Armed with new attitude, Michal Brezina is having his best season yet

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Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic said that the PyeongChang Olympic season would most likely be his last, though he opted to continue competing. This season, two silver medals on the Grand Prix circuit brought him to the Grand Prix Final, where he finished fourth.

At his next major event, the European Championships, he finished seventh and sat with NBCSports.com/figure-skating to discuss his California training base, what it’s like day to day at the rink, and his aspirations for the rest of the season.

This year is like a resurrection for your career?

I guess you can say so… It’s been definitely better than all these last seasons [laughing]. All this comes from the work I did with Raf [his coach of three years, Rafael Arutunian].

This really made a difference? You already were quite an excellent competitor before…

All the stuff I did with him definitely helped me be back to where I once was. Not to say that I had lost everything I knew when I went to him. But he had me practice the right way. I can see the difference of the way I practice within myself now. And it starts showing in competitions.

How would you describe it?

When I practice, I actually enjoy being on the ice now. It’s not “Oh my God, I have to do this again!” That attitude makes it much easier for me. It makes a whole difference.

How does it impact your performance?

When you enjoy what you’re doing, things are definitely getting into your body quicker, and it becomes automatic again. If you do things because you have to do them, they won’t be integrated the same way.

And yet you still practice, jump, skate the way you’ve always done?

This is true, I still do the same things, but the way I approach them is completely different. The way Raf puts it is completely different from what I was used to. He made me work on lots of little details.

For instance, one of the first things he told me was: “You need to have a base you can always fall back to.” Of course, if your base is too low [he gestures with his hand], then you can’t expect to achieve anything in competition.

You need to practice as high as possible, so that your base is high enough for competition. You have to understand that you can’t compete at the level you achieve at practice. Things don’t work like this. In a competition you’ll do about 90 percent of the program you’ve practiced for. That made a major difference!

Rafael Arutunian seems to be able to turn around the careers of many skaters: Adam Rippon, Ashley Wagner. They both made strong comebacks after training with him. Is it the same with you?

Yes! His system works really well. It all comes from skating.

If you use your edges, it becomes much easier, as you don’t have to rely on your power. That’s particularly important for older skaters. Look what Nathan [Chen] is doing: he relies on his power so much. Which is quite normal – when I was 19, I didn’t have to think much, because I had power. I just did the things I had to do! Older skaters need to use their blades more, because we don’t nearly have the same power.

What did Nathan bring to you, when he was training in L.A.?

Nathan was with us for three weeks during his winter break from Yale University. It was so nice! We could push one another much more while he was there. When he is not, the only one I had [to skate with] was [French champion] Romain [Ponsart], but now he is injured, so I’m alone.

You don’t like to be alone?

Let’s say it’s much harder for me to motivate myself. It’s not as much fun. Last summer things were so much easier, when the whole group was on the ice at the same time. There was Nathan, Romain, but also Marin Honda, from Japan, and Lim Eun-Soo from South Korea, and lots of younger skaters. You push yourself a lot more and that makes things much easier. The group we have is so helpful. You really get to push each other.

Did training with Nathan help you?

I learnt a lot from Nathan. One thing was to fight for every jump. Even when he starts with a wrong take-off, he just wants to land it, no matter of what. Which is right! Once you take off, you do have to land it! You have no choice, right?

Raf pointed that to me one day: “Look how Nathan is doing,” he told me. Technique may not be there, but he will go for it anyhow. Then his body will learn how to land whatever the take-off is.

That’s a huge asset: in competition he can rely on the fact that he knows how to land a jump. Even though a jump is a little bit off, you can still fight for it.

This gave me lots of inspiration. For the four seasons before I went to Raf, I didn’t fight for my jumps when the take-off was not good, in full honesty. I would let them go. This all changed when I came to Raf.

Although you were already a great skater, you agreed to all these changes.

Of course! You can’t keep going like this without having a clear vision of what you want to do. If my heart and mind were not fully in it, I wouldn’t be skating like this. It’s your decision to keep doing it. It’s for you to decide if there is something you still want to bring, or if you enjoy it. If you don’t put your heart and mind in it, it’s hard.

That’s what happened to me after the Sochi Olympics: did I want to go, or not? My heart was in skating, but my mind was outside, so it was hard to find the balance. Now I know what it is that I want to do, what I want to show, and I enjoy it very much.

Do you have specific ambitions for the rest of this season?

Just go and do it! Do what I do in practice: I may do more, but I can’t do less.

MORE: Alexandra Stepanova, Ivan Bukin on the rise with unique parental perspective

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships 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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Ilia Malinin’s quadruple Axel sheds light on first figure skater to land triple Axel

Vern Taylor
Vern Taylor, the first figure skater to land a triple Axel in competition. (Getty Images)
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Vern Taylor arrived at the Riverside Skating Club in Windsor, Ontario, on Sept. 15 to do what he has done at that rink for the last three decades: coach figure skaters. But this day was different.

