Aliona Kostornaya, world’s top figure skater last season, leaves coach Yevgeny Plushenko

Alena Kostornaia
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Aliona Kostornaya, the world’s best figure skater last season, left coach Yevgeny Plushenko for former coach Eteri Tutberidze, on at least a months-long trial basis, in the latest change for a top Russian woman.

Kostornaya said that she realized this season if she was with Tutberidze, her coach during her dominant 2019-20 season, she would be able to push herself to do more, according to a Russian TV interview transcript published Saturday.

Tutberidze said she wants Kostornaya to get back her triple Axel, a jump she performed in 2019-20 but not this past season.

Kostornaya, the favorite for the 2020 World Championships before they were canceled, was not on Russia’s three-woman team named on Monday for this season’s world championships later this month.

Kostornaya, 17, missed competitions earlier this season, including December’s Russian Championships, after testing positive for the coronavirus.

She placed sixth in a domestic competition last weekend, the final event before the world team was named. She said she knew a change was necessary after that result, according to the interview transcript published Saturday.

Last July, it was first reported that Kostornaya joined the four-time Olympic medalist Plushenko’s training group.

She previously left Tutberidze, whose Instagram indicated that Kostornaya gave the coaching team a list of other women with which she did not want to share ice time, after going undefeated internationally in her senior debut season. Tutberidze coached Kostornaya since February 2017.

Plushenko, a new coach, and the more established Tutberidze have developed rival training groups.

Also last offseason, fellow young Russian star Aleksandra Trusova switched from Tutberidze to Plushenko. Trusova did make this season’s world championships team, along with Anna Shcherbakova (a Tutberidze pupil) and Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva (coached by Aleksey Mishin).

Tutberidze is best known for coaching Yevgenia Medvedeva to two world championships and Alina Zagitova to the 2018 Olympic title. Medvedeva left Tutberidze for Brian Orser‘s Toronto-based group in 2018, then returned home to Russia and Tutberidze last offseason amid the pandemic, parting on good terms from Orser.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch

Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine

Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”