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Yevgenia Medvedeva responds to social media criticism

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GRENOBLE, France — Yevgenia Medvedeva has been affected by social media critics since moving from Moscow to Toronto. Her fourth-place finish at Internationaux de France last week, her first time off a senior international podium, fueled her to discuss how she’s handling it.

“I never expected that there would be so much negative on social media,” said Medvedeva, the Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion. “So I’ve made a strong rule between social networks and me. I only have one Instagram page at the moment, and it’s completely private. I only have 16 subscribers, and they are my closest friends. I know that there are lots of followers and fans out there. Fans send me warm messages of support as well. There is so much good stuff there that it will eventually cover all the bad in this life.

“But now the connection with social media is running through my agent, and I’m not using it anymore.”

The skating world is putting pressure on Medvedeva to digest rapidly digest her changes in the last year. She would also love to, actually. But she is well aware that it can’t be so.

“You know, I have such a personality,” she said. “It comes from my ex-coach’s team: we want to do everything right here, right now, right away. Well, maybe there was a time for it, but it’s not the case anymore. That’s finished. Now I have to find myself a new style: a new style of skating, a new style of practicing, a new lifestyle. The change is even much bigger than I had anticipated.”

New coaches Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson agreed.

“I can fix things, but I can’t do quick fix,” Orser said. “Jason Brown [Medvedeva’s new training mate in Toronto] always repeats that: ‘step by step, step by step.’ I don’t really like these words, but it’s a rule of life. It has to be the way. Fortunately, I’m not a person to give up. I was so sad after my free program Saturday that I even didn’t want to talk to anybody. But I also have to understand that such a time will not last forever. It will come to an end. If I keep going, things will get fixed. If you’re working, you will have a result.”

The anticipated showdown between Medvedeva and former training partner and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova at the Grand Prix Final next week will not happen. Medvedeva failed to qualify for the six-skater event, pushing their first head-to-head since PyeongChang to Russian Nationals in late December.

“Of course, our role is to make Yevgenia happy on the ice, a little bit like we had done with Yuna [Kim, the South Korean 2010 Olympic gold medalist, also an Orser pupil],” Orser said before the French Grand Prix. “But not only this. We also want [her] to stay a fierce competitor. There is balance to find between the lightness of life and the fierceness of the athlete. The risk otherwise is to be vulnerable technically. So we need to work on awareness and focus. We may have come too soon to show the difference.”

Medvedeva has seen eye-to-eye with Orser since the summer.

“No one is in prison, right?” she said, laughing, in Grenoble. “We can do anything we want. But I think that at this point I have to be more open to the world.

“The competition in Grenoble was mentally hard for me. I think it’s just because I closed my mind too much inside myself. There was too much tension. It was not a good experience – but it was an experience. We need to find a balance at the moment, and we’re trying to find one. It’s sad, but we really need time.”

Change – the changes her life had to meet when she relocated to Toronto – is certainly the one topic Medvedeva favors most nowadays. She speaks Russian only with her mom and friends back home.

“It will require at least a year for me to get used to all this – my new coaches, my new friends, my new apartment,” she said.

Another change which Medvedeva is undergoing, at the moment, is physical at age 19.

“It’s hard to get used to a new body,” she said, adding that she’s working with a nutritionist. “It’s not that I want to be skinny or because I feel I need to lose weight because I’m fat. But I want to gain muscles and make my body feel better. That’s a part of the work, nothing else.”

Orser noted it, too. Body changes imply that technique has to be adjusted accordingly.

“Yevgenia came to us with a very good technique,” he said. “It’s just a matter of small adjustments. She is now changing and maturing, and we have to pay attention to her jumping technique. Physically, it’s already a big change.”

Russians before Medvedeva starred as teens but could not endure nearly as long as she has. More young Russians are on their way to challenge her for a place at March’s world championships and beyond.

“You see, there are also lots of rumors right now, also on social media saying that I want to prevent junior skaters to access the senior ranks, that I get mad at them. I’m not!” Medvedeva said, alluding to former coach Eteri Tutberidze saying in May that Medvedeva asked if Zagitova could have been left in junior division for the Olympic season. “I look at this in complete quietness. You know, that was me. I came to the senior ranks myself, and I won everything in my first senior year. It’s always been like this. I see the difference between younger skaters and me, skating wise. But at the same time, I also see the difference between their body and mine. We may stay in our children’s bodies as long as we can, but not forever. It’s OK. Just keep going, it’s natural. These girls will change, too. There is one thing I wish to tell them, though: stay kids and childish, in your bodies but especially mentally, as long as you can.”

Medvedeva’s choreographic process for this season also marked quite a change, working with Canadians David Wilson and Sandra Bezic after all those years in Moscow.

“The goal is to grow with the sport, not to be diminished by it,” Tracy Wilson said. “It takes about one year and a half for a skater to find that balance. The same happened to us when [Javier Fernandez] came to us. In his second year with us, it was around Christmas, before Europeans, Brian and I were watching him skate, and we both saw that he was getting it. Before then he was skating to what he was learning, and all of a sudden, he was owning it. It’s like when you’re learning a new language: for a while you keep thinking in your regular language, and all of a sudden you start thinking in your new language.”

L’Equipe journalist Clémentine Blondet assisted with the Medvedeva interview.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Mikaela Shiffrin proving she’s in league of her own

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There are ski racers, and then there is Mikaela Shiffrin.

NBC Sports essayist Tim Layden calls Shiffrin the “rarest creature,” a prodigy who continues to get better with age.

Shiffrin’s stardom took off with her heart-stopping slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics. It looked like she would ascend to an even higher level four years later in PyeongChang when she claimed a gold medal in the giant slalom, but then she lost a battle with her nerves and failed to win a medal in the slalom. She did capture a silver in the combined event.

That Olympic disappointment has fueled her historic World Cup season. She became the youngest skier to pass the 50 win mark. She broke the women’s career record for slalom victories, and she became the first skier ever to win four-straight world championship titles in a single event.

A true prodigy indeed.