Taylor, who in 1978 became the first man to land a ratified triple Axel in competition, was told that 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin performed the first quadruple Axel the previous night.

“When we heard that he landed it, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s terrific,'” Taylor said by phone.

He was then shown video of Malinin’s feat.

“Anything’s possible,” Taylor said. “43 years [later], that’s something. It’s knowing that you can perform the jump that makes it challenging.”

Malinin, the world junior champion, landed the most difficult jump in skating and checked off the only remaining quad yet to be performed.

At the 1978 World Championships in Ottawa, a 20-year-old Taylor broke through a similar barrier in hitting the last remaining unchecked triple jump. But while Malinin’s senior career seems to be just getting started, and many medals appear in his future, Taylor is largely a forgotten man outside of ardent figure skating followers.

He finished 12th at those 1978 World Championships. Taylor’s 1980 Olympic prospects were dimmed by the fact that Canada had just one men’s singles spot, and he had taken runner-up at nationals in 1978 and 1979 to Brian Pockar, who also outscored Taylor at those years’ world championships. So Taylor stopped competing a year before the Lake Placid Games.

“I didn’t have a reason,” he said. “I just decided to take a break.”

Taylor will always have that day at the world championships in Ottawa. He can still remember the nervousness, knowing that two other skaters also planned to attempt a triple Axel. They were unsuccessful, though Taylor didn’t know it.

“I didn’t see their jumps,” he said. “I didn’t want to know what was ahead of me.”

American David Jenkins landed a triple Axel in Movietone newsreel footage reported to be from 1957, but that was not in competition.

Taylor, skating to music from “Rocky,” put the triple Axel as the third jump of his program, according to reports at the time. The one YouTube video of it, published two years ago, has 32,000 views. It shows Taylor landing the three-and-a-half revolution jump on one foot and spinning out of it while managing to stay on that single skate blade amid a crowd roar.

“During that program, it was like a rock concert,” Taylor said. “I got the energy from the audience.”

The Montreal Gazette reported at the time that the jump was ratified three hours later. Italian Sonia Bianchetti, the men’s referee at the 1978 Worlds, said she met with the assistant referee, the ISU president and a technical delegate.

“During this short meeting it was recognized that Vern had completed the first triple Axel Paulsen jump [Norwegian Axel Paulsen was the skater who landed the first Axel jump in 1882, getting it named after him] in an officially recognized figure skating competition,” she wrote in an email last month. “The triple Axel was fully rotated and landed on one foot.”

One of the people inside the Ottawa Civic Centre that day was 16-year-old Canadian Brian Orser. Orser, inspired by Taylor, later became synonymous with the jump — labeled “Mr. Triple Axel” and landing it en route to silver medals at the Olympics in 1984 and 1988 and the 1987 World title.

Orser remembered Taylor visiting his skating club for an exhibition. Orser saw Taylor doing an Axel takeoff exercise off the ice, incorporated it into his own routine and began teaching it to his skaters after becoming a coach.

Yet another Canadian, Kurt Browning, was the first man to land a ratified quadruple jump of any kind in competition — a toe loop at the 1988 World Championships.

“For me, personally, it was huge,” he said, “because I was promised a car if I could land it.”

Through an agreement with an Edmonton car dealership, Browning was handed the keys to a Quattro — quad/Quattro — after hitting the toe loop. The skater was unaware that the dealer was merely leasing it to him. About six months later, Browning received a call asking to bring the car back.

Browning was inspired by American Brian Boitano, whom he previously saw land a quad outside of competition. Taylor motivated him, too.

“[Taylor] gave me permission, even at a young age, to start thinking bigger,” he said.

Browning also pointed to Jozef Sabovčík, a 1980s skater for then-Czechoslovakia who many believe was the first man to land a quad in competition, Browning included. Sabovčík was initially given credit for a quad toe loop at the 1986 European Championships, but weeks later it was invalidated because he touched down with his free foot, according to reports.

“I never want to come off as arrogant, but despite what ISU [International Skating Union] decided in the end, I do know that I landed the jump on that day,” Sabovčík, who said he performed a quad jump on his birthdays through age 44, wrote in an email. “The fact that most of the people in the skating world believe the same thing, it means everything to me that Kurt is one of them. It would have been nice to have my name in the Guinness Book of Records, but I am also not trying to change history.”

Sabovčík, now 58 and coaching in Salt Lake City, attended March’s world championships in Montpellier, France, where Malinin finished ninth. There, he spoke with Malinin’s parents, Russian-born Uzbek Olympic skaters Tatyana Malinina and Roman Skornyakov, whom he calls friends.

