In any other country, Anna Pogorilaya would be a national champion with skating star status.
 But not so in her native Russia, where the competition in the ladies’ category is currently the toughest in the world. Just making the national team is a challenge in itself. Pogorilaya has been to three consecutive World Championships, but she still sits in the shadow of Evgenia Medvedeva, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Adelina Sotnikova and Julia Lipnitskaia.

Pogorilaya has not yet won a major event, but claimed bronze medals at the 2013 World Junior Championships, the European Championships in 2015 and 2016 and, most recently, at the 2016 World Championships.

Though last season has had its ups and downs, Pogorilaya acknowledged that her campaign ended on a high note in Boston. “This was my most successful Worlds so far, aside from my first Worlds in 2014 where I came fourth,” she said. “This year I moved up to third place in what was a very strong competition. I am taking it step by step.

“At first I didn’t think about it, but afterwards when I looked at the results more closely, I found out that everyone had skated almost clean. That meant if you had made just one little mistake, you were gone.”

While her Worlds result might have come as a surprise to some observers and other competitors, that was not the case for Pogorilaya. “For me it was not a surprise, looking at how I skated. I know that I can skate like that. I know that I can do it in practice. I just had to go out and do it in competition,” she explained.

A lack of consistency has often held Pogorilaya back in the past. She struggled in the first half of last season, notably during the Grand Prix Series, and did not qualify for the Grand Prix Final. That was a step back after qualifying for the Final in the two previous seasons, where she placed sixth and fourth, respectively. “In the first half of the season, there were some mishaps and psychological failures. I was well prepared physically. Nevertheless, that was an experience,” the Moscow native said.

Pogorilaya, who turned 18 in April, is well aware that most of the attention is focused on other Russian skaters. “Now, it is a little better,” she said. “It is important to draw attention to myself. Right now, there is more attention on Zhenia (Medvedeva) or Elena (Radionova), and then hop, I jump out.”

Winning a medal in Boston has brought her more recognition. For instance, after Worlds, she was invited, along with Medvedeva, to appear on a popular Russian television show.

Pogorilaya sometimes comes across as very intense at competitions, but she said it is just her way of focusing on her performances. “After the short program at Worlds, some people said they thought I was upset. But no, I wasn’t upset. I just did my job and I knew that I still had the free skate to come. I’m happy, but I can’t relax.”

An interesting skater with original ideas, Pogorilaya always looks for new concepts for her programs. Her exhibition numbers are always entertaining and unique, such as her “Rise Like A Phoenix” routine that came complete with a costume change. “The Fifth Element” and “Madhouse Tango” were two other innovative routines.

“I’ll have to think about what to do next season,” she said. “The ideas come from different places — sometimes from the Internet. I first thought to use “Madhouse Tango” for my short program, but then we changed everything and the idea came up to use it for the exhibition. “Cats” was also my idea. In the exhibition, we can do whatever we want, so why not do something unusual? Why not surprise the audience?”

Pogorilaya plans to bring that kind of creativity to her competitive routines next season. “I’ve changed both programs. As always, I want to do something new,” she said. “Obviously ‘Scheherazade’ was a successful program. I liked it; the character suited me, and it was well received by the audiences. But now, I need to do something new.”

She chose Uzbekistani skater Misha Ge to choreograph her new programs, but declined at press time to announce the music choices — a decision she generally likes to make herself.
“I’m not choosing so much a certain style; I’m just listening to music and when I like it, I take it,” she explained. “So we collect music, listen to it and then choose it.

“Sometimes I find the music myself, as I did with the “Mermaids” from “Pirates of the Caribbean” program. I was just browsing through music on “V Kontakte” (a Russian social networking service), looking for music and suddenly I found it. I really liked it; it came together very well and it was very easy as I didn’t have to search for long.”

Off the ice, Pogorilaya is in her first year at the Moscow Institute of Physical Culture and Sports. “At the beginning I was lost, because everything was new. Then, slowly, I found everything, like where to go and what to do,” she said.

“The Institute is huge and it is easy to get lost. I go there when I have time. On Fridays, I have a long break between practice sessions and I can go there. I enjoy seeing people that I haven’t seen in a long time. There are former skaters, and a lot of people that I know so that’s really nice.”

In her spare time Pogorilaya likes to read or to walk her dog. She has also started taking English lessons along with her older brother. It