Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva on 2022 Winter Olympics: “This is all that’s left”


From two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu to reigning World champion Anna Shcherbakova, some of the biggest names in figure skating associate with a stuffed animal that fans might throw onto the ice in the aftermath of an epic performance.

Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva could have hoped crowns would be thrown to the self-styled “Empress” upon her arrival at the 2021 World Figure Skating Championships—her first appearance at the event since winning it in 2015. However, the absence of non-athlete spectators at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden, left Tuktamysheva to summon an inner strength, one that had already brought her back to the sport’s pinnacle after six years on the periphery, to ultimately earn a silver medal as part of a Russian sweep alongside Shcherbakova and Aleksandra Trusova.

“I had to believe it wasn’t the end,” she told by phone on Sunday. “I had to tell myself that I still have a future, that I should continue, and that adversity would only make me stronger. Every time I’ve had a bad situation in my life, I’ve told myself that. Bad things will happen, but I have to survive and move on.

“My career has been a lot like a mountain, something I climbed up and down before I could climb back up again.”

That climb back up has been fraught with peaks and valleys in the last Olympic quadrennium. Tuktamysheva was on course for a world team berth in 2019 after a bronze-medal finish at that season’s Grand Prix Final, only for pneumonia to force her out of the Russian national championships. She ultimately lost her spot to Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva in a skate-off at the Russian Cup Final.

“I was definitely upset when I knew I wouldn’t go to worlds, and [that] wasn’t an easy time for me in my career,” she said before chuckling, “I have had a lot of moments like that.”

This past season began in similar fashion; days after holding off Trusova and 2020 European champion Aliona Kostornaya at the Rostelecom Cup, Tuktamysheva tested positive for COVID-19 and was off the ice for two weeks.

“I didn’t have terrible COVID symptoms, just a fever for two days, and I remember feeling so tired. I’m happy I was only sick like that, and relieved that it was nothing worse.”

Unable to afford another withdrawal, the 24-year-old made the trip to nationals, a veritable thunderdome replete with quad-jumping teenagers, and finished fourth among worlds-eligible athletes to trigger another tiebreaker between herself and Kostornaya—who had withdrawn due to her own COVID diagnosis.

“I was glad to be able to show my programs at nationals because it was important just to be there and skate as well as I could,” Tuktamysheva said. “I was happy I didn’t fall on every jump and that it wasn’t so bad!

“After COVID, it took a while to skate my free program with good breath; I would get tired faster than before. By the Russia Cup Final, I understood I was back in shape and ready to compete.”

A near-perfect free skate in Moscow—one that included a triple lutz-triple toe combination in addition to her signature pair of triple axel jumps—assured her of a long-awaited worlds return, where she placed third in both portions of the competition to finish second overall.

“For me, international competitions have always been less pressure than the ones in Russia. Our national competitions have a good number of girls jumping quads, and so when I went to the world championships, I felt so much less pressure, and just… like I was able to enjoy the fact that I’m actually a really good skater.”

It is this kind of radical candor that has helped make Tuktamysheva a fan favorite and one of her sport’s premier personalities.

“I feel people understand me because of how open I am with them,” she explained. “I’m the same person on social media, in interviews, in real life, and I think that’s why people don’t just see me as an athlete, but like I’m their friend. Their love and support give me a lot of energy.”

A season full of national competitions allowed her the opportunity to draw unlikely support from rivals like Shcherbakova, with whom she led Russia to a maiden victory at the World Team Trophy earlier this month. in which Tuktamysheva was team captain.

“We’ve started to be more like friends,” Tuktamysheva said. “She’s a really cute and nice girl, and I feel comfortable with her. At competitions where her parents couldn’t be with her, I tried to keep her company.”

Seven years Shcherbakova’s senior, Tuktamysheva doesn’t envy the uniquely competitive atmosphere encouraged at the Sambo 70 club, led by coach Eteri Tutberidze and home to a bourgeoning next generation of Olympic-eligible talent like junior world gold and silver medalists Kamila Valiyeva and Daria Usacheva.

“I didn’t feel nearly the same amount of pressure at their age as I’m sure they feel now,” says Tuktamysheva. “It was a different time in figure skating; the level wasn’t as high, and so it was easier for me to feel confident about my place in the sport.

“At the same time, I was such a crazy girl growing up, and no one could stop me or tell me anything! I just led with my mind.”

