Self-belief is ‘secret to longevity’ for world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva

At 25, the Russian skater is trying for a third time to make the Olympics in a discipline dominated by teenagers. 

By Nick McCarvel & Ekaterina Kuznetsova
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva is like no one else in figure skating.

As the Russian Championships get underway this week in St. Petersburg (23-26 December), Tuktamysheva, who turned 25 on 17 December, is trying for a third time in her career to qualify for the Olympics, having missed out in 2014 and 2018.

The 2015 world champion and reigning world silver medallist says this go around is her best shot.

Why? Self-belief.

“This time, I don't lose to myself to start: It's the most important thing for me in the Olympic season, because previous times I've lost to myself already at the very beginning, skating around, knowing that I probably wouldn't go, because, in my head, for some reason I already had thoughts of failure,” an honest Tuktamysheva told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview last month at Rostelecom Cup.

“This season I try to be more confident and follow the path I have chosen. Well, let's see what it leads to. Right now I feel that I am in a good shape, a shape that won't allow me to regret that I didn't do enough.”

Tuktamysheva is now skating among a third generation of Russian skaters in her career, and perhaps the most competitive: the three women chosen for the ROC team for Beijing 2022 will be strongly fancied to sweep the Olympic podium in February.

And the comparative veteran sees it as an opportunity instead of a challenge.

“I try not to constrain myself,” she said in Russian. “This is my secret to longevity: I hate limits; limits for me are the worst things.”

Tuktamysheva goes after the Olympic dream - again

With a triple Axel in both her short program and free skate (where she sometimes performs two), Tuktamysheva will need to skate close to her best among the likes of world champion Anna Shcherbakova, world record holder Kamila Valieva, quad-jumping Alexandra Trusova and others, if she is to make the ROC team.

Officials could name some athletes for the Games after the national championships, but the full team probably won’t be decided until after the European Championships, set for 10-16 January.

In her 11th senior international season, Tuktamysheva hasn’t seen any reason to walk away.

“Every year I find some reasons to stay,” she said with a smile. “This year I decided I want to fight for the medals; I should invest all of myself in this sport. I enjoy skating, in training, too. When you have a good goal to skate for it gives you strength.”

Read the full Q&A with Tuktamysheva – translated from Russian and edited for clarity and length – below. Check out a preview of Russian nationals here.

Tuktamysheva: ‘I can do more and I want to do more’

Olympics.com: How do you manage the ups and downs of a long career like you’ve had? What makes you confident that when you’re struggling you know you can find your best again?

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: There will be dips, and the fact that they are there means that we are all humans, we are not robots. But I'm talking about the downturns that can occur in the training process. In general, it is possible for a person to skate successfully for the whole season without any [big] mistakes.

The goal of the coach, and one of the difficult tasks in the season, is to bring the athlete to their best form. You need to approach this issue very thoughtfully.

Olympics: What are examples from your career of this?

Tuktamysheva: There were dips, there were even seasons when you think: "Why is this happening?" But... Probably I had the feeling that I did not do everything that I can in figure skating [yet]. I can do more and I want more and I do not want to finish it now.

Probably there was always some potential in me. There was hope and the coach did not give up on me either. I skated and skated; there was not a moment when I felt tired of figure skating, to the point where I wanted to finish with it. We have such a vibe on our rink that you don't hate this place. You love this place.

Olympics: Speaking of coaches, you’ve been with your coach Alexei Mishin for a long time now. What makes that relationship work for the two of you?

Tuktamysheva: With age, I think people become more calm. Alexey Nikolaevich (Mishin) is very experienced. He perceives life blows or fate blows from us athletes in a very wise way. He always knows what to do. I have matured too, and now it becomes more of a coach-athlete communicating dynamic. My opinion is very important and the main thing for us is to come to an agreement. I think we reached a deeper understanding of each other.

He's really a “Professor” [Mishin's nickname]. So it's a fact. [Smiles]

Tuktamysheva on the importance of self-confidence

Olympics: What helps you most in a competition to tune in to have your best skate?

Tuktamysheva: First of all, self-esteem and self-confidence is always a key to a good skate. Also, if you drop some burden of responsibility off yourself and go with a simpler attitude, it's always easier. But in the Olympic season [that is] hard to do so because every competition is very important.

