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Stanislava Konstantinova aiming for better, more consistent skating at Winter World University Games

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Stanislava Konstantinova was the least well-known of the Russian ladies competing at the European Championships. She seemed more mature as well, compared to teammates Alina Zagitova and champion Sofia Samodurova. She didn’t make it to the podium in Minsk, finishing fourth, but the 18-year-old delivered the second-highest scoring free skate of the event.

She took time to sit with NBCSports.com/figure-skating at the conclusion of the European Championships to explain how her late-blooming on the ice nonetheless enhances her maturity, and even could contribute to a longer-lasting career.

You were wonderful in your “Anna Karenina” free skate, but 11th in the short program. You also had to make up ground at Grand Prix France. Does that happen often?

No, not at all! I’m really upset with my short program in Minsk. I want to apologize both for my skating and my behavior, as I couldn’t find the words for the media. I’ll have to improve on this also [Editor’s note: Konstantinova declined to make any comments as she left the ice after the short program].

Legendary coach Tatiana Tarasova, who was commenting for Russian television, said that in her opinion you didn’t do to your short program only to skate, but to win. Did you feel the same?

Yes, I agree with this. I understand that I can be on the top, but I need to be more confident in the process. For me, failing in the short program was a real pity. I was not prepared for this. I came to Minsk to win. I’ve shown good results in the past, and I hope I can repeat them soon.

You once said that you were a late bloomer. What impact does it have on your skating career, in a country where wunderkinds seem to be the norm?

I’m not competing to hit the top for a short period of time. I’m competing to express myself and to show myself embracing a whole career, not to show myself as a baby skater or a wunderkind. I’m interested in a career like that of Alexei Yagudin’s. This is one of the advantages I have, being more mature. I understand more how I can express myself, not only showing elements but also displaying my choreography and what I have inside of myself during a performance.

I started to skate late, it’s true. In fact, I didn’t even start skating to become a good athlete. I was in a group of children who skated to be healthy. When [coach Valentina] Chebotareva saw that I had some potential, when I was 9 years old, she started working with me. I was then included into her team.

Sometimes I worry about the fact that I didn’t start skating at a younger age. But that’s also good, in a way, because it allowed me to mature.

I now have the strong intention to keep developing and bettering myself. I don’t think I’m old! But there’s no way my career could be like all the other girls who started to skate so early.

You are skating alongside Mikhail Kolyada in Chebotareva’s team. Both of you missed one of your two programs – you, the short, and he, the free. What does your coach say?

That’s quite a coincidence! I definitely need to change this situation (she laughs). Our coach is soft. She doesn’t say bad things. I’m grateful that she considers us as adults. We respect each other in the team – myself, the other skaters, our coaches. We have a great working atmosphere. Our coaches find the right words for me.

Your free skate was also very mature, and maybe that added to the support you received from the audience?

I’m glad people support me. I want to make them happy through my performance. This is my way to thank them.

Do you think you will be selected for Worlds? [Editor’s note: The Russian Federation has not yet announced their picks for the world championships in March, but will likely do so soon.]

The Russian Federation didn’t ask me for a place to achieve in Minsk. But it was important for me to take a good placement. For sure Russia has excellent skaters, and they can decide to replace me in the team. This doesn’t disturb me. It’s like competition – it’s good for me.

Securing a podium spot might have eased the Russian selection for Worlds, but before anything else it would have been good for me to be on that European podium. Now it belongs to the Russian Federation to take the results and make a decision.

What will be your next outings?

Now I’ll be preparing for the Universiades [Winter World University Games] in early March. My goal will definitely be to skate two clean programs.

Will you take your revenge there?

I don’t think it will be a revenge, as I’m always glad to compete and represent Russia. To go to the Universiades is a big honor for me. It will be a question of honor for me to show a good performance there. If it is a revenge, then it will be a revenge for myself to show good skating.

This European Championship was a failure for me. But it gave me the experience of competing at a higher level than I used to. It’s a way for me to grow.

Do you plan to learn other jumps, like quads?

I already tried quads and triple Axels, but I’m not working on them at the moment. It’s very dangerous, and actually not professional, to learn a quad during the skating season. It’s too risky. You have to think of learning harder elements later after the competitive season is over. I think I will work on triple Axel.

Are you on social media networks? What do you think of it?

It depends on my mood! My sports psychologist advised me not to go on social networks during the competition. I did close myself off during the European Championships, until the free program was over. After that I started answering the questions I had received again.

Do you have other endeavors, besides skating?

Yes, I love drawing. I make paintings of my own costumes. I like to view how I will be dressed. I participate in the making. I hope I can develop in this aspect.

Konstantinova does speak English, but she elected to give her answers in Russian. Her words were translated in English by Irena Zakurdaeva, a media coordinator in Moscow.

