Older, wiser Tuktamysheva comfortable taking on new skating style and social media trolls

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva
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Just over a minute into her Lombardia Trophy free skate, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva glides to center ice. The 2015 World champion has landed two planned triple Lutzes after stepping out of an ambitious triple Axel attempt. She emerges from a level four layback spin and sets her expressive eyes on the judges.

Tuktamysheva, 21, is leading after the short program of her first competition of the season. A strong result will help her stand out in a field of Russian ladies so deep that the 2013 National champion is yet to qualify for an Olympic team.

With three triple jumps to go, the Glazov native hasn’t simply begun her step sequence as the music changes to The Hot Sardines’ “Petite Fleur.” She’s lip-syncing for her life.

“I sing along to my free skate!” Tuktamysheva admitted in her first-ever English interview. “When I first heard this music, I fell in love. I wanted to start skating right away.”

Coached by famed technician Alexei Mishin – noted for working with Olympic champions Alexei Yagudin and Yevgeny Plushenko – the Russian’s free skate, a Roaring Twenties mash-up of selections by Caro Emerald and Parov Stelar, is a distinct departure from the more dramatic endeavors she chose in seasons past.

Since landing the triple Axel to win her world title in Shanghai, she often donned dark costumes as the likes of Carmina Burana and Peer Gynt blared in the background. All the while, teenaged rivals Yevgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova won world and Olympic golds by striking more major chords, musically speaking.

“This year is more me. I really like my [Assassin’s Tango] short, because it’s passionate. I like the style of the free, as well. I don’t know why I haven’t done this more often because it is so me, so light. I want to be able to do my programs cleanly, more beautifully, with more stability.”

Aiming to add a once-reliable triple Lutz-triple toe combination back into her technical arsenal, Tukstamysheva’s artistic shift was well-received by the judges. She won gold at Lombardia Tophy, earning her highest Program Component Score since the 2015 European Championships and the third-best free skating total on the senior level this season.

“I’m starting to enjoy skating again,” she said after regaining a consistent triple Axel at the end of last season. “I’m not worried about what people think of me, and I’m skating more freely. I’m full of love for my programs, and that’s a key to good skating. If you love something, you’ll do the best you can.”

She keeps that love alive by sharing it with fans, hosting a meet-and-greet party à la Taylor Swift at a St. Petersburg coffee shop last week, and makes a more global connection with a fast-growing Twitter account.

“Twitter is more comfortable for Americans like you and fans living in North America and Asia.”

Displaying a fluid command of English slang, Tuktamysheva collaborates with friend Valeriy Kharitonov to craft a confident voice, one that only an athlete who hurls herself in the air for up to three-and-a-half rotations could have.

“She appreciates her fans, but if there is a mean person, she’ll destroy him for sure,” notes Kharitonov, who occasionally translated questions during our 15-minute exchange.

“I don’t care!” Tuktamysheva adds. “I feel comfortable when anyone hates me.”

The only 20-something in an otherwise all-teen Top 15 at last year’s Russian Nationals, Tuktamysheva next heads to Finlandia Trophy, where she may continue channeling that more mature mindset and unflappable attitude – on and off the ice – towards more success.

“I don’t remember how I felt when I was 18. I just feel like I’m older, and maybe that I should think more about my future!” she joked. “Maybe I have more wisdom. I’ve realized some small things that I didn’t notice in the past. Those things definitely matter more now.”

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MORE: Figure skating season TV schedule on NBC Sports

Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal for most men’s Slam titles

Novak Djokovic Australian Open
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic climbed into the Rod Laver Arena stands to celebrate his 10th Australian Open championship and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title Sunday and, after jumping and pumping his fists with his team, he collapsed onto his back, crying.

When he returned to the playing surface, Djokovic sat on his sideline bench, buried his face in a white towel and sobbed some more.

This trip to Australia was far more successful than that of a year ago, when he was deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. And Djokovic accomplished all he could have possibly wanted in his return: He resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and made it back to the top of tennis, declaring: “This probably is the, I would say, biggest victory of my life.”

