At 23, Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva feels capable of anything, will continue ‘until I have nothing left to say’

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Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva finished her gold medal-winning Rostelecom Cup free skate last month at center ice, punctuating a final combination spin with a smile and an enigmatic swirl of her pointer finger.

Choreographer Yuri Smekalov had told the 2015 world champion to conclude her Japanese-inspired program, set to “Chronicles of a Mischievous Bird,” as though she were writing a kanji character in the air.

To those watching the 23-year-old finish what would be her first win at a Grand Prix event in two years, she seemed to instead be saying, “I’m not done yet.” Though this one consisted primarily of Russians, the win still spoke volumes considering the recent dominance of her compatriots.

“When I skate well, it takes on another meaning, that’s for sure,” the Russian confirmed to by phone.

Earning 148.69 points in that portion of the competition, Tuktamysheva landed a pair of triple Axels to roar into the lead over two-time junior world champion Aleksandra Trusova, 16, and ultimately hold off reigning European champion Aliona Kostornaya, 17, who had led after the short program and followed her in the free skate. Anastasiya Gulyakova, 18, finished third, ahead of Trusova.

“I think winning this will keep me motivated to work more, and incorporate more difficult jumps in the program,” Tuktamysheva said. “After a good experience in competition, of winning a gold medal, you have a feeling as if you’re capable of anything.”

It was the first time the self-styled “Empress” had beaten Kostornaya or Trusova since either had entered the senior ranks. Along with former training mate Anna Shcherbakova, 16, the teenagers swept the podium at Russian nationals for the last two years – Shcherbakova twice taking home gold. Kostornaya and Trusova each left longtime coach Eteri Tutberidze shortly after the 2020 World Championships was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a surprise to me, but they must have felt certain that they wanted to make a change, and in quarantine, so many lives have changed already, so why not make a few more?” the Glazov native mused of her rivals, who now train with 2006 Olympic champion Yevgeny Plushenko.

Plushenko spent his career training under Aleksey Mishin, who in turn coached Tuktamysheva to over a dozen victories on every stage imaginable in their ten-plus years together, though it has been six years since she claimed the Grand Prix Final, European and world titles all in one season.

Despite his years of experience, a global pandemic was a new frontier for the pioneering coach, who preached patience to his star pupil as they resumed training after nearly four months off the ice.

“He told me that it would be an interesting season, and that I would have to find that fire in my heart, because at the beginning of the season, I’d lost that amidst the struggle to find stability without the schedule to which I’d become accustomed,” she said. “He understands me, and didn’t put unnecessary pressure about how I should be skating or how hard I was working. Once I rediscovered the fire, I was able to work even harder.”

The primary challenge was to restore the already-intimidating technical arsenal that the 2018 Grand Prix Final bronze medalist had employed over the 18 months that preceded the pandemic – chief among them the triple Axel, which had helped spur a career renaissance as she began seriously contending for a spot on the teams for Europeans and worlds after three seasons of struggle.

“It was a strange feeling to be scared of the jump all over again,” Tuktamysheva remembered. “You know you can land it with your eyes closed, but you haven’t had those feelings for a long time, and being a little older, initially the body was like, ‘Uh uh, Liza! Not today!’

“We did a lot of exercises to bring it back and in making further attempts, it became less and less intimidating. Before the Cup of Russia competition in Sochi, I was more confident in the jump, and by landing it in both programs, I knew I could add a second to my free skate.”

It was at that third stage of the Russian Cup – a series of regional competitions which serve as qualifiers for this months’ national championships – that Tuktamysheva, known more for athleticism over her artistry, received high praise on social media from the likes of Kiira Korpi. The three-time European medalist, herself remembered for her grace and finesse on the ice, shared footage of her former competitor on Instagram, noting the maturity she displayed during her short program set to “Adagio” from the “Spartacus” ballet.

“When we decided to skate to Spartacus in the short program, I understood that it was going to be a lot of work, because it wasn’t my typical style,” Tuktamysheva said. “I feel the music and love the program, but it had been a long time since I’d attempted more classical music in my program. It’s very powerful, tragic music, and so we worked a lot to find the emotions and appropriate choreographic touches in order to present the program in a theatrical fashion.”