Tuktamysheva’s triumphant finish to the 2020-2021 season puts her in unexpectedly good stead to at last compete in an Olympic Games, having fallen short of the team in both 2014 and 2018. Looking to set her programs with famed coach Aleksei Mishin before taking a short vacation in the Maldives, she aims to do all she can to earn the only crown still missing from her collection.

“I’ve had a lot of great moments, and I’ve had a long career,” she said. “An opportunity to finally make it to the Olympics would be the cherry on the cake. In my wildest dreams, I see myself winning bronze, silver, gold, standing on that Olympic podium. It’s going to be so hard getting there, and I don’t want it to be my main goal for next season, but it would mean so much to me and for my career to be able to make it to the Olympics.

“I’ve already done almost 100% of what I can do, and this is all that’s left.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Isabeau Levito, 15, delivers in figure skating nationals short program as favorite

Isabeau Levito

Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old favorite, delivered in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships short program, taking the lead into Friday’s free skate.

Levito, third in her senior nationals debut last year, tallied 73.78 points in a clean short on Thursday in San Jose, California.

She edged the comebacking two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell by two hundredths of a point. Starr Andrews was third, one hundredth ahead of Amber Glenn and 1.53 points ahead of Gracie Gold.

A committee selects the three-woman team for March’s world championships shortly after the free skate.

“I was kind of aiming for this placement,” Levito said on USA Network.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Levito, a New Jersey native who started skating at 3 and a half and has been with the same coach since age 4, developed a steely reputation as a competitor. That mixes with her artistic comparisons to 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen and her inspiration, Johnny Weir. She hasn’t missed a podium at a competition she has completed at any level since November 2016.

It’s seemed like Levito has been destined to be the leading U.S. woman in the 2026 Olympic cycle, leading up to the Winter Games in her mom’s hometown of Milan. She was too young for last year’s Olympics, but would have just missed the team had she been age-eligible.

None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians are competing this season — Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired; Karen Chen is studying at Cornell — paving the way for Levito to ascend.

That she did, winning April’s junior worlds to become the first U.S. woman to win a global title — junior or senior — since 2008.

Then this past fall, Levito placed second in her first two senior Grand Prix starts, then placed a surprising second at December’s Grand Prix Final, which gathered the world’s top six women from across the series.

Granted, the Final was her lowest point total of her five international events this season. All six skaters had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.

Levito ranks fifth in the world by best total score this season, fourth among seniors and a whopping 18.13 points better than the No. 2 American. Note the absence of Russia, which has dominated women’s skating for the last decade.

Levito won’t be worrying about her international standing while sitting on an overnight lead. She has work left in Friday’s free skate to win what could be the first in a series of national titles.

Tennell, 24, had her best short program since coming back from a 19-month competition break due to foot and ankle injuries. She was unable to defend her national title last year, ruling her out of Olympic contention.

“Even just making it back onto the ice again was a struggle,” Tennell said while in the arena where she made her Olympic team in 2018. “I stepped on the ice today and I looked up and I closed my eyes and I took a deep breath, and I was like, ‘You can do this,’ which is the exact same thing I did five years ago.”

Andrews, 21, is coming off a fall Grand Prix Series where she became the first Black U.S. skater to win a medal on the circuit.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Women’s Short Program
1. Isabeau Levito — 73.78
2. Bradie Tennell — 73.76
3. Starr Andrews — 68.97
4. Amber Glenn — 68.96
5. Gracie Gold — 67.44
6. Lindsay Thorngren — 62.64
7. Clare Seo — 61.48
8. Ava Ziegler — 61.09
9. Audrey Shin — 60.76
10. Ting Cui — 57.11
11. Josephine Lee — 55.60
12. Lindsay Wang — 52.19
13. Sonja Hilmer — 51.16
14. Michelle Lee — 46.71
15. Gabriella Izzo — 45.73
16. Alexa Gasparotto — 45.00
17. Elsa Cheng — 44.36
18. Hanna Harrell — 42.84

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

Rhythm Dance
1. Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 91.90
2. Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 81.40
3. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 78.18
4. Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 77.37
5. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 76.23
6. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 75.91
7. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 75.52
8. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 73.91
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 72.80
10. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 69.05
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 68.53
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 52.59
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 50.88
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 48.28
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!