Loena Hendrickx wrote a new chapter in skating history for her country last March with her silver-medal finish at the 2022 World Championships in Montpellier, France. She is the first singles skater from Belgium to ever win a global medal and the only person from her nation to land on a World podium since Micheline Lannoy and Pierre Baugniet captured the World pairs title in Davos, Switzerland in 1948.
The 2021-2022 campaign was one Loena Hendrickx will likely always remember as her breakout season. Aside from capturing a silver medal at the World Championships, she finished fourth at Europeans and eighth at the Olympic Winter Games — her best results at all three competitions.
Many wondered if Hendrickx would return for another season, but the Belgium native had no intention of resting on her laurels — or retiring — and instead looked to build on the success of last season.
The road to the top was a long and difficult one at times. Like many skaters who shine in the senior ranks, Hendrickx found no success on the Junior Grand Prix stages. Moving to the senior level in the 2015-2016 season, she finished seventh at a small competition in France.
The following season, she captured medals at small events, finished seventh at both her Challenger Series assignments and the European Championships, but a disastrous outing at Worlds left her in 15th place overall.
From there, she slowly started climbing the ladder, claiming her first Challenger Series title at the Budapest Trophy in 2020.
From the outset of her senior career, Hendrickx has been plagued by a multitude of injuries. In late 2015, she suffered a spinal fracture that kept her off the ice for six months, causing her to miss the second half of that campaign. In 2017, a knee injury forced her to withdraw from the early season events.
Two years later, a back injury caused her to skip the 2019 European Championships. While at a training camp in Turkey that summer, she fractured and tore three ligaments in her ankle. Shortly after returning to the ice in September, she sustained another ankle injury which kept her off the ice for a month, a scenario that was repeated that December.
The COVID-19 pandemic afforded her the time to finally allow her ankle to heal, and when she returned to the ice three months later, Hendrickx stated she was “so happy” to be pain free and motivated to skate once again.
In the summer of 2021, she left her longtime coach to work with her brother Jorik Hendrickx, himself a two-time Olympian (2014 and 2018). That collaboration, along with Adam Solya, a Hungarian-born choreographer who now lives in Belgium, has proven to be a successful one for Hendrickx.
The native of Turnhout attributed much of her success last season to the state of her health. Having the opportunity to train without interruption — or pain — and being able to prepare properly had a positive impact on her performances and results at all her competitions.
However, three weeks before the 2022 World Championships, Hendrickx suffered a tear in her groin along with a twisted ankle, which kept her off the ice for a week. But she soldiered through the pain, determined to end her season on a high note in Montpellier.
“I only trained for four days before going to the competition. It wasn’t a perfect preparation at all, but I just wanted to give it my all one last time,” she said. “I didn’t have any expectations going into Worlds. I just wanted to try my best and have two great programs and that’s what I did.”
A NEW CAMPAIGN
For the first time in her career, she entered a new season as a World medalist and expectations are higher than ever before. She opened the 2022-2023 campaign with a win at Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, at the end of September. Though her scores were slightly lower than her personal best, Hendrickx was still pleased with the golden start to her season.
“One week before Nebelhorn Trophy, I really felt the pressure because I wanted to prove that I was worthy of the World silver medal,” she said. “I was glad when the competition was over, so I could let my mind rest.”
Hendrickx first began working with Solya prior to the 2016-2017 season, when he choreographed a short program for her. Since then, he has crafted all her competitive routines. This year’s short program, set to “Si Mama” and “Mi Gente” performed by Beyoncé, is a step in a new direction, one Hendrickx is fully embracing.
“I feel really amazing in this program because it’s something new for me. It is fun and I can also put on a little show and is totally different from my long program,” she said. “In the beginning, I was afraid because I didn’t know if it would suit me. I really need to use my body and my hips, and I am not really a dance person. But after I watched a video of it with all the details, with the dress and the makeup, I was pleased. It really makes a difference to see the whole package.”
Hendrickx is eager to challenge herself and try different styles throughout her career and that is why she “wanted to go for this. I think this opens new doors for me. If I put myself into different styles and I work on them, I think I can handle many styles.”
During the off season, Hendrickx and her team decided to change the layout of the short program and moved the triple-triple combination to the second half. That in itself was a risk but one she was willing to take. “Last year, if I missed the first triple-triple combination, I still had a chance to do it after the solo triple, but I need to improve every year, and this is one way to do that.
“I wanted to make the program more difficult because it offers an opportunity to get higher points and it also helps me to develop more. The order of elements works well in practice, so I just need to trust myself in competition.”
The free skate, set to “Poeta” by Roby Facchinetti, is also a fresh approach for Hendrickx. “I had to try something different, something classic and slow because I never had something like this before. So, it’s good to show this as well,” she explained.
The collaboration between Hendrickx and Solya, now in its fifth season, has turned out to be a successful one for her. She said she listens to what Solya has to say because he is “really good with all the details” and choreographs programs that encourage her to show her long lines.
“That’s the only thing I really hate about my skating. Sometimes in my head, I see my lines as long and pretty, and then I watch a video and think, ‘Oh no! That is not what is in my head,’” Hendrickx said. “But it is good because if you watch yourself, you can pay even more attention to those things in competition. I really need to do a lot of work and pay attention to stretched lines and legs.”
Hendrickx is hoping to add a triple loop to her repertoire sometime this season. She originally planned to include the jump in her long program at Nebelhorn Trophy, but ultimately decided against it. As many know, she and the loop have had a long, complicated relationship.
“The jump is underrotated all the time, which causes me to fall because I don’t feel my mistake. It is always out of the circle and I am almost horizontal in the air. It is so strange,” she explained. “We are working on it. Sometimes I do feel it and it’s there and I can do an amazing loop, but I have not done the jump in competition since the 2021 Grand Prix in Russia.
“It is a strange jump for me, and I don’t know why and neither does Jorik. I have worked with a lot of coaches on it, and they all said my double loop is perfect, so I don’t know what I need to change. When I was younger, I had all the triples, including the loop, and it looked effortless and good.”
Last season, aside from her second-place finish at the World Championships, Hendrickx claimed her first medal on the Grand Prix circuit when she captured bronze at the event in Italy. A month later, she finished second in the short program at the European Championships and was awarded the small silver medal for her efforts. She finished fourth overall at that competition.
Her eighth-place result at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing was eight spots higher than what she achieved in her Olympic debut in 2018.
The success Hendrickx enjoyed last season made her hungry to achieve better results in the current campaign and her goal from the outset was to have podium finishes at all her competitions. She achieved that in the latter part of 2022, winning her first Grand Prix event in France, finishing second in Finland and third at the Grand Prix Final.
Now her sights are set on finishing top three at both the 2023 European and World Championships. “We will see because it is a higher level and I just have to focus and do my best,” she said.
“Until last year, I never thought I would get a major Championships medal in my life. And then I did. It was like crazy. I’m really proud of myself that I went through all the difficult times, like all the injuries, and I never gave up. All the illness and injuries over the years made me realize that I really love the sport and that it is really a passion.
“That’s why I never gave up. It is because I really love to skate, and that love is so big that I would not give up. I enjoy what I do and enjoy skating, and I think that’s the most important part.
“After last season, I really need to trust myself that I am able to win more medals.”
Hendrickx is one of only three skaters to represent her country at a high level in the modern era, one of whom was her brother Jorik who retired from competition in 2019.
The other is Kevin van der Perren, a two-time European bronze medalist who put Belgium on the world map as the first man from his nation to win a medal at Europeans in 60 years, a feat he achieved in 2007.