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

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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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Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances. Ajan received cash payments, some as much as $100,000, as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, McLaren said.

He said $10.4 million was unaccounted for.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was the World Anti-Doping Agency’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Aján had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

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MORE: Coco Gauff delivers speech demanding change

Coco Gauff delivers speech, demands change, promises to use platform

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Coco Gauff, the 16-year-old tennis star, delivered a speech at a peaceful protest in her hometown on Wednesday, demanding change and promising to use her platform to spread vital information.

“I’ve been spending all week having tough conversations, trying to educate my non-black friends on how they can help the movement,” Gauff told a crowd, holding an affixed microphone atop a lectern in front of Delray Beach City Hall in Florida, after her grandmother spoke. “You need to use your voice, no matter how big or small your platform is. You need to use your voice. I saw a Dr. [Martin Luther] King quote that said, ‘The silence of the good people is worse than the brutality of the bad people.'”

Earlier this week, Gauff posted links on her social media accounts — with more than 800,000 combined followers — to register to vote and a petition for justice for the death of George Floyd. On Wednesday, she shared video of her participating in a march, saying her hometown police chief was part of the group.

Click here for NBC News’ coverage of Floyd’s death and protests in Minneapolis and around the country.

Last summer, Gauff, then 15, became the youngest player to reach Wimbledon’s fourth round since Jennifer Capriati in 1991. She followed that with third- and fourth-round runs at the U.S. Open and the Australian Open, sandwiched between her first WTA Tour title.

The full text of the beginning of her speech, which she shared on social media:

“Hello everyone. My name is Coco, and who just spoke was my grandma. I think it’s sad that I’m here protesting the same thing that she did 50-plus years ago. So I’m here to tell you guys this: that we must, first, love each other no matter what. We must have the tough conversations with my friends. I’ve been spending all week having tough conversations, trying to educate my non-black friends on how they can help the movement. Second, we need to take action. Yes, we’re all out here protesting, and I’m not of age to vote, but it’s in your hands to vote for my future, for my brother’s future and for your future. So that’s one way to make change. Third, you need to use your voice, no matter how big or small your platform is. You need to use your voice. I saw a Dr. [Martin Luther] King quote that said, ‘The silence of the good people is worse than the brutality of the bad people.’ So, you need to not be silent, because if you are choosing silence, you’re choosing the side of the oppressor. So, I’ve heard many things this past week. One of the things I’ve heard is, well, it’s not my problem. This is why I have to tell you this. If you listen to black music. If you like black culture. If you have black friends. Then this is your fight, too. It’s not your job. It’s not your duty to open your mouth to say, ‘Lil Uzi Vert‘s my favorite artist, but I don’t care what happened to George Floyd.’ Now how does that make sense? So, I demand change now. It’s sad that it takes another black man’s life to be lost for all of this to happen, but we have to understand that this has been going on for years. This is not just about George Floyd. This is about Trayvon Martin. This is about Eric Garner. This is about Breonna Taylor. This is about stuff that’s been happening. I was 8 years old when Trayvon Martin was killed. So why am I here at 16 still demanding change? And it breaks my heart because I’m fighting for the future for my brothers. I’m fighting for the future for my future kids. I’m fighting for the future for my future grandchildren. So, we must change now, and I promise to always use my platform to spread vital information.”

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