Four Continents reporter’s notebook: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

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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New European champion Sofia Samodurova eyes longevity in the sport

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With the European Championships come and gone, a new ladies’ champion was crowned in 16-year-old Sofia Samodurova. It was her first major senior-level event, and, afterward, she spoke with NBCSports.com/figure-skating about her victory and what it means to her as a late-bloomer. Samodurova hopes to start a long career like those of her idols, including Italy’s Carolina Kostner, who she shares a coach with in Alexei Mishin.

You won the European Championships by more than 15.5 points. Did you think that it was possible?

I didn’t think about winning in Minsk. But I did concentrate on my performance, in order to present two solid skates. I didn’t let myself distracted by Alina’s performance or marks [the Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, who skated just before her].

I didn’t listen and really tried to focus on my performance. I didn’t think of winning, since my results at the Lombardia Trophy had not been so good. [Note: She ended second to Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva]. I only realized that I had won when I saw the marks come up.

Are you close from your teammates, like Elizaveta or Carolina Kostner?

Oh yes! Lisa and I are girls and we discuss girl things. You know, like skating things but also cosmetics as well. I am also in awe in front of Carolina’s attitude. She loves skating so much. I can see that in her eyes. She always does everything our coach says, and she is always so happy to be on the ice.

Alexei Mishin always have funny sentences. What did he tell you before you took the ice in Minsk?

He said: “Don’t jump off your pants!” (She laughs).

Do you think this victory will change your mind?

I remain the same Sofia Samodurova as before. Although defeating Alina is not usual for me, it will give me more confidence for sure.

You manage to embody genuinely your free program, to the soundtrack of “Burlesque,” and to make it live with the audience. How do you relate to your programs?

Ilya Averbukh chose the music for this free program. Well, I like this program very much. It’s a lot of fun for me to skate to it and… Obviously you can see it. I have other programs in store, though, like the ones I display at my exhibitions. They present different characters and I like that.

“Burlesque,” the American movie your music comes from, stars two great singers, Cher and Christina Aguilera, and you mention that you like singing. What do you sing?

Everything! I sing a lot, any style. But it depends on my mood!

You projected lots of emotions through you skating in Minsk. Do you feel those emotions yourself, as you are skating?

In fact, I may seem quite emotional during my performances, but I’m not very emotional in real life. I mean, I’m a rather shy person. At the European Championships I had more responsibilities, of course, and that gave me more emotions. But I try to control emotions during skating, because it’s better to be focused!

Many girls in Russia are getting great results in juniors. You are coming up as a senior. Do you think it plays a role in your career?

This is true! I didn’t have that great results in the junior ranks. But maybe it was better that way for me, as I had less pressure when I arrived in the senior [ranks, this season].

What elements do you feel you need to work at in order to improve toward the world championships? Quads?

You know, I tried triple Axel two years ago. I think I’ll develop into that direction in the future, in order to land that jump. But for now, I need to work on steps (in my step sequence), on my transitions, and on the quality of each one of my elements.

Do you have a favorite sportsperson to look up to?

Yes: it’s Martin Fourcade, the French biathlete [Note: he who won five Olympic gold medals, two in Sochi in 2014 and three in PyeongChang in 2018]. I’d like to be like him, show solid performances regularly and compete at the highest level all the time. His career is stable at the top. I’d be like that: stable.

Would you like to have a long career, just like Carolina Kostner and Javier Fernandez?

Yes, I would, definitely.

Samodurova does speak English, but she elected to give her answers in Russian. Her words were translated in English by Irena Zakurdaeva, a Media Coordinator in Moscow.

MORE: European Championships analysis: Female Russian skaters stars rise fast, but burn out too soon

As a reminder, you can watch Four Continents and 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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European Championships analysis: Female Russian skaters stars rise fast, but burn out too soon

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Jean-Christophe Berlot is on the ground in Minsk, Belarus to cover the European Championships. This is his analysis of the pace and progression of women’s skating around the world.

Eteri Tutberidze, the renowned Russian coach, declined all interviews in Minsk, Belarus, the setting for the 2019 European Championships. The organization of the practice and main rinks made it possible for coaches to have no interaction at all with journalists during the week. Tutberidze could not be seen in the mixed zones, and she could flee the practice rink through underground paths that were not open to the press.

“I don’t know what I could say,” she politely answered when an interview request was made.

The same was true for Alina Zagitova, her star pupil. Zagitova, the Olympic champion, lost her 2018 European crown to Russian Sofia Samodurova.

Tutberidze was nonetheless quite a disputed behind-the-scenes topic in Minsk.

“The problem is that Eteri is very much criticized in Russia at the moment,” a noted Russian journalist explained. “People think that she pushes her pupils at a very young age and after a year or two they are done for the sport.”

