Alina Zagitova, the reigning Olympic and world figure skating champion, is taking a break from competition.
Zagitova said she is focusing on non-competitive shows and needs to find motivation to compete again, according to a Russian translation, after being supplanted by younger Russians this fall.
“I will stay on ice, and I will continue my training,” she said, according to a TASS translation. “I think it would be the right thing to do, because I’m going to learn some new elements.”
Zagitova reportedly announced Friday on Russian TV that she will not compete at the national championships later this month, nor apply for a spot on the Russian team for the European Championships in January or the world championships in March.
In PyeongChang, Zagitova became the second-youngest Olympic women’s singles champion at age 15. Last season, she was fifth at Russian Nationals (behind three junior skaters) and second at the European Championships but bounced back to win the world title.
This season, Zagitova struggled to keep up with younger countrywomen throwing quadruple jumps and triple Axels who share her coach of Eteri Tutberidze.
“This is her decision, and, regretfully, it did not come out of thin air,” Tutberidze said, according to TASS. “Alina has been talking about this for about 18 months.
“The past 18 months when she kept competing and fighting, were difficult.”
“She skates beautifully, and she looks very good on ice, so the entire team of coaches tried to persuade her to continue. I think she would eventually arrive at the decision [to resume competitions]: she would not even make a pause in her training, so that she could return at any moment.”
Zagitova, who has never attempted a triple Axel or quad in competition, was second and third at two Grand Prix Series stops, then sixth in the six-skater field at the Grand Prix Final last week.
First-year-senior Russians Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova swept the podium.
“Olympic champion all ready to be dethroned, really, in such a big way by her younger training mates,” NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir said while commentating Zagitova’s last-place Grand Prix Final free skate, looking ahead to Russian Nationals. “She’s got so much work to do. So many things to learn, quads, triple Axels. … People judge you by how you get up from defeat. She’s got to claw her way up.”
“It must be such a hard position to be in,” NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said as Zagitova awaited her free skate score. “This entire year is about adjusting her expectations until she does learn a quad or a triple Axel. … Just watching her here is breaking my heart.”
The Russian system produced a conveyor belt of skaters in this decade, with new teens constantly replacing past champions.
Adelina Sotnikova and Yuliya Lipnitskaya earned gold medals in Sochi, then stopped competing in 2016.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva swept Grand Prix Final, European and world titles in 2014-15, but while competitive since has not returned to worlds or competed in an Olympics.
Yevgenia Medvedeva went undefeated for two years from 2015-17 before being supplanted by Zagitova in PyeongChang. She left Tutberidze’s group and took bronze at last season’s worlds but has not won on the top level in two years.
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