Yevgeny Plushenko

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva
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Older, wiser Tuktamysheva comfortable taking on new skating style and social media trolls

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Just over a minute into her Lombardia Trophy free skate, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva glides to center ice. The 2015 World champion has landed two planned triple Lutzes after stepping out of an ambitious triple Axel attempt. She emerges from a level four layback spin and sets her expressive eyes on the judges.

Tuktamysheva, 21, is leading after the short program of her first competition of the season. A strong result will help her stand out in a field of Russian ladies so deep that the 2013 National champion is yet to qualify for an Olympic team.

With three triple jumps to go, the Glazov native hasn’t simply begun her step sequence as the music changes to The Hot Sardines’ “Petite Fleur.” She’s lip-syncing for her life.

“I sing along to my free skate!” Tuktamysheva admitted in her first-ever English interview. “When I first heard this music, I fell in love. I wanted to start skating right away.”

Coached by famed technician Alexei Mishin – noted for working with Olympic champions Alexei Yagudin and Yevgeny Plushenko – the Russian’s free skate, a Roaring Twenties mash-up of selections by Caro Emerald and Parov Stelar, is a distinct departure from the more dramatic endeavors she chose in seasons past.

Since landing the triple Axel to win her world title in Shanghai, she often donned dark costumes as the likes of Carmina Burana and Peer Gynt blared in the background. All the while, teenaged rivals Yevgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova won world and Olympic golds by striking more major chords, musically speaking.

“This year is more me. I really like my [Assassin’s Tango] short, because it’s passionate. I like the style of the free, as well. I don’t know why I haven’t done this more often because it is so me, so light. I want to be able to do my programs cleanly, more beautifully, with more stability.”

Aiming to add a once-reliable triple Lutz-triple toe combination back into her technical arsenal, Tukstamysheva’s artistic shift was well-received by the judges. She won gold at Lombardia Tophy, earning her highest Program Component Score since the 2015 European Championships and the third-best free skating total on the senior level this season.

“I’m starting to enjoy skating again,” she said after regaining a consistent triple Axel at the end of last season. “I’m not worried about what people think of me, and I’m skating more freely. I’m full of love for my programs, and that’s a key to good skating. If you love something, you’ll do the best you can.”

She keeps that love alive by sharing it with fans, hosting a meet-and-greet party à la Taylor Swift at a St. Petersburg coffee shop last week, and makes a more global connection with a fast-growing Twitter account.

“Twitter is more comfortable for Americans like you and fans living in North America and Asia.”

Displaying a fluid command of English slang, Tuktamysheva collaborates with friend Valeriy Kharitonov to craft a confident voice, one that only an athlete who hurls herself in the air for up to three-and-a-half rotations could have.

“She appreciates her fans, but if there is a mean person, she’ll destroy him for sure,” notes Kharitonov, who occasionally translated questions during our 15-minute exchange.

“I don’t care!” Tuktamysheva adds. “I feel comfortable when anyone hates me.”

The only 20-something in an otherwise all-teen Top 15 at last year’s Russian Nationals, Tuktamysheva next heads to Finlandia Trophy, where she may continue channeling that more mature mindset and unflappable attitude – on and off the ice – towards more success.

“I don’t remember how I felt when I was 18. I just feel like I’m older, and maybe that I should think more about my future!” she joked. “Maybe I have more wisdom. I’ve realized some small things that I didn’t notice in the past. Those things definitely matter more now.”

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Yevgeny Plushenko makes PyeongChang predictions, talks figure skating evolution

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Yevgeny Plushenko, understandably, is quite pleased with what men’s figure skating looks like these days.

The Russian great, who helped usher in the quadruple jump era, watched at the season-opening Grand Prix event in Moscow as the last four men to skate each attempted at least three quads in their long programs.

“I’m so happy,” Plushenko told NBC Olympics’ Rachel Lutz in a sitdown interview Monday. “Because you remember 2010, nobody landed quads [other than me]. Not one. Nobody. I landed only myself, I landed short program and long program, and I lost [to American Evan Lysacek at the Vancouver Olympics]. You know? I would like to say for these such great athletes – men’s skaters – they move figure skating way forward. Right now, all quadruples. Nathan Chen, first skater ever [to do] five quadruples [in one program]. That’s awesome. That’s great, because figure skating, yes it’s theater, this is ballet, musical, yea? But of course it’s sport. That’s extreme, the sport is quadruples. So I’m grateful they move forward, way forward.”

Plushenko made a rare trip to the U.S. to perform in an ice show at Chelsea Piers in New York City, his first on-ice appearance in the States in 11 years.

Not everyone is thrilled with the quad arms race in men’s skating. Notably, three-time world champion Patrick Chan. But Plushenko has always commanded attention.

The Russian is one of two skaters in any discipline to earn four Olympic medals. He announced his retirement on March 31 at age 34.

Plushenko, whose last competition was the Sochi 2014 team event, now coaches Sochi women’s singles gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova, who will not defend her title in PyeongChang.

As for active skaters, Plushenko tapped Japanese Yuzuru Hanyu for gold.

That would mean Hanyu would accomplish the feat that Plushenko coveted in 2010 — becoming the first repeat Olympic men’s champion since Dick Button in 1952.

“[Hanyu] don’t need five quads, six quads,” Plushenko said, referencing the number of four-revolution jumps the likes of teenagers Chen and Shoma Uno are planning in free skates. “He need three quadruples. Maybe two [Salchows] and one toe loop. And that’s it.”

Hanyu has the total package that would allow him to win with fewer quads. If he skates clean.

Plushenko also liked Chen, Uno and two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain as Olympic podium contenders.

“[Chen has] great, great, great, great technique,” Plushenko said. “So four, four skaters can be on the podium.”

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Yevgeny Plushenko to coach Adelina Sotnikova

Yevgeny Plushenko
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Yevgeny Plushenko wasn’t able to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals. Maybe he can coach a skater to the feat instead.

Plushenko, who announced his retirement on Friday, has started coaching Sochi Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova, according to Russian media.

“We began cooperation with Adelina, however, this is all I can say at the present moment,” Plushenko said Tuesday, according to Russian news agency TASS.

The news comes one day after Plushenko posted on Instagram that he planned to return to the Olympics as a coach. Russian media reported Plushenko will detail his future in a press conference Wednesday.

Sotnikova, 20, hasn’t competed since the December 2015 Russian Championships, where she finished sixth and failed to make the three-woman Russian team for the world championships.

She didn’t compete at all this season, stopping preseason training due to a health issue and opting to perform in less-demanding ice shows, according to Russian media.

Russian women’s figure skating has grown in Sotnikova’s absence, complicating her path to making the 2018 Olympic team.

Five different Russian women have won world championships medals the last three years, including two-time reigning world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva.

Russia has three women’s spots at the 2018 Olympics.

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I'll be back to The Olympic Games as a coach, I promise my friends! Sport is my life and always in my heart! 💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻 Repost @olympicchannel ・・・ It's official. No more comeback for Russia's figure skating legend 🇷🇺⛸️ @plushenkoofficial. But your remarkable performance will never be forgotten! . . #ThankYou #Olympics #OlympicGames #FigureSkating #isufigureskating#FigureSkater #Skater #Skating #IceSkating #IceRink #rink #ice #sports #sport #fit #fun #fans #action #icedance #skates #iceskates #patinajeartístico #patinageartistique #фигурноекатание #フィギュアスケート #피겨스케이팅 @isufigureskating @russian_olympic_team

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