True – Russian skating has been characterized by a never-seen turnover of its female wunderkinds in the recent years: Yulia Lipnitskaya was an instant star in 2014 and disappeared; Adelina Sotnikova won her Olympic gold and turned to other endeavors.

Yevgenia Medvedeva could have had the same fortune, had she not decided to move to Canada. The perspective of seeing Zagitova disappear can’t be discarded. And many more lesser known skaters left the radar as well.

The system has best demonstrated its nonsense at Russian nationals, one month ago, as the top three at the senior championship were not even allowed to compete on the senior level internationally. Skaters placed fourth, fifth, and sixth at Nationals were selected for these Europeans, namely Samodurova, Zagitova and Stanislava Konstantinova.

Tutberidze is far from being the sole responsible of what could be called the “Kleenex syndrome” of female skating – you take one, use it, and then throw it.

The turmoil is even amplified in Russia by the tons of hate messages that flood each day on social media. The phenomenon is far from being mastered, especially since most messages are written anonymously under a pseudonym. They destabilize the best skaters.

“I don’t want to read those criticisms, but they are actually there, as toxic as they are,” Maria Sotskova, a prominent skater until last year, explained. “Athletes shouldn’t read internet comments. They make you more nervous and make you lose some of your confidence.”

Medvedeva had to make strong decisions a few months ago: “I never expected that there would be so much negative on social media, so I’ve made a strong rule between social networks and me,” she told NBCSports at her French Grand Prix outing two months ago. “The connection with social media is running through my agent, and I’m not using it anymore.”

She has since made a reappearance on social platforms, but to a lesser extent than the past.

Zagitova had to come to a complete black-out as well.

“After Russian nationals, my parents took away my phone and gave me another one, with no access to the internet,” she said to media in Minsk. “Now I’m reading books and I’m studying for school. I don’t see or hear anything about what is being said. No social media. I only watch TV serials.”

More than any other country, Russia has created somewhat of a system – mostly unconsciously at the start, however: create the best jumpers and spinners of the world at a very young age, when children obey without condition, and make them win before puberty. Hence the proposal to raise the age limit that was presented to the last ISU Congress.

It was rejected.

Age may not be the key factor anyway, as every girl grows at her own pace. It also differs from one continent to the next.

“The Causasian and the Asian people are quite different,” Japanese coach Mie Hamada acknowledged a few years ago. “The Caucasian bodies do change much more dramatically than the Asians’. We do have body changes, but they are not as big.”

She cited one of her star students, Satoko Miyahara, as a good example: “Satoko’s body is changing, but she works very hard every day and she can reset and adjust day after day to the change. I don’t have any trouble there.”

The system is expanding fast. In Japan, new star Rika Kihira, who won every competition she entered at her first senior year (and is coached by Hamada), has three triple Axels planned in each of her outings.

Alysa Liu, the new U.S. national champion, is on par with Kihira – except she doesn’t have the age limit to compete in the senior ranks. This age limit is in itself a tough constraint on skaters and their coach; the shooting window in a skater’s life is quite short, as it ranges between that age limit and puberty. Having an Olympics take place at that precise moment helps.

How long will these young ladies keep landing their triple Axel remains to be seen.

“You have the choice,” offered Igor Samohin, coach and father of 2016 world junior champion Daniel Samohin. “Either you push them right away to do everything, but then they will have a short skating life. Or you opt for a long career and, as Brian Orser says, you go step by step. At the same time, can a coach, a parent, a federation accept to take the risk of taking time and going step by step, knowing there is an additional risk at puberty?”

Examples of wunderkinds embarking into a long-term career do exist: Michelle Kwan and Irina Slutskaya, in the late 1990s, both won at a tender age and did succeed in staying many years at the top. As did Mao Asada. In those days as well as throughout the whole skating saga, the younger skaters were there to learn and grow, not to shine all at once and disappear, with the risk of mental health problems, disordered eating and depressions that spread out recently.

Samodurova and Konstantinova, the most physically mature of the Russian squad in Minsk, stated firmly that they were there to last in the sport.

Some common answers in Minsk were clear-cut: “This is sport. The wheel has to turn, and it’s just turning faster.”

If this is the route, then what sense does the age limit to access the senior ranks make?

Yet how does skating as a whole benefit from the Kleenex syndrome? The 2015 and 2016 Worlds gold medalist, Javier Fernandez, was clear, it’s penalizing skating: “Why would you come to watch a competition, if after just a few years a skater you had enjoyed watching doesn’t even compete anymore?” he asked.

The Kleenex route nonetheless seems to be favored nowadays. The embroidered tissue becomes the exception, at least in the ladies’ field. For sure the show will be quite different from what we have known it in the past.

The challenge for the best coaches of the world is to find a way to develop the Kwans and the Katarina Witts of tomorrow. Knowing Tutberidze enough, we may be confident that she is striving to do so.

MORE: Behind the scenes on Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 at the European Championships

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!