What’s wrong with Russian figure skaters? Seemingly, it is not only a matter of psychology

Is the gold of the Olympic team event in doubt?

Representatives of Russia’s men’s singles failed the international performance again. This time it was in a Grand Prix leg in Sochi where the fate of tickets to the tournament’s final was determined. Experts and fans cannot come to an agreement over and over what is the reason for our figure skaters’ misfortunes. Because the performance of the national team in other events, pair skating and ice dance, not to mention the women’s singles, is close to being outstanding. Read in the report of Realnoe Vremya’s sports staff about the possible reasons for the fall in the men’s skating.

Why are we talking about Kolyada first of all?

This Grand Prix leg at Iceberg Olympic stadium in Sochi was certainly a success. There were two full Russian podiums, in the women and pairs’ skating, three world records, a gold in ice dance and a silver in the men’s. Just the last result stands out in a crowd, but not because of the colour of the medal but the content. Mikhail Kolyada managed to finish second and reach the Grand Prix final, but we cannot be happy with the result. He had a frankly bad performance in both programmes, failed to perform jumps, fell, had a step-out and again not the friendliest communication with journalists and evasion of any questions. It might be alright, everybody can have bad days, if not one but: the whole career of Mikhail consists of such days.

Unofficially, precisely Kolyada is the national team’s number one and he has everything to fit in. He has a natural talent, he trains with one of the world’s best coaches Alexey Mishin and, which is important, has the federation’s support. Yes, it was tough for Kolyada after the Olympics in Pyeongchang: there was a lot of criticism after the missed gold in the team event. But almost four years have passed since then. Kolyada missed one season, treated his injuries. A lot of events happened over this time, including in his personal life, there were a lot of competitions with both victories and defeats. It might seem that the memories should be replaced with others. But Kolyada’s results and performances don’t change. The athlete himself doesn’t comment on the situation, he just says that he knows the cause of his faults but isn’t going to share them publicly.

Do only Russian figure skaters have psychological issues and pressure?

The public in general thinks that the athlete’s psychology and pressure that is put on him is the reason. And if we can partly agree with this in the case of Kolyada, it would be cunning to say the same pressure is put on other representatives of Russia’s men’s singles. Every athlete has psychology, pressure, criticism, but why do they influence so much on single skaters from Russia? Why don’t the girls, young ladies, women performing on the ice permit negative thoughts in their heads to rule over them? They are certainly criticised for any mistakes on the ice and off the ice. Wasn’t Alina Zagitova’s every fault discussed once? Wasn’t Yevgenia Medvedeva’s name conjugated? Isn’t Alexandra Trusova invented unpleasant nicknames or isn’t Alyona Kostornaia remembered her sharp tongue?

At last, men perform not only in singles but also in pairs. But we don’t see mass mental issues there, though any event has competition and tension. The same applies to figure skaters from other countries: nobody justifies their bad luck with their way of thinking, and no top figure skater allows spoiling performances on a regular basis. Here, it is widespread. And this refers not only to Mikhail Kolyada but also all representatives of the men’s singles on the Russian national team.

In conclusion, I would like to note that nobody denies the concern, responsibility for the result and instinct of self-preservation regardless of their sex. But it is unclear why the quintessence of the above-enumerated things must be precisely among Russia’s men’s singles skaters.

Can the weak generation be the reason?

There is another version that is used to justify misfortunes in the men’s singles. It is the allegedly weak generation that performs now for team Russia. Of course, when your history had such living legends of the world’s figure skating such as Yevgeny Plyushchenko and Alexey Yagudin, it is very hard to outperform them in charisma and quality of skating. But we think it is wrong to say today’s generation is weaker than the previous one.

Our figure skaters can do a lot. There are athletes with a great technique such as Alexander Samarin and amazing skaters as Mikhail Kolyada, some figure skaters can combine both qualities, let’s say, Dmitry Aliyev. Makar Ignatov can amaze one with the variety of quads, while Yevgeny Semenenko and Mark Kondratyuk can recollect themselves at the right moment and give the country the third Olympic qualification. Andrey Mozalyov is the reigning world junior champion, whereas Artur Daniyelyan is the reigning European silver medallist. And this is not the full list, we have strong figure skaters, while the gaps any athlete in the world have can be filled. Given the will.

Answers to tough questions on the surface

It seems the answer is hidden here. What if everything is much simpler? Perhaps, when you have ideal training conditions, you receive a salary as a member of the country’s national team, you don’t have to collect bottles to help your parents (Editor’s note: Yevgeny Plyushchenko is meant here), while the influential Figure Skating Federation is at hand, you get relaxed? What if the absence of a proper attitude to the job and low standards are the reason? Because when you are a pro athlete (in fact, figure skaters are professionals, though the system in figure skating is a bit different), everything matters: the food you eat, your regime, the amount and quality of training, and how many times you train jumps and skate your programmes. For instance, if Sofia Samodelkina exaggerated when she said she jumped 500 Axels a day, she didn’t obviously exaggerate too much. While legend has it how programmes at Khrustalny are performed at every training.

What if our singles skaters lose the fight before the competition? What if it is not enough for them to simply train but necessary to work hard? Perhaps, you demand less from yourself when you understand you personally are happy with everything? Your group doesn’t have six candidates for key competitions, and if talented juniors are at your heels, seemingly, one quadruple toe loop for two programmes are enough to reach the Grand Prix final. Or when you are a talented figure skater and haven’t been able to get in shape for several seasons, you literally die in the second half of the programme but allegedly don’t notice that if usual conditioning doesn’t yield results, you can turn to professional conditioning coaches, not people who graduated from a sports university finishing extramural studies? As people say, all coincidences are accidental.

Will the situation change soon?

Since the Olympic season is different from ordinary ones in figure skating, there is hope that our athletes will gain shape by the main competitions. We repeat that they have everything for this: knowledge, talent, a qualified coaching staff. The question is when this will happen and if they will make it. The next big tournament will be in Japan, the Grand Prix final will be hosted there. 11 representatives of Russia, including Mikhail Kolyada, will compete in it. Young Japanese whiz-kid Yuma Kagiyama (the only man who has won two stages this year), also Japanese-born Shoma Uno, quad experts from the USA Vincent Zhou, Nathan Chen and Jason Brown will be his opponents. It is good training for our skaters before the nationals. But then one will not envy functionaries from the Russian Figure Skating Federation. After the national championships, they will have to choose the team for the main competition of the season, including the Olympic Games. And it feels like the toughest choice will have to be made in the men’s singles. Or the expression “Pyeongchang flashbacks” will have a completely different meaning than it does now.

Guzyal Yakubova