Figure Skating

Ageless 'Empress' Elizaveta Tuktamysheva targets first Olympic Games

In an exclusive interview with Olympic Channel, the 2015 world champion opens up on missing out on two Olympic Games. And discusses her quest for Beijing 2022.

By Ekaterina Kuznetsova & Nick McCarvel ·

Almost 10 years after she made her senior figure skating debut, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva remains one of the sport’s most colourful figures.

She also happens to be one of the best in the world – and is still seeking to make her Olympic debut after missing out in both 2014 and 2018.

"I believe that in the life of the athlete there are still a lot of different happy moments and it's not only about (taking) first place and (making) the Olympics,” she told Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview, translated from Russian.

“But since I already have such a long career, this time I will make my biggest and every effort to get to the Olympics in Beijing. To get to the Olympics... I really want it.”

The 2015 world champion, known as 'The Empress' by her legions of fans worldwide, turned 24 last week (17 December), and will be among the favourites at this week's Russian national championships despite recently testing positive for the coronavirus.

The other headliners are all teenagers, including Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova, Alexandra Trusova and Kamila Valieva, but she is undeterred by the age difference with Tuktamysheva determined to walk (and skate) to her own tune.

She says, “In general, I believe that if the body allows you to and there is a desire, then you can skate at least up to 40 years old. No one is there to decide (for you). The main thing is health,” she said. “I would be happy if I could serve as an example for girls who were going to quit, because figure skating is not considered to be for adults.

"Watching the 24-year-old skater being able to fight for something and getting the desire to go further. So, when it comes to this, maybe I see some kind of task for myself here in figure skating." - Elizaveta Tuktamysheva

Tuktamysheva will "fight to the end" for Beijing 2022 spot

Having missed out on two previous Olympic Winter Games, 2015 world champion...

The Winter Youth Olympic Games champion in 2012, Tuktamysheva claimed the world title in 2015 in Shanghai and has six Grand Prix wins to her name, the last coming at November's Rostelecom Cup, where she topped a field including Kostornaia and Trusova.

While Beijing 2022 remains her number one goal, Tuktamysheva - best known for her triple Axel - continues to add to her technical repertoire and recently posted a practice video to social media showing a landed quadruple toe loop.

“I'll do my best for (the quad toe) at nationals", she said. “But also we will keep working on our programs even more. It seems to me that now there is not much time left to change something. Therefore, it is necessary to skate confidently and to show stable, cool, confident skating so the judges like it.”

Here, an interview with Tuktamysheva, translated from her native Russian and edited only for clarity and length.

A long career - and Olympic dreams

Olympic Channel (OC): First off, tell us about your reaction to winning Rostelecom Cup last month? It was your first time winning your home Grand Prix.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: It was happiness overflowing in me. The next day I also felt such a lift. But after that I realised, ‘Okay, I had my happy moment and now it's time to get back to work, back to reality and continue to train more.’

OC: You’ve had many ups and downs in your career. You’ve been world champion but also missed out on two Olympics, and had a season where you didn’t make the Grand Prix podium. How have you kept a clear mind about all of it?

Tuktamysheva: When there were bad seasons, I told myself, 'I am still not done.' There was still a desire to continue and while that desire is there... you are capable of anything. If the desire was no longer there, then we have an issue. It's not possible to be (in a sport) for this long and to have everything perfect. You just need to understand that it is normal, you can go through it, everyone goes through it. And so with some positive attitude, I go my own way.

OC: If we focus on the Olympics, you missed out on qualifying for Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018. What were your emotions like when that happened?

Tuktamysheva: (For) Sochi I was more worried because it was the first Olympics and at that moment I won the (previous) Russian championship and I could probably compete or fight for a ticket (to the Games). I was so young back then and I had the support of friends and family. Because of that I survived it calmly.

As for PyeongChang, I survived even better. I believe that in the life of the athlete there are still a lot of different happy moments and it's not only about taking first place and making the Olympics.

OC: There is still the chance to make it to Beijing 2022...

Tuktamysheva: Since I've already had such a long career, this time I will make my biggest... every effort to get to the Olympics in Beijing. To get to the Olympics... I really want it.

"Even though it is not the most important thing in life, I will definitely fight this time to the end to get onto the Olympic team."

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva competing in the free skate at the 2020 Rostelecom Cup

A special relationship with coach Mishin

OC: You have a special relationship with your coach, Alexei Mishin, who in the past has worked with Olympic champions Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko. Can you talk about what he means to you?

Tuktamysheva: After meeting Mishin aged nine, I realised that I would need to go to St. Petersburg. But I thought only about seeing Plushenko because I knew about him. I didn't know who Alexei Nikolaevich was. I was a long way from sports. I was never a fan and didn't even know anyone. I knew Irina Slutskaya and Plushenko and that was enough for me.

But with time our coach-athlete relationship gained more understanding, it became closer. We became not only 'coach-athlete' but more of a family. I don't even know how to describe our relationship but, for sure, it's full of trust. When you train for so many years with one coach, of course, you can't help but trust him. Therefore, we have a very warm and respectful relationship now.

OC: Have you ever considered switching coaches?

