Olympic champ Zagitova reveals technical and artistic battle
Just eight months after adding the world title to her Olympic gold medal, Alina Zagitova has reached a career crossroads.
The 17-year-old Russian has had to watch as her three younger training partners - Alexandra Trusova, Anna Shcherbakova, and Alena Kostornaia - sweep all before them in their first senior Grand Prix of Figure Skating campaign.
The jumps which took Zagitova to gold at PyeongChang 2018 have been eclipsed by the trio, and she admits she needs to do something different.
Speaking after finishing a distant second to Kostornaia at the Internationaux de France, Zagitova told reporters that quadruple jumps were not on the agenda just yet, instead focussing on improving the artistic content of her routines.
"For now, I can’t skate like Carolina Kostner yet. But I’m working at it." - Alina Zagitova
Former world champion and Sochi 2014 bronze medallist Kostner is recognised as one of the most graceful skaters of recent times, regularly receiving high Program Component Scores (PCS).
The struggle to keep pace
The past two years have been nothing short of a whirlwind for Zagitova.
At PyeongChang 2018, she edged out Evgenia Medvedeva to become Olympic champion three months ahead of her 16th birthday.
Zagitova bounced back to become world champion in March, but the three first-year seniors - who all train with her under Eteri Tutberidze - have won all five of the Grand Prix events so far this season.
Kostornaia is the only one of the three who does not perform quads, although she did land two triple Axels in beating Zagitova by 20 points in Grenoble.
She even sympathised with the Olympic champion's position, saying, "There are two ways to succeed: either you skate like Carolina Kostner, who takes your heart and each move is perfect. The other way is to do what the young girls are doing."
But Zagitova, who meets Kostornaia again at the NHK Trophy, says she is not ready to attempt quads yet.
"Quads are too dangerous for me for the time being. I will need to prepare for them physically and mentally. I will also need to lose some weight, something like 3kg, to decrease the risk of injuries."
"If it’s really necessary for me to land a quad, I may train for landing one. But it will be difficult. It won’t be a quad Salchow or a quad toe, though, as they wouldn’t be the easiest for me." - Alina Zagitova speaking after the Internationaux de France
While Medvedeva was seen as the more artistic of the two in PyeongChang, Zagitova's choreographer Daniil Gleikhengauz believes she is up to the task of raising her PCS scores and becoming more competitive.
He told NBC Sports, "Alina is a really beautiful skater. She is amazing. When we make a program, she always makes something bigger than a program.
"She always comes up with new ideas: ‘Why don’t we do this?’ ‘Why wouldn’t we try that?’ She is such an artist."
But Gleikhengauz admits Zagitova faces an uphill struggle in the future simply due to timing.
"When Alina was younger, no one thought of quads for ladies. She learned the most difficult jumps of that time.
"Then we asked ourselves, ‘What’s next?’ We thought that maybe quads would be coming up, and we taught quads to the newcomers. They learned harder jumps.
"Learning a quad is a question of mentality. When you are 11 or 13, you’re falling every day, as you are learning triple jumps. Then you master them. You start learning triple Axels and quads – and again you fall, fall, fall. And then you master them and you don’t fall anymore.
"The current generation will learn quads and land them for several years. Quads will be there for 10 to 15 years. So those girls who are mastering quads [now] will have many more years." - Zagitova's choreographer Daniil Gleikhengauz speaking to NBC Sports
Alina Zagitova (OAR) - Gold Medal | Women's Free Skating
Alina Zagitova (OAR) - Gold Medal | Women's Free SkatingThe women's single free figure skating competition was held at the Gangneung Ice Arena on 23 February 2018.
Having arrived on the scene as the most technically adept skater, Zagitova now finds herself playing catch-up.
She said, "I also was one of these junior skaters who did all their jumps with a hand above their heads.
"I was one who did their jumps in the second half of their program, because it gave you more points. I was even the first one to land a triple Lutz-triple loop combination, also in the second half.
"Rules have changed since, what can I do?" - Alina Zagitova
Zagitova did find time to praise the new crop of skaters, including her training partners, world silver medallist Elizabet Tursynbaeva and US champion Alysa Liu, saying, "I think that those girls who do quads are great."
But she knows that unless things change quickly, she may be unable to defend her world title in March in Montreal with a maximum of three skaters permitted per nation.