Ice princesses, before and after Korea

The rise and success in ladies' skating in Russia

February 23, 2018
By Oxana Shkrebtienko (LMDJ)
Photos © Oxana Shkrebtienko (LMDJ)

Russia has a glorious history in figure skating. From all the big competitions, Russian figure skaters take home some medals. Traditionally, the "Russian disciplines" were pair skating, for a long period ice dance, and since the 90s, the men's singles. But in the women's discipline something was always missing. Even Irina Slutskaya, the most titled of Russians, did not win the Olympic gold. At the Sochi Olympics, at last, the situation changed - Russia found two Olympic champions: Julia Lipnitskaya in the team competitions and Adelina Sotnikova in the individual event. Their friends and rivals - Anna Pogorilaya, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Evgenia Medvedeva, Elena Radionova, Maria Sotskova, watched their success and each was ready to fight in the new Olympic cycle. Each of them rose to the podium of big and small competitions during this cycle. Not all of them managed to cope with the tough rivalry inside the team, but this is rivalry that helps to develop figure skating and move the sport forward.

In all the subsequent seasons since Sochi 2014, the Russian girls dominated, sometimes winning the entire podium, breaking one record after another, not allowing competitors to even get close to the gold medal. It seems that in Korea they are not going to give up their positions, forming the main intrigue of the women's event - which of the two Olympic athletes from Russia will win gold, and who will get "only" silver ...

How did this breakthrough happen? After all, in Vancouver, just 8 years ago, none of the Russian single women claimed a medal. Such an influx of girls occurred precisely because figure skating has become very popular during the last 10 years - mostly due to shows, but the professional skaters' success also served its purpose.

It started after the Olympics in Turin - 2006, where the Russians won three out of the potential four gold medals (and a bronze medal in ladies went to Irina Slutskaya). The champions immediately joined Ilya Averbukh's ice show. Thanks to the high show rating, his team was invited to the TV show Stars on Ice, which eventually turned into Ice Age. This show had great success, and figure skating became the number one winter sport in the country. Competitions with the participation of the Russian skating stars are broadcast on prime time television on the main channels, tickets to the Russian Nationals are sold out, numerous ice shows in different cities are held with full rinks.
In winter time, parks and squares are temporary skating rinks, which are full of people wishing to skate. Even the Red Square, the main square of Moscow, in the winter has been turning into a skating rink for many years. Because of "Ice Age" a real boom of figure skating has started in the country. Upon the influence of this show, parents assigned their children to sports schools. And now we can see the result with our own eyes. The competition in ladies' singles at Russian Nationals has reached the highest level, because there is a maximum of only 3 quotas for the main starts, and the demand to get one is at least 3 times more.

"The rivalry itself is good. It's okay if 15 year old girls come and beat me. That's as it should be" says Evgenia Medvedeva.  " It happened with all generations. For me, the main thing is to continue working. And to understand that I'm doing it well. And in fact, it's not fearfully to lose, it's fearfully to be afraid of it. "

For Evgenia this season was not easy. Because of the injury, she had to miss the Grand Prix final and the Russian Nationals, so the title of Russian champion was won by the younger Alina Zagitova. Alina also beat Evgenia at the European Championships. However, this silver was with a golden tint, only Zhenia and her team know exactly what she had to go through to compete at the Europeans. Her foot was in plaster for a month and a half, because stress fractures are treated only with absolute quiescence. She spent a long time without training on ice, which of course made preparing for the Europeans not ideal. But she competed, she fought, and the whole rink applauded her with a standing ovation. It was a demonstration of courage and strength. Yes, it was not her best skating, but just this performance has already been a significant achievement. Many people had tears in their eyes; Evgenia deserved the true love of the audience!

Now, competing at the team event in Korea, as OAR (Olympic Athlete from Russia), in the short program Evgenia Medvedeva showed almost perfect skating. She skates like she's breathing, and despite her delicate outward appearance, she has a very strong character. Today, Evgenia is popular not only in Russia, but also abroad. She is especially loved by the Japanese who worship her and treat her like an idol. This is not surprising, the Japanese appreciate the beautiful skating and the purposefulness of the World champion, and this love is mutual, because Zhenia adores anime and even knows poetry in Japanese. Specially for the show in Japan, she created a program about Sailor Moon.

Evgenia has had 3 stable seasons, a huge number of titles and gold medals under her belt, but she still has to fight for the most important one, a gold medal at the Olympics.

