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 NBCSports.com/figure-skating 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.”

Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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