Tuktamysheva: I've never had the desire to leave probably because I've always been part of it. Alexei Nikolaevich believes in me and I see that he likes to engage with me and to train me. And it doesn't make sense for me switching to another coach. Because Alexei Nikolaevich, he is the best. I think we found each other.

Big goals for Russian nationals

OC: You’re known for really diving into your 'character' on the ice. Is the Elizaveta we see on the ice the same as the one off of it?

Tuktamysheva: On the ice you can showcase all your emotions, everything that is deep inside and how different you can be. There is a freedom to be absolutely different, to show different characters. In life it does not always work like that.

On the ice, I am in a euphoric state when there are such distinctive characters – whether it's flirtation or passion. When I had to skate the tango or the Charleston, these images were very close to me and I generally enjoyed skating them.

OC: Let’s talk about the upcoming Russian championships. Your friend and Olympic pairs champion, Maxim Trankov, said in a recent interview said that if you had to choose between winning Rostelecom Cup and Russian championships, you, without thinking, would choose the second. Why?

Tuktamysheva: I think, of course, the Russian championships, as it's one of the most important competitions of the season. It is the selection for the Russian national team, the selection for major competitions in Europe and the world, so it is better to win the Russian championships than Rostelecom. Maxim is right.

The big jumps - can Tuktamysheva add a quad?

OC: Tell us about your plans for nationals. Will you do the quadruple toe as we’ve seen in practice?

Tuktamysheva: We will try to add a quadruple toe, yes.

I'll do my best for it. But, also, we will keep working on our programs even more. It seems to me that now there is not much time left to change something. Therefore, it is necessary to skate confidently and to show stable, cool, confident skating so the judges like it.

OC: You’ve had your triple Axel for a long time, but can you talk more about learning to add the quad? The quads are something becoming more common in ladies’ figure skating – but still quite rare.

Tuktamysheva: Last season Alexei Nikolaevich told me: 'You are able to make the quad. You have the good height.’ Since he is a professor, he sees it according to the parameters of the jump if the person can do it or not. In my case, he said that everything is possible. And then in a couple of months when I did not make it to the Grand Prix Final (in 2019), there was a big break between competitions.

I thought it was necessary to try to take a chance and risk it, so I went for the quadruple. It was insanely scary. I realised that it wasn't that difficult and it's possible. And in two weeks I learned the quadruple toe loop.

Still, at 24, you have your cans and cants. It is already more difficult to switch, to remake yourself and in youth, of course, it all happens much faster, better and bolder. If I were more confident in the jump, maybe I would have learned it earlier. But it is what it is. In December, during the last season I finally matured for that and went for this quadruple.

"Alexei Nikolaevich recently said a very correct and interesting thing. Something like: 'You are old not with your body, but with your head. You're afraid... If your head wasn't that old, you could have done a lot more.’"

Elizaveta TUKTAMISHEVA

Russian Federation
Figure Skating
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Number of medals

0 Olympic medals

Olympic Games

0 Olympic Games

Competing against a field of teenagers

OC: You’ve talked in the past about how you don’t let figure skating consume you or let it be your sole focus. Can you expand on that?

Tuktamysheva: I think if I considered figure skating my life then, after severe failures, I might not have been able to cope with it.

And when you realise that in addition to figure skating there is another life you can switch... or when in life something goes wrong and on the ice your head rests and turns off, this also helps. I would not have had such a long journey and, because I had a lot of experiences, I probably reached the point when I realised that it is important to have something else in life. It has to be a separate thing and it's better not to get stuck. As soon as I get stuck, the nerves do not cope.

It's much tougher when you only have figure skating. For everything to be okay, you need a balance.

Maybe it's good for someone to focus on one part of life, on sports only. But we're all different. I mean, I can't speak for everyone or say what is right for them. But it's better for me to have a different, separate life and for me to feel calm there.

OC: A lot of your Russian competitors are in their teens, barely 15 or 16. Yet here you are at 24 still going.

Tuktamysheva: I try to break these (age) barriers. The main thing is health. And in general, I believe that if the body allows and there is a desire, then you can skate at least up to 40 years old. No one is there to decide. The main thing is health.

I would be happy to serve as an example for girls who were going to quit, because figure skating is not considered to be for adults. It's not just about doing things for myself but for all women. To help and to contribute to figure skating in my own way is important.

"Watching the 24-year-old skater being able to fight for something and getting the desire to go further. So, when it comes to this, maybe I see some kind of task for myself here in figure skating."

Leaving a lasting legacy

OC: Do you have a most important achievement you’d like to be known for when you finish with the sport?

Tuktamysheva: My most important achievement is probably that I am still here. Because there were moments that could lead me to not being here, in figure skating, but I'm here and I want to fight. I feel strength in myself and the main achievement is that I am developing and I am not going to stop.

OC: Lastly, what are you interested in right now as far as TV or movies go? Away from the business of skating?

Tuktamysheva: Like many people, I watched the 'Queen's Gambit' series (on Netflix) and I really liked it. I even wanted to learn how to play chess. It’s a beautiful series and I never even thought that it was possible to show the game of chess in such an interesting way. Not that only the chess players can appreciate it, but also everyone else can.