Russian coach produces teenage skating stars with short careers

BEIJING (AP) — The coach behind Russia’s figure skating dynasty rarely speaks to the media, cementing her mystique as a guru who produces a line of teenage stars who can land jumps no other woman even attempts.

A doping rage around his star pupil has forced Eteri Tutberidze into the spotlight at the Beijing Olympics. She broke her silence on the case against Kamila Valieva on Saturday, telling Russian television: “We are absolutely sure that Kamila is innocent and clean.”

The Tutberidze-trained skaters have dominated the competition for eight years, but critics have raised concerns about their short careers – many retiring as teenagers – and their propensity for serious injuries.

News that 15-year-old Valieva tested positive for a banned heart medication ahead of the Olympics jeopardizes Russia’s gold medal in the team event and could rule her out of women’s competition next week. next week.

The positive doping test was the main story of the Olympics for days, again pitting Russia against global sports agencies. Tutberidze and Valieva shared an emotional embrace late in practice on Saturday.

Valieva made her senior debut just five months ago but is already being hailed as a generational talent. She combines spectacular jumping power – landing the first quadruple jump by a woman in Olympic history on Monday – with elegant skills to break world records.

When an athlete under the age of 16 – a “protected person” in Olympic jargon – tests positive, the rules state that those around him must be investigated. This means that the Russian anti-doping agency is launching a review of Tutberidze’s secretive, world-class training group in Moscow.

“On the one hand, they are professional athletes, and they compete at a high level like other adults (do) and should be ready to take full responsibility,” said Margarita Pakhnotskaya, former deputy general manager. of the Russian anti-doping agency. The Associated Press.

“But on the other hand, it is known that psychologically and mentally they are not adults. And part of that responsibility should be shared with older people who are in their closest circle.

Tutberidze’s approach to training focuses on athleticism and a fearsome work ethic. She had to work to build a coaching career from a low point as a penniless skater performing in ice shows in the United States in the 1990s. She was stuck in Oklahoma living in a YMCA when she survived the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building.

One person in Tutberidze’s orbit who might face questions is sports doctor Filipp Shvetsky, who accompanied Valieva to her first senior international competition in October. The doctor said he was banned from working with the Russian rowing team after a doping investigation in 2007.


In less than a decade, Tutberidze has gone from one of Russia’s many skating coaches to the leader of a dynasty.

Her breakthrough came when Yulia Lipnitskaya helped Russia win team gold at Sochi 2014, becoming the second-youngest gold medalist in sports history.

Four years later, Tutberidze had the top two women, with Alina Zagitova beating Evgenia Medvedeva for the gold medal. In Beijing, Tutberidze, the three Russian women, could sweep the podium with their high performance quad jumps.

Tutberidze can select the most promising young Russian skaters for her camp, which has enviable facilities and funding. At the national championships where Valieva tested positive in December, a skater from Tutberidze won for the seventh consecutive year.


The stars trained by Tutberidze did not have long careers.

Reigning Olympic champion Zagitova took a break in December 2019 aged 17, saying she needed to find motivation after losing to younger Russians with quad jumps. She hasn’t skated competitively since and is focusing on a television career. Medvedeva performed at the 2018 Games with a cracked bone in her foot. Three months later, she left Tutberidze’s camp to train with Brian Orser in Canada, saying she wanted to “work with a trainer as (a) friend”.

Lipnitskaya retired at 19, revealing she had battled anorexia. Chronic back injuries forced retirement last year for Elizabet Tursynbaeva of Kazakhstan, the first woman to land a quad at the world championships in 2019. Another Tutberidze skater, Darya Usacheva, suffered a serious injury in November and is returned home in a wheelchair.

Rafael Arutyunyan, coach of men’s Olympic champion Nathan Chen, compared Russian skaters with short careers to single-use coffee cups in a 2020 interview with a Russian sports website, without mentioning Tutberidze by name.


Tutberidze’s outlook and career were shaped by spending much of the 1990s in the United States.

Born in Moscow to Georgian parents, Tutberidze never rose to the elite of Soviet figure skating. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, she traveled to the United States to skate in ice shows.

In a rare interview published on the Russian Figure Skating Federation website in 2015, Tutberidze detailed how the dream turned sour. Other skaters had visa issues and her money ran out waiting for them to get to Oklahoma. With no money, she attended Baptist church services for free food.

“We had to sit down during the service and then they brought water for the congregation and some small sandwiches,” she said.

Tutberidze said she was living at a YMCA a block from the Oklahoma City Federal Building when she was caught up in one of the worst terrorist acts on American soil. The April 1995 bombing by anti-government extremist Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people.

“Glass, rubble, broken paneling, blood, mutilated bodies,” she said. “At first we didn’t understand what had happened. There was a building and now it’s gone, just dust, and at the crossroads rubble instead of cars.

Tutberidze’s name is inscribed on a “survivor’s wall” at the site of the explosion. She spent six years in the United States, first as a skater and then as a coach in San Antonio. His daughter, Diana Davis, competing in Beijing on the Russian ice dance team, was born in the United States

She returned to Russia and worked for over a decade before becoming an internationally recognized trainer. Tutberidze said successes in life require tough times – a philosophy that could also apply to his training style.

“It’s a very comfortable and quiet life there (in the United States). Great people, wonderful relationships,” she said. “But for me, there is a lack of contrast in all this abundance. When there are no difficulties, you cannot understand what happiness is.


Dave Skretta in Beijing and Tanya Titova in Moscow contributed to this report.


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