“They told me that he was already doing a quad Axel on a fishing pole harness [in practice], and that it was coming,” Sabovčík said.

Less than two months after that talk, the first video surfaced of Malinin landing a clean quad Axel — at a U.S. Figure Skating jump camp.

“I did not think [a quad Axel] was possible,” Sabovčík said. “It really has to be an athlete that can combine the technical ability with jumping ability with the speed of rotation. When Kurt and I jumped, we had a relatively speaking slow rotation, but we jumped really big compared to these kids. But Ilia, he has the vertical lift, but he [also] has an unbelievably fast rotation.”

The recent proliferation of quads in men’s and women’s skating can be attributed to several factors, including better boots, better ice conditions and improvements in technology that can aid coaching. Still, there are concerns about if and how the pounding of training quads can wear down a skater physically.

“It’s a lot of pain you don’t feel at first, but you know it comes later,” said Frenchwoman Surya Bonaly, who started training a quad in 1989 and attempting it through the mid-1990s. Bonaly had two hip surgeries after her competitive career.

Even Taylor faced those questions.

“People said, ‘Aren’t you worried about injuring yourself?'” he said. “I would say, ‘No, I want you to know it can be done.'”

Sabovčík never tried a quad Axel in his skating days, but Browning did for less than a week in the early 1990s after winning four consecutive world titles.

“Just playing with it,” said Browning, who never tried it in competition. “Ilia has that special ability to not only get up in the air, but then he has that beautiful rotation that doesn’t look hurried. It’s fast, it’s quick as lightning, but it doesn’t look hurried. It’s so easy. Like a good golfer swings easy, and the ball goes 400 yards.”

Browning recalled a conversation he had with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who in recent years made the quad Axel his quest. Hanyu attempted it in competition last season but did not land it cleanly before retiring in July. He said upon retirement that he still hoped to master the jump for his non-competitive show career.

“I asked Yuzu one day, ‘When you do quad Axel, does it just feel like you’re up there forever?'” Browning said. “And he kind of looked at me funny, and he goes, ‘Yeah, like it never ends.'”

The skating world awaits the reserved Hanyu’s thoughts on Malinin’s quad.

“Knowing Yuzu, I would think he’d be very supportive,” said Orser, who coached Hanyu for nearly a decade. “He appreciates that kind of athleticism.”

Orser also noted what comes with being the first — and so far only — skater to land a rarefied jump. Malinin, who headlines Skate America in two weeks, will be asked about the quad Axel in just about every interview for the foreseeable future. For some skaters, they may feel a responsibility to land it all the time.

“But I don’t think [Malinin] thinks too much about it,” Orser said. “His technique is perfect, so he’ll be fine.”

The inevitable topic after that is the next progression in skating: the first quintuple jump. Orser said that Hanyu did five-rotation Salchows in practice with the aid of a harness.

“It’s just a little bit more rotation than the quadruple Axel, so it’s not that far off,” said Sabovčík, whose unratified quad toe loop came eight years after Taylor’s triple Axel. “Now that I’ve seen the quad Axel, I don’t think it’s impossible.”

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Aleksandra Trusova splits from coach Eteri Tutberidze, months after Olympic tears

Alexandra Trusova, Eteri Tutberidze
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Olympic figure skating silver medalist Aleksandra Trusova reportedly split from coach Eteri Tutberidze‘s group, eight months after a tearful scene after the Olympic free skate.

Trusova, 18, will now be coached by Svetlana Sokolovskaya, according to Russian media reports dating to Saturday. All Russian skaters are ineligible to compete internationally indefinitely due to the national ban over the war in Ukraine, but Russia is still holding domestic events.

At the Beijing Winter Games, Trusova became the first woman to land five quadruple jumps in a free skate. She had the highest score that day, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap to fellow Tutberidze pupil Anna Shcherbakova from the short program.

Moments after the competition ended, Trusova was seen crying and yelling at Sergey Dudakov, a member of Tutberidze’s coaching team.

“Everyone has a gold medal! Everyone has! Only I don’t! I hate figure skating! I hate! I will never step on the ice again! Never!” she said in Russian.

Shcherbakova had the individual gold, and the other Russian women’s singles skater at the Games, Kamila Valiyeva, skated both programs of the team event. The Russians placed first in the team event, but medals will not be awarded until Valiyeva’s doping case is adjudicated. It’s possible that Valiyeva gets retroactively disqualified, the Russian team gets disqualified and the other nations all move up with the U.S. going from silver to gold.

Trusova performed at the Russian test skates last month, withdrawing after her short program due to a back injury.

Trusova previously left Tutberidze in 2020 for two-time Olympic champion turned coach Yevgeny Plushenko‘s group, then moved back to Tutberidze’s group after the 2020-21 season.

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