collaborate with Avelino Roque, one of the designers who dressed the Mexican Miss Universe Andrea Meza. I am sure you will like the show as much as I do.”
Carrillo is excited about his Olympic opportunity for a number of reasons, but the fact that his parents are planning to go to Beijing to watch him compete outranks all others. “They have it in their plans, although we are still not sure whether events with the public will be allowed on that date. But I really hope so because my parents have never been able to travel with me to international competitions outside of Mexico. It would be something very special for me to know they are living my Olympic dream with me.”
Nuñez is also excited about the upcoming trip to China. “I feel content and happy because, as for athletes, the dream of a coach is to go to the Olympic Games and to see that for all the work carried out for so many years, the goal has been achieved,” he said.
While many skaters will retire post-2022, Carrillo said that is not in his plans. He intends to continue competing as long as his body allows it and that he takes good care of himself “to be able to prolong my career as a skater for many more years.”
Though he has no corporate sponsorships, he is grateful for the private support he receives and said that “many people have made donations to help me with some expenses through the years. As a high performance athlete, the expenses never end.”
Nuñez has set a competition plan in place for the Olympic campaign and is hoping his student will be able to open his season at the Philadelphia Summer International in July. “We are planning to start with this. We are still not sure that this competition is going to take place, but if it does, we will be there,” he said.
DONOVAN CARRILLO BLAZING A MEXICAN TRAIL