Record-breaker Sofya Akatyeva: "I am courageous, ambitious and kind."
Russia's newest figure skating rising star, Sofya Akatyeva, was thrust into the limelight after becoming the first female skate to land a triple Axel alongside two quadruple jumps in a single program.
Akatyeva achieved the feat last week at the Junior Cup of Russia stop in Kazan, receiving a score higher than that of European champion Alena Kostornaia's in the senior event. She landed two quadruple toe loops (one in combination) in addition to the triple Axel.
Speaking exclusively to Olympic Channel a few days after her historic skate, she frankly stated: "I love to jump quads". The Eteri Tutberidze-trained athlete, who aged 13 remains ineligible for senior international competition until the 2023/24 season, has her eyes set on big things.
There is one more stop on the Cup of Russia circuit in Moscow, with the best performers qualifying for the senior and junior Russian Nationals.
The interview below has been translated from Russian and edited for clarity and length.
Olympic Channel (OC): Sofya, you've just made history. In your own words, what happened during the last cup of Russia in Kazan?
Sofya Akatyeva (SA): Yesterday in the free program, the first half I skated quite well and in the second half I made very rough mistakes. I think this is because I did not work enough in training. That's for sure. I will work more in the second half at the next competition, I hope to skate well.
OC: This is quite a critical self-evaluation. You became the first ever woman to land a triple Axel and more than one quad in the same program.
SA: But actually, I was not thinking about it right before the competition. I did not have such a goal in mind, to make history. Of course, since I was a child I wanted to do something first, but going to the competition I did not think about it - I was only thinking about doing what I trained in training.
OC: Whose idea was it to try a triple Axel and a few quads in the same program?
SA: It was my idea and the coaches'. For me, the triple Axel became quite stable at the beginning of the season and we decided. I consulted with the coaches and they said: 'Why not?' and we included it in the program.
OC: How confident were you that doing a triple Axel and two quads would work out in the same program?
SA: In practice in recent weeks I skated a clean program, so going into the competition I was fairly confident in the first half even a little more than the second half. At official training, everything worked out quite well so I understood that I was ready for the competition. I started to try everything in training - it didn't just suddenly appear at the competition; I made a lot of attempts. In order to jump such difficult jumps you need to be brave, you need to fight with yourself. The first attempt is always scary.
OC: Your name was on all the headlines. 'Sofya Akatyeva made history'. Did you wake up famous after this?
SA: There is no such feeling because I know that I still need to work hard to bring my skate to the perfect shape. But certainly, I am very glad that these elements turned out well for me. But there is no such feeling that I woke up famous.
OC: What jumps are your favourite?
SA: I love to jump quads. My favourite jumps are probably the toe loop and Axel because they are the most difficult ones. Everything that is in the program should be your favourite. If you don't like one element in the program, it will not work.
OC: Your favourite jumps are the most complex ones. So you like difficulties and challenges?
SA: Sure. I don't know, but this feeling of overcoming yourself... You feel so light immediately. Because I set a goal and reach it and I like this feeling so much. That's why I like to do something difficult.
OC: You've been compared to Alexandra Trusova for your jumps. How does that make you feel?
SA: Everyone has their own approach to quads. Therefore, I didn't really think about it because in training I just do my elements. Sasha (Trusova) does her elements; when I started doing these jumps I looked at her. Anna Shcherbakova also jumped them, and I looked at these girls and admired them. I always wanted to try jumping something so complex.
Akatyeva on herself and figure skating
OC: How would you describe yourself?
SA: I think I am courageous, ambitious, kind and strong.
OC: And what are your weaknesses?
SA: With my emotions during training, I need to withhold [control] myself.
OC: How do you react to the negativity surrounding figure skating, is it tough to remain strong mentally when you come across the negative part of it?
SA: I don't really read these articles very much. I have very little free time, I spend practically all my time studying, you need to pass all the tests. I have new subjects at school and therefore I have very little time, so I don't read anything negative.
