Zagitova will come back. We’re sure of this

The Olympic champion announced a break in her career but she will participate in shows

Alina Zagitova added a sinister meaning to the phrase “Friday the 13th” having announced that she was taking a break in her sports career. She won’t go to the Championship of Russia to Krasnoyarsk and, consequently, will miss the rest of the season. At the moment she is planning to participate in numerous shows.

With the words that will cut figure skating fans to the quick”

Channel One intrigued the whole evening. The monopolists of figure skating transmission on TV in Russia announced “Alina Zagitova’s sensational statement on Time programme” and drew the attention of those who love this sport and Alina, of course, again. “The Olympic champion is in our studio with the words that will cut figure skating fans to the quick,” the announcement read. In his introduction to the exclusive interview with the figure skater sitting in the studio, host Kirill Kleymenov inflated the degree of bombast to the max.

“Are you leaving the elite sport?” Kleymenov asked point-blank and got an answer:

“I am not going anywhere but I won’t be participating in the Championship of Russia. I want to explain that without selection [at the national championship] I don’t claim either the European Championship or the World Championship, I have always been selected through a competition.

I won’t compete next season but I will participate in many shows, I am still on the ice, I will train. I think it is even good, I will look for myself and learn new elements and new approaches.”

One should notice how Zagitova talked a week ago when she was explaining to Torino’s fans that she couldn’t be participating in the exhibition performances in the Grand Prix Final. Then Alina’s eyes were full of tears, she hardly could speak, and now there were hiccups only when she was choosing words. “I will participate in many shows (Tatiana Navka’s show in Russia was announced before New Year, then it is certainly known that there will be performances in Switzerland and Japan). It was written that the figure skater had a hip injury — so it can get worse only with harder training and competitions, it isn’t an obstacle to shows.

“I stay with my coaches we’ve covered such a long path with, the Olympics,” the athlete went on. “I thank them, the federation, all fans, my family. I want to go back to the state when I want to compete. An athlete who covered this path will understand me. When I began training after the Games, I performed programmes, I always wanted to quit, but I understood I liked it. But it was a very complicated period as well as this season.”

To put it frankly, nothing from what she said so far (and later) didn’t “cut me personally to the quick”. Won’t be Zagitova participating in the country’s championship? The participation in it could give her at most the status of a member of the team Russia and salary that the first six athletes receive after the Championship of Russia. It is beneath the owner of all titles in world figure skating. What could motivate Alina to compete in the Krasnoyarsk championship with a hip injury and then be a sub “just in case”? In expectation of even not an injury or ailment of some of her opponents but, for instance, non-compliance with WADA’s requirements because this season only Aleksandra Trusova among our young leaders have been under its jurisdiction, while Alyona Kostornaya and Anna Shcherbakova took doping tests at RUSADA. What if this becomes an obstacle for somebody of TSK (an abbreviation for Trusova, Shcherbakova, Kostornaya) to participating in major competitions? Though experienced functionaries of the figure skating federation have probably already clarified these questions.

Back to self-plagiarism, we should remind that we’ve repeatedly talked about the light weight of the current season from a perspective of the Olympic cycle. While upcoming final exams at school and entrance exams to university are taking on central importance. Moreover, venerable veterans like Roman Kostomarov and participants of online surveys on sports websites were ready to see Zagitova off at the age of 17. God forbid, let the girl exceed the “lifespan” of at least 19 years on the ice — by the next Olympics in Beijing.

Conflict in coaching staff

Let’s imagine she quits. What should she do? Should she dive into student life, take on public work there to gradually prepare for going into politics, which all Russian athletes are suspected of? Should she participate in shows, get married, give birth in the end? All the above-mentioned can become a list, and one can focus on something two years later as well, after the 2022 Olympics. Those who consider it is time Zagitova retired, as “she has already won everything” confuse sport with KVN humour game. The KVN Major League’s champion misses the next season and often doesn’t come back. And we will remind that Alina hasn’t won something. For instance, she doesn’t have the title of champion in Olympic and World Championship team events, though this is, of course, a quibble we’d been looking for long. Also, she hasn’t broken with the unpleasant tradition of failing in tournaments in Italy (she was fifth at the 2018 World Championships in Milan and sixth now in Torino). Big champions don’t retire after ranking sixth to be remembered by fans as an unpleasant scene in the Kiss&Cry.

It took Alina too much time to shine on the world stage in the last 2,5 years. As strange as it might sound, a person who made most figure skating fans fall in love with her, the senior career began only in autumn 2017. There had been a lot of unpleasant things before that — the position of an outsider in the training group in Izhevsk, the status of debutant kicked off from Eteri Tutberidze’s group. She even had the role of a person who wore the tutu after Yevgenia Medvedeva and skated to her music. It is the impression one can have if we compare Zhenya and Alina’s free programmes at the 2013 Championship of Russia and the programme Alina began her career with at the 2016 Grand Prix stage in France and finished with the Olympic triumph in Pyeongchang. The coaches and choreographers from Tutberidze’s group first tested both the red tutu and Minkus’s music from Don Quixote on Medvedeva and skimmed off the cream with Zagitova.

By the way, in Izhevsk 12-year-old Alina even had to skate during breaks of local Izhsteel hockey club’s matches to skate her programmes in front of the audience one more time. Do you think the temporary and quite expected failure this season breaks such a person?

This season Alina has had two gorgeous programmes. What do you think for? To walk off into the sunset after three performances at Grand Prix stages and in the final? One doesn’t squander such stagings. I am sorry but only Alina and… Ms Tutberidze herself can perform Cleopatra in the current Tutberidze team.

By the way, I am running the risk of belabouring the point, but I am sure that Tutberidze is absolutely against Zagitova quitting. As she can be called the coach of the women’s singles thanks to Alina. If Zagitova stops competing, the best coach of the country will immediately be remembered her “small personal cemetery” with Shelepen, Lipnitskaya, Pitkeyev and Medvedeva who headed to Canada to fight adolescence.

About quads

It is impossible to bypass quads as panacea for upcoming defeats.

“One should learn quads at a younger age than 17 years,” Zagitova reasonably noted. “Our sport is getting younger. I should have learnt them before the Games, but I ran the risk of picking up an injury, and my arsenal of jumps was enough. Then I grew up, I lost coordination, and it was key to keep all the jumps to perform them clean and well, I had to keep everything I know now, everything that we’ve gone through with the coaches together, and only we know what we have gone through.”

It is another thing Alina is remembered for. Not every athlete achieves something in a career that makes rules of the sport change. I mean the victorious Tutberidze — Zagitova formula that included all jumps in short and free programmes in their second part.

Alina, by the way, has repeatedly noted herself how important the coaching staff of Khrustalny plays in her career.

“The coaches have helped me a lot, they have found words of motivation. I even wrote a receipt that I promised to go to the competition, to the world championship, I pledged to skate well and do my best to compete in this competition. I kept my promise. Now I am not ready to sign such a receipt so far because I do everything I write down. There were difficulties, there were joyful moments. I am not going to leave them, we continue working together.”

It should be reminded that Canadian single skater Patrick Chan, the Russian pair Yekaterina Gordeyeva and Sergey Grinkov, Canadian dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took a break in the world’s figure skating and came back to go for Olympic gold. This list consisting of two representatives of Canada and one from Russia obviously lacks a single skater who logically must represent our country. Who could it be?

By Dzhaudat Abdullin