Only briefly challenged in the final, Djokovic was simply better at the most crucial moments and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). As a bonus, Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

“I want to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life, considering the circumstances. Not playing last year; coming back this year,” Djokovic said, wearing a zip-up white jacket with a “22” on his chest. “And I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable, to be in Melbourne, to be in Australia.”

The 35-year-old from Serbia stretched his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest run there in the Open era, which dates to 1968. He adds trophy No. 10 to the seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open — where he also was absent last year because of no coronavirus shots — and two from the French Open, to match rival Rafael Nadal for the most by a man.

Only two women — Margaret Court, with 24, and Serena Williams, with 23 — are ahead of him.

This was also the 93rd ATP tour-level title for Djokovic, breaking a tie with Nadal for the fourth-most.

“I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far,” Tsitsipas told Djokovic.

Djokovic was participating in his 33rd major final, Tsitsipas in his second — and the 24-year-old from Greece also lost the other, at the 2021 French Open, to Djokovic.

On a cool evening under a cloud-filled sky, and with a soundtrack of chants from supporters of both men prompting repeated pleas for quiet from the chair umpire, Djokovic was superior throughout, especially so in the two tiebreakers.

He took a 4-1 lead in the first, then reeled off the last three points. He led 5-0 in the closing tiebreaker and, when it finished, he pointed to his temple before screaming, a prelude to all of the tears.

“Very emotional for us. Very emotional for him,” said Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “It’s a great achievement. It was a really tough three weeks for him. He managed to overcome everything.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Tsitsipas was willing to engage in the kind of leg-wearying, lung-searing back-and-forths upon which Djokovic has built his superlative career. How did that work out? Of points lasting at least five strokes, Djokovic won 43, Tsitsipas 30.

Then again, on those rare occasions that Tsitsipas did charge the net, Djokovic often conjured up a passing shot that was too tough to handle.

It’s not as though Tsitsipas played all that poorly, other than a rash of early miscues that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything.

It’s that Djokovic was too unyielding. Too accurate with his strokes, making merely 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his foe. Too speedy and flexible chasing shots (other than on one second-set point, when, running to his left, Djokovic took a tumble).

“I did everything possible,” said Tsitsipas, who also would have moved to No. 1 with a victory, replacing Carlos Alcaraz, who sat out the Australian Open with a leg injury.

Perhaps. Yet Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes some more, until it’s the opponent who is something less than perfect on one swing, either missing or providing an opening to pounce.

That’s what happened when Tsitsipas held his first break point — which was also a set point — while ahead 5-4 in the second and Djokovic serving at 30-40. Might this be a fulcrum? Might Djokovic relent? Might Tsitsipas surge?

Uh, no.

A 15-stroke point concluded with Djokovic smacking a cross-court forehand winner that felt like a statement. Two misses by Tsitsipas followed: A backhand long, a forehand wide. Those felt like capitulation. Even when Tsitsipas actually did break in the third, Djokovic broke right back.

There has been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.

There was the not-so-small matter of last year’s legal saga — he has alternately acknowledged the whole thing served as a form of motivation but also said the other day, “I’m over it” — and curiosity about the sort of reception he would get when allowed to enter Australia because pandemic restrictions were eased.

He heard a ton of loud support, but also dealt with some persistent heckling while competing, including applause after faults Sunday.

There was the sore left hamstring that has been heavily bandaged for every match — until the final, that is, when only a single piece of beige athletic tape was visible.

And then there was the complicated matter of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of people with Russian flags — one with an image of Vladimir Putin — after Djokovic’s quarterfinal. The tournament banned spectators from carrying flags of Russia or Belarus, saying they would cause disruption because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Djokovic and his father said it was a misunderstanding; Srdjan thought he was with Serbian fans.

Still, Srdjan Djokovic did not attend his son’s semifinal or the final.

No matter any of it, Djokovic excelled as he so often has.

“He is the greatest,” Tsitsipas said, “that has ever held a tennis racket.”

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