The Big Interview: PJ Hallam – skating from Wincobank to the World Championships

When it comes to Sheffield and the elite of ice sport, two things inevitably come to mind.

The Steelers, of course - for so long the country's leading ice hockey club.

And also the manufacturing of the blades used by so many of the world's top competitors, at Winter Olympics and World Championships across so many ice-based sports.

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But there may well soon be another thing on the top of tongues when talking about the Steel City and the stage of ice.

Somewhat fittingly, his name is Hallam - Peter James, or PJ, Hallam to be precise.

And he is on his way back from Japan having competed in his first ever World Figure Skating Championships as Britain's sole male solo representative.

Qualification came somewhat as a surprise, with British number one Graham Newberry expected to claim the single slot.

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But destiny called Hallam at a qualifying event in Holland in February.

"Qualifying was definitely the aim when I went out to the competition but there was a lot of things that needed to go right for me if I was going to do it," he told The Star.

"One of those, of course, was I had to get the qualifying score.

"But because Britain had only been given one spot this year, even getting the score might not have been enough.

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"It was really a battle between the British number one and two.

"Graham was expected to get it but he didn't get the score.

"All eyes were on him to get the score and go to the worlds.

"If I got it, but he did as well, he would have gone because of his higher ranking.

"But that wasn't the case because he didn't get it.

"It was a massive honour for me."

For the 23-year-old, the journey to Japan began 15 years ago.

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Hallam grew up in Wincobank, an area where it would have been more expected for him to have picked up a pair of boxing gloves rather than skates.

But from upon the hill, he was well placed to watch the growth of a new sporting venue along the Attercliffe Road development.

And for a youngster desperately searching for his calling in the sporting world, the sparkling new iceSheffield held real intrigue.

"I started skating when I was eight years old," he said.

"I was looking for something to do at the time and I'd tried everything, like ballet and football - I'm terrible at football because I never liked passing the ball.

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"My mum found out through a friend that there was an ice rink opening just down the road.

"I went down and took to the ice really well and it just went from there."

It quickly became apparent there was the potential for skating to become more than a mere past time.

"It was almost instantly that we realised I had something," he said.

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"One of the coaches down there saw me on the ice and said at that point that I really had some potential and I should consider taking it seriously."

Inevitably, with the Steelers housed just down the road at the Arena, there were thoughts about going down the ice hockey route.

"I tried hockey skating but only very briefly," Hallam said.

"You do a bit of everything at first and then see what you want to specialise in.

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"On one session I tried it and really disliked it so I just stuck with figure skating."

Within a year he was in competition and his ability brought quick success, with first place finishes in his first four events.

Working under coach Dawn Peckett, who has guided him throughout his skating life, Hallam was thriving.

He won British titles at junior and novice levels and medalled internationally.

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The success came through plenty of hard work, and it had an inevitable impact on school life.

But whether at Limpsfield Junior School or later at All Saints Catholic High, he received plenty of support.

He said: "Both schools I went to were amazing.

"I started this when I was really young and they understood what I needed to do and were so supportive with it.

"Every time I won a medal they'd make me stand up in assembly and show everyone."

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The medals continued to come as Hallam reached senior level.

He has the distinction of five consecutive silver medals at the British Championships, showing excellent consistency with the gold medal having passed through several hands over the last five years.

But all his past achievements were eclipsed in February when he claimed his place at the World Championships.

Figure skating is not a cheap pursuit, particularly when involving flights around the world.

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Funding is non existent which means very little is financed for competitors in international competition.

Luckily, Hallam has found the ideal job on two fronts to help him chase his dream.

Fittingly, he is back where it all started, coaching at iceSheffield, a venue for which his World Championship qualification provided the ideal 15th birthday present.

"I'm a coach there now which is really convenient," he said.

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"Once I've finished coaching I can put my skates on and train myself instead of working another job and have to travel in.

"I'd say I train around four to six hours a day on and off ice.

"I coach four to seven hours a day so my days are very long.

"I come home, go to sleep then get up and do it all again.

"Going to Japan was going to be a bit of a rest for me."

The goal while in Japan was qualification for the long programme event.

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All male solo competitors entered the short programme, a two minutes and 40 seconds routine featuring three jumps.

But only the top 24 would reach the long programme - competed over four minutes with seven jumps.

Hallam missed out by one place, finishing 25th in the short programme rankings. While the result was agonising, he could take plenty of heart from a strong performance in his debut at the elite of the sport.

And his brilliant start to 2019 has him dreaming of what he could possibly achieve next.

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"It's got me thinking about the Olympics in Beijing in 2022," he said.

"A year ago I wouldn't really have thought I had a chance but I've shown myself what I can do this year.

"This has been a big achievement for me and also for all the people that have helped me get to this level, especially my family and everyone at iceSheffield."