Where her short program shows a softer side – and some new spin positions – the free skate will be where she plans her most audacious elements, including a promised quadruple toe loop. Tuktamysheva has been seen landing quads, a staple of Trusova and Shcherbakova’s programs, multiple times in practice, but has only attempted it once in competition, when she finished fourth behind the trio – or Troika – at last year’s national championships.

“I’ve already spoken with my coach about exercises that will best prepare the body and add stability to each attempt,” she said. “I understand I can do it in practice, and now the next step will be incorporating it into a program.

“There isn’t a long time before nationals, but last year I had two weeks to get it ready and this year I have at least a month, so we will see.”

Off the ice, Tuktamysheva has become business-minded, launching an Empress Wear clothing line inspired by the figure skating fans she hopes will again fill stadiums following the pandemic. On the ice, she credits a both a commitment to health and fitness with helping her continue competing well past the average age of a modern elite women’s figure skater, and the unwavering belief that her best is yet to come.

“I’ve never felt as though I’ve done all I can do in figure skating,” Tuktamysheva said. “This feeling has stayed with me regardless of whether my season was good or bad.

“I still feel I have something more to show on the ice, and until I have nothing left to say as a figure skater, I will continue competing. Perhaps I will have a year where I feel I’ve given the absolute best of myself as an athlete and I will decide to stop, but in the meantime, I will skate.”

2023 French Open men’s singles draw

Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They meet in Friday’s semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

All of the American men lost before the fourth round. The last U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals was Andre Agassi in 2003.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

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IOC board recommends withdrawing International Boxing Association’s recognition

Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Boxing

The IOC finally ran out of patience with the International Boxing Federation on Wednesday and set a date to terminate its Olympic status this month.

While boxing will still be on the program at the 2024 Paris Games, the International Olympic Committee said its executive board has asked the full membership to withdraw its recognition of the IBA at a special meeting on June 22.

IOC members rarely vote against recommendations from their 15-member board and the IBA’s ouster is likely a formality.

The IOC had already suspended the IBA’s recognition in 2019 over long-standing financial, sports integrity and governance issues. The Olympic body oversaw the boxing competitions itself at the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021 and will do so again for Paris.

An IOC statement said the boxing body “has failed to fulfil the conditions set by the IOC … for lifting the suspension of the IBA’s recognition.”

The IBA criticized what it called a “truly abhorrent and purely political” decision by the IOC and warned of “retaliatory measures.”

“Now, we are left with no chance but to demand a fair assessment from a competent court,” the boxing body’s Russian president Umar Kremlev said in a statement.

The IOC-IBA standoff has also put boxing’s place at the 2028 Los Angeles Games at risk, though that should now be resolved.

The IOC previously stressed it has no problem with the sport or its athletes — just the IBA and its current president Kremlev, plus financial dependence on Russian state energy firm Gazprom.

In a 24-page report on IBA issues published Wednesday, the IOC concluded “the accumulation of all of these points, and the constant lack of drastic evolution throughout the many years, creates a situation of no-return.”

Olympic boxing’s reputation has been in question for decades. Tensions heightened after boxing officials worldwide ousted long-time IOC member C.K. Wu as their president in 2017 when the organization was known by its French acronym AIBA.

“From a disreputable organization named AIBA governed by someone from the IOC’s upper echelon, we committed to and executed a change in the toxic and corrupt culture that was allowed to fester under the IOC for far too long,” Kremlev said Wednesday in a statement.

National federations then defied IOC warnings in 2018 by electing as their president Gafur Rakhimov, a businessman from Uzbekistan with alleged ties to organized crime and heroin trafficking.

Kremlev’s election to replace Rakhimov in 2020 followed another round of IOC warnings that went unheeded.

Amid the IBA turmoil, a rival organization called World Boxing has attracted initial support from officials in the United States, Switzerland and Britain.

The IBA can still continue to organize its own events and held the men’s world championships last month in the Uzbek capital Tashkent.

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