OC: You said that you like to read What are some of your favourite books that inspired you?
SA: I liked the book 'The Boy in the striped pyjamas'. During uarantine I also read the book called 'Silver skates' and 'The Dawns here are quite'. I read it at training camp. I really like reading about war and about history. Reading fascinates me. I read these books and I just love it.
OC: At 13 years old you have already managed to achieve such big results. What goals do you set for yourself in the future?
SA: For this season, to skate my program well; to skate the content that I had in mind. Generally in life, is to win the Olympic Games, of course.
OC: Unfortunately, age-wise you will not make it to the Beijing 2022 Olympics.
SA: The fact that I don't get to Beijing... I certainly don't get too upset about because it will give me a little more time to prepare for the Olympic Games in 2026.
OC: In Milano-Cortina in 2026 you will be nearly 20 years old which is rather high for figure skating.
SA: I will try to keep my best shape, the jumps, not to lose my technique and just to improve.
OC: The rivalry in figure skating right now is insane, how do you react to it?
SA: I like to compete at every competition. This atmosphere is special. I really like the rivalry, when someone starts jumping it drives me, I want to also show that I am not worse than them.
OC: What is more important to you - artistry or technique?
SA: Both are important because figure skating is still an art and it should combine technique and skating. I try to put my soul in my program, try to communicate with the audience and judges during the skate. I understand every character I am given and try to bring it to life on the ice.
OC: You are performing things on the ice that senior skaters are doing as well. Do you wish you could also compete with the seniors?
SA: I still need to work on a lot in training, to skate my programs clean, without falls and without breakdowns. It certainly would be interesting to compete with them, but in order to compete with seniors I need to work hard for a long time. I still have to go through the junior season (smiles).
OC: Trusova has said that she would love to compete with men. What do you think of such an idea?
SA: I honestly don't want to compete with the boys because... I don't even know how to answer this question. I want to skate beautifully, not only to perform complex elements but also to show beautiful skating. It's women's figure skating so to me it's different things. So I wouldn't like to compete with men.
Training with Eteri Tutberidze
OC: You've said that you fell in love with the Olympics after you watched Vancouver 2010, but you were only three years old back then. Can you tell me more about it?
SA: My family watched TV broadcasts from the competition. My mother showed it to me: 'People skate in beautiful dresses and even jump.' I became very interested and it was during a New Year season, I think I got skates as a gift and we went to try it.
OC: What is it like to train with Eteri Tutberidze?
SA: My move happened in 2017. In general, nothing changed drastically because I stayed at the same rink. Of course, I was very surprised about the training process of these athletes. They all are so determined, each skate is their own responsibility. At the training everyone has a goal and they manage to do everything so quickly, even learning something new. I was very motivated by that.
Eteri Georgievna gives a little bit of her soul to every athlete. With every athlete she has a very good relationship. And I like how she trains. Every day she comes to the rink and there is no such thing that she would leave to someone, she controls everything, monitors every little error. And only people who correct these slightest flaws become champions.
OC: Who inspires you in your sport and why?
SA: In my training group I have Alina Zagitova and Anna Shcherbakova, their results motivate me to work. Their skating is so amazing, Anya (Shcherbakova) does such difficult jumps. It motivates me very much.
OC: You seem like such a friendly girl. But in sports you have to be rather aggressive to win. Where do you find that aggression?
SA: Well, in life I try to be nice. Certainly at the competitions I go towards my goal so I do not pay attention to the others. I try to repeat my training routine at the competitions. I think only about my elements.
OC: What is the main lesson figure skating has taught you so far?
SA: Figure skating taught me, first of all, to do the hard work and it taught me the power of spirit. When you set a goal and reach it.
OC: And what's the main lesson that your coach, Eteri, has taught you?
SA: She taught me that if I work now, it will be easier for me to work at the competitions. At competitions I go in feeling calmer because everything was worked out before, during training. Eteri Georgievna gave me advice that in training you need to set a goal and not give in to your emotions, so that nothing interferes with the process.