In the free program at the team event, Zhenia was replaced by Alina Zagitova, who brightly flashed during last season; a young star of the same Eteri Tutberidze school, which raised Julia Lipnitskaya and Evgenia Medvedeva. Alina focuses on the most complicated technique, transferring all the jumps to the second part of her programs, which brings her extra points. However, Alina gets deserved high marks for the components as well and performs excellent classical ballet roles. Experts consider her free program to the music from the ballet Don Quixote a choreographic masterpiece, so precisely the accents are placed in it and the figure skating elements are arranged exactly with the music.

That's what Alina says about her program:
"Don Quixote" is actually a very balanced program. Even at the beginning everything is arranged to the music, there are accents, there are moments of coquetry and games with the audience, and all the jumps in the second part are also set according to the music.

The third representative of the Olympic athletes from Russia in Korea will be Maria Sotskova, who gained this spot with a very difficult struggle. It was more or less clear with the first two spots, Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova. Then the fight for the third one was less certain. Masha proved her right to go to Korea throughout the season, performing consistently well and in the Grand Prix final, in the absence of Evgenia Medvedeva, the best figure skater of the last two World Championships, Maria won silver, staying behind her team-mate Alina Zagitova. Sotskova is trained by Elena Buyanova, the coach with ambitions, who has already grown Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova, and she definitely is not going to close the account of her student-champions.

After the end of Russian Nationals, where Maria won the right to the third place in the team, she said:
"Sport does not happen without rising up and falling down. Each of us knows what he wants, and all of us have their goals. Our performances can't be equally flawless at all competitions, the human being is not a robot. This season is the most difficult for me because of the excitement and excessive desire to be selected into the Olympic team. Every athlete strives for this goal his entire life and such a season happens only once in four years. Motivation should be taken from your love for figure skating and your wish to engage in it. I just go on the ice and skate. For myself, my audience, my team and family. I did my best and I gave everything at this competition, so I need to save up energy for new performances
."

Evgenia, Alina & Maria are the three girls who will realize their ambitions at the ladies' single event of the 2018 Olympics in Korea.
But that is certainly not the end of cycle. Already for the next season the golden pleiad of Russian juniors will start to compete as seniors. They are Eteri Tutberidze students, and they occupied the entire podium in the Junior Grand Prix final this year - Alexandra Trusova, Alena Kostornaya , Anastasia Tarakanova and Daria Panenkova. The experts especially marked Alena Kostornaya, who is predicted with a brilliant career in future. At Russian Nationals this year she won the bronze medal.

"I never guess what will happen, I go to the ice and skate the program. And come what may. Of course, I am happy to obtain the unexpected medal in Nationals, but I did not intend to win, I just work, I train, I improve," Alena said after the competition.

There is also Polina Tsurskaya. A year and a half ago she was expected by specialists as one of main hopes in Korea. She has missed the last season due to her injuries, and this season she never managed to reach her former level. But her high and beautiful jumps and perfect skating skills are still with her. Polina has strong arguments in the fight for her place in the team, but they are no less strong among the competitors: Stanislava Konstantinova (she is a substitute in the Olympic team), Anna Pogorilaya, Elena Radionova. Also Elizaveta Tuktamysheva rehabilitated her triple axel and doesn't think of ending her career. Serafima Sahanovich moved to the coach Evgeni Plushenko, who offered a new strength and motivation to this athlete.

The popularity of figure skating in Russia is growing up and up. This gives hope for the continuation of victorious traditions in women's single skating. And let them not be interrupted, because Russia has a glorious history in figure skating.

The ladies' competition is finished and 15 year old Alina Zagitova became the Olympic champion in Korea with 239.57 points. In her debut season as a senior, she won all her competitions, and the Olympic Games became the culmination of this victory series. Alina deserved this gold medal with two clean programs and confident flawless skating with the most difficult technical content in the world.
Evgenia Medvedeva came to the Olympics absolutely ready for the fight. In the team event, and in the individual one, she was great. After the short program she was only 1.31 points behind Zagitova and finished first in the free program. But unfortunately for Evgenia, 238.26 points overall for two faultless routines was not enough to win. Her technical content scored lower than Alina's. Tears in her eyes, she couldn't hold her emotions after her skating. So this time, silver...
Both girls deserved this gold, but what can we do, there is only one gold medal, and whoever finishes second, will be bitterly disappointed that the other is first...
Maria Sotskova, after the short program, was only in 12th place, so in the free program she had simply nothing to lose. Sotskova did everything except for a triple flip triple Salchow combination, but the second jump was doubled. In comparison with her best result of the season, Maria missed 8 points, but with 198.10 points in total, she managed to move to 8th position.
Thanks to our wonderful girls who please us with their magnificent skating, for their strong characters, their courage and will to win. I have no other feelings except for respect and admiration!



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