Maxim Kovtun

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Yevgenia Medvedeva selected for Worlds

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At first, Russia entered their picks for the 2019 World Championships though said they were subject to change on Monday. Double world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva and 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva were not on that initial list; instead, listed as alternates.

But Wednesday, Russia’s skating federation made it official, deciding to send Medvedeva, the Olympic silver medalist; Alina Zagitova, the Olympic champion; and Sofia Samodurova, who beat Zagitova at Europeans to win the title there last month. Medvedeva also had won the selection competition on Saturday.

Worlds will take place March 18-24 in Saitama, Japan.

Tuktamysheva and Stanislava Konstantinova, who finished fourth at Europeans, were named the alternates. Tuktamysheva had missed Russian nationals due to a hospitalization with pneumonia and finished second at the selection competition. She also won bronze at the Grand Prix Final.

Neither the men’s nor pairs’ lineups changed from the preliminary list, and Russia still plans to send Maxim Kovtun, Mikhail Kolyada, Alexander Samarin, plus pairs Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov; Natalia Zabiyako and Alexander Enbert; and Alexandra Boikova and Dmitri Kozlovsky.

Russia has two ice dance spots for Worlds and are sending Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin (read NBCSports’ interview with the team here). Both teams were at the Grand Prix Final and finished with silver and in fourth, respectively.

MORE: Yevgenia Medvedeva responds to social media criticism

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Russia submits names for 2019 world team, without world champions Medvedeva, Tuktamysheva; changes are still possible

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Russia released their preliminary entries for the 2019 World Championships on Monday, designating 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and double world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva as alternates so far.

Instead, Russia will send Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, new European champion Sofia Samodurova, and Stanislava Konstantinova, who finished fourth at Europeans last month.

Russian media reported that there may still be changes made to the lineup, as there was not adequate time before the conclusion of a Russian selection competition and the entry deadline. Tuktamysheva was also given an assignment to the World University Games, alongside Konstantinova; Medvedeva, who won that selection competition on Saturday, is currently listed as an alternate for that event as well.

The rest of Russia’s lineup includes:

Men: Maxim Kovtun, Mikhail Kolyada, Alexander Samarin

Pairs: Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov; Natalia Zabiyako and Alexander Enbert; and Alexandra Boikova and Dmitri Kozlovsky

Ice dance: Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov; Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin (read NBCSports’ interview with the team here); and Sofia Evdokimova and Igor Bazin

MORE: Armed with new attitude, Michal Brezina is having his best season yet

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Behind the scenes at the European Championships: Day 3

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Jean-Christophe Berlot is on the ground in Minsk, Belarus to cover the European Championships. This is his behind-the-scenes look at the competition on the event’s third day.

Kovtun’s comeback

Many were eagerly waiting to see Maxim Kovtun, who won the Russian Nationals one month ago. Kovtun fell on his opening quad Salchow in his short program, but he landed a splendid quad toe, triple toe combination, and a solid triple Axel (both elements earned more than 2.0 points GOE). He is standing in fifth place before Saturday’s free program.

Kovtun acknowledged that this was a true comeback for him, and that the past two years were not easy.

“This is a long story,” he explained after his short program was over. He thought a little and then stopped talking in English: “See? My brain can’t work anymore: I can’t speak English after a short program!” He said with a laugh.

His explanations then came through an interpreter.

“In my first life [with his first coaches], I had that feeling that I didn’t realize myself fully. This was eating me from the inside.

“Then I started working with my current coach [Elena Buianova], and I could do my best to reach my real goals. She encourages me and during training I feel I want to go further. We worked very hard and devised specific routines for training.”

For the first time maybe on the ice, Kovtun seemed calm Thursday afternoon. In his former days he would spend his programs rushing after his next elements, forgetting the moment as if future had to be caught.

“But future has come already,” he said. “I have been working with a sports psychologist, and I suppose I grew up, too. I have to say also that my brain understands better what I have to do, because every day we are doing the same. Each time I smile, breathe, move in the program, everything is trained and ready because it has been repeated many times. We are working hard, and the results will speak for themselves.

“As for the next steps of my career, we have a strategy. It’s ‘do what we can do right now.’ I’ve lost my technical level for a short time. I needed a lot of work to reach a high level again, at least in practice. Now we have to do the same at competitions, and skate two clean programs. The decision was made in all consciousness not to jump over one’s head,” Kovtun concluded.

Kovtun appeared back to his usual technical standard, and also to his humorous usual style.

Polina Lakhtsutko, from Belarus, assisted with Maxim Kovtun’s interview and his comments.

MORE: Three Russian men in top five at Europeans after short program

End of practice routine

A routine has started to build up in Minsk: at the end of each group of practice, a few dozens of fans gather at the very end of the huge covered stadium, at the bottom of the stairs: they are waiting for their preferred skaters to pass by after their practice. A “mixed zone” has been organized for journalists, but it could be called “the selfie zone”!

Charming Italian dancer Marco Fabbri has several followers. Each apparition of Latvia’s Deniss Vasiljevs gathers gasps and whispers. Michal Brezina has clearly a strong fan base as well. But Javier Fernandez is certainly the most popular. In 13 European Championships, he has attracted nearly two generations of followers! No doubt why he has so many fans around the globe.

Coaches, too…

Two coaches are much sought after as well, at least as much as their skaters: Brian Joubert, who coaches Adam Siao Him Fa, the French competitor, and Stephane Lambiel, who coaches Vasiljevs. In the mixed zone, each one is asked for a selfie, a kiss or a photo (or all three!) with or without their protégés.

Who is she?

Lady fans are running after Marco, Michal, Deniss and Javi, but not only. In the pack-crowded stands of the Minsk Arena, several were focusing on a commanding lady walking up the steps, as Dame Tatiana Tarasova was going back to her TV booth.

“She is a famous TV commentator in Russia!” one fan offered. Of course, “this lady” coached her skating stars to win 68 medals at the Olympics, Worlds, Europeans and Four Continents through her care – which must certainly be the highest number in the world.

Chicken?

Vasiljevs’ costumes are quite noticeable. During the short program, he was wearing flashy bright yellow pants with a shining black jacket. One of Vasiljevs’ fans, an English teacher from Minsk who volunteers at the official hotel, tries to come to every outing, practice or competition, of her favorite skater.

Asked how she liked his costume, she quickly answered: “Oh! The chicken pants? That’s how we call it in Russian… At least he can’t remain unnoticed. We know instantaneously where Deniss is!”

But why chicken?

“Because that’s the color of a chick,” she explained.

Vasiljevs stayed focused on his mission in Friday’s morning practice, as he worked on landing his quad extensively. His fans can rest reassured.

MORE: Behind the scenes at day 2 of Europeans

As a reminder, you can watch the European Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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