World champion Anna Shcherbakova: ‘I have new goals this season’ 

The 17-year-old says she is working on “more quads” and isn’t taking anything for granted as the race for the ROC women’s Olympic team heats up.

By Nick McCarvel
Picture by Alex Morean/Olympic Channel

Less than nine months after winning “the biggest medal of my career,” 17-year-old world champion figure skater Anna Shcherbakova isn’t thinking about that title much this season.

“It’s a new season, new competitions,” the Russian told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview last month. “I [don't] need to think about the World Championships last year, so I have new goals and I need to work a lot and not to think about this. Now when I compete, I don't think about this; it [doesn't] give me more pressure or more confidence.”

But the teenager has arrived to the Olympic season with a certainty about her: Despite errors at Grand Prix stops in Italy (short program) and France (free skate), she still captured two gold medals, setting herself up as one of the favourites for the ROC team for the coming Olympic Games Beijing 2022.

“I can say that I [don’t] think at all about the Olympic Games,” she shared. “And for me, of course, it's a goal. My goal is to show my best skating at the Russian nationals because, after them, we will know the result and we [can] have more real goals about the Olympic Games. But now for me, I know what I need to work on to show my best.”

The Russian Figure Skating Championships are set for 23-26 December in St. Petersburg, and Shcherbakova’s measured approach is a purposeful one: As many as seven skaters have the chance to make the three-woman squad, a team which has the potential to sweep the Olympic podium, something that has never been done in women’s skating at the Games – and not since 1956 in any of the skating disciplines (men’s singles, USA).

Shcherbakova chases more quads in Olympic season

Shcherbakova’s focus is clear, however: She needs more firepower in a sport that has become technically saturated. Training mate and countrywoman Kamila Valieva, armed with multiple quads and a triple Axel, is the de facto Olympic favourite, her world record 272.71 score last month out-pacing Shcherbakova’s season best by some 36 points.

Shcherbakova has both the quad flip and quad Lutz as part of her repertoire.

“Without quads, you don't have any chances to win competitions now,” she said frankly. “So I know that for me, it's really important [to add more]. And I know that I could do it before. This season I started it and I knew that step by step, I will do it. And so for me, that's good that I am improving in this. But of course, my goal is to do not one quad [but] to work more on it and to show more quads in my program. This time [at the French Grand Prix] I tried two different quads, but I will work more to do it clean.”

While some bemoan the trajectory that women’s skating is on – jump big, score big – Shcherbakova said she’s tried to build the other sides of her skating, too, including her choreography and musicality. She made a mid-season change to her short program, now set to “Dangerous Affairs.”

The next few weeks will prove pivotal for Shcherbakova, who is eyeing a fourth consecutive national title in Russia – something no woman has done before.

Learning to compete with the best - at home

Shcherbakova trains with Eteri Tutberidze’s camp in Moscow, a training group that also involves top Russians Valieva, Alexandra Trusova, Alena Kostornaia, Maiia Khromykh and Daria Usacheva. Only the 2015 world champion, 24-year-old Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, is outside of the group among the Olympic team contenders.

“I get used to [this environment] because, since my childhood, I started to skate in this group [when] I was nine years old,” she said, recalling watching skaters like Yulia Lipnitskaya and Evgenia Medvedeva go head-to-head in practice sessions with their peers. “When they were training, they were like home competing with each other. And I was watching this from within. So that's like normal for me. I can't imagine how to train in some other way. We have a little competition on each practice; that's fine for me.”

While it’s not rare for top skaters to share a coach, it is unusual to have so many at one training center – all vying for the same glory. But Shcherbakova, in a nod to their years together on and off the ice, says that the friendships come first.

“In between our practices, we are all together,” she said. “And usually at the competitions, we always go with some girls from the [training] group or like these. We always communicate with each other, so [we are] more comfortable to go to competitions together, because that's like the [being at home] in Moscow.”

'I know there are mistakes to work on'

Following the Grand Prix Series, the cancellation of the Grand Prix Final meant that Shcherbakova had one less platform to try out her new short program and test her quad training, but it also means more repetition at home, having had a bad fall on her attempted quad Lutz at the French Grand Prix.

“I know that there are some big mistakes to work on,” Shcherbakova said, having also botched her triple-triple combination in the short program in Italy. “When I watch my performance, I still see a lot of things to improve. ... I want to do two quads [in the free], but I had a bad fall on my first attempt of the quad Lutz. I think that I need to work more on it in my practice sessions to be more confident in this jump. But that's good that, after this mistake, I did the quad flip and [performed] the whole [rest of the] program still. So that's the good moments.”

And the moments that make her smile? Shcherbakova keeps things simple when it comes to that – which is no wonder, being 17 and attempting such high-flying, high-pressure skating.

“[It’s] my family and my pets,” she said of what makes her the happiest, breaking into a massive smile. “Because I really like my cats. And even now, [when] I'm at the competition, my mother, she's in Moscow, and she sends me photos of my cats. And [it’s like], ‘I want to hug the cat.’” [Laughs.]

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