Olympics: How do you develop that confidence in yourself? Where does it come from?

Tuktamysheva: You just have to work on it; it is developed through the practice, over the years. As a child, when I went to compete, I was more clamped up and less confident. Right now, I'm trying to develop this feeling in myself. Still there are always nerves present, but it is possible to develop in yourself.

Olympics: Do you have a lesson you’ve taken from this year?

Tuktamysheva: Everything is possible if you believe in it a lot and persuade yourself that you can do something. 2021 was a pretty good year for me and taught me to just not doubt myself but [rather to] have a better relationship with yourself and then maybe your world will change, too.

Russian skating now – and Tuktamysheva’s longevity

Olympics: There are so many strong skaters in Russia, particularily those that train with Eteri Tutberidze. How does that motivate you to stay at your best?

Tuktamysheva: Yes, they are my direct competitors as all the Grand Prix results [this season] show. As for the pressure, we have been in this environment for a long time. At competitions, I travel a lot with [those] girls, so it's kind of normal to see them, to compete with them.

That's why I don't feel much pressure.

Olympics: Kamila Valieva has emerged as the favourite this season – with her world record scores and quad jumps. Have you got to know her?

Tuktamysheva: Yes, we talked a lot. She is such a shining and kind person. I really like her. There is always such ease in communication with [the younger skaters] and it's cool to communicate not just with [people of] my age. You get energised with a lot of lightness and positivity coming from them.

Olympics: What do you think distinguishes Kamila as a skater, why is she so special?

Tuktamysheva: She combines a very complex technique, absolutely perfect rotation and flexibility. This athlete has everything for a good figure skater. All the indicators [are] she has the maximum and I think it can be noticed even by a person who has no understanding of figure skating: How high she jumps, how fast she spins, everything is on maximum.

I am generally glad that I can compete and witness such strong athletes. What she does is cool and very few people can do it.

Olympics: You have competed against compatriots like Yulia Lipnitskaya, Adelina Sotnikova, Evgenia Medvedeva, Alina Zagitova... They are done now but you continue to compete. Why do you think that is?

Tuktamysheva: I think they leave because they get tired. Both physically and mentally. When in some aspects of your life you have constant self-restraint it's very difficult. But when you skate, and your coach, like in my case with Alexei Nikolaevich, he feels and understands me, he can tell me, 'Go rest now.' Or, 'Let's do this kind of job'.

I mean, it is important for me to be listened to, that my opinion is heard and I am a part of the team. So it's not so difficult for me to mentally come to training, skate day in and day out because I like it and it's like I'm part of this system.

When, for example, as a child, you still have to do what they tell you, they just tell and tell, and you just have to do it and you can't say anything back. I think it's hard... at least it was for me. I went through this and overcame it, but later realised that I missed being more outspoken. [Laughs]. I like justice a lot.

On mental health and adding a quad

Olympics: What do you think of when mental health is brought up? What does it mean to you as an athlete?

Tuktamysheva: Mental health is about switching from one activity to another without losing yourself. You need to be a whole person, knowing that you can do something, that you can do a lot, and not depend on what surrounds you.

You should direct your own world, and not [let] the outside world impact you very much. Mental health is very important for the athlete, not to go down after [your career].

Olympics.com: You have the triple Axel and we’ve seen you do the quad in practice, but will you add the quad for your competitive programs? And if so, when?

Tuktamysheva: Right now we just need to focus on stability because this season is very important and there is no time for experiments or program amendments. Not even for some medals or a prize place. But I just want to make this point to myself: That I can skate clean with the quad in the program. It would mean another victory for me. I would like to make it happen.

I'm probably not going to put a quad in [before] Beijing. Well, I need to qualify for the Olympics and see how it all goes. But if include a quadruple jump then you also need to do two triple Axels and to add the third element is not so easy because it's a very powerful jump. It's different in a way that you can pick up the inertia and spin it more easily, [which makes] the Axel different. For me personally, this jump is more of a power jump.

So, it's about having more physical strength that will be difficult to achieve in such a short time. We would need to take a competent approach. I'm now all about stability and the quad - I'll just try it out. I can’t guarantee it will happen, but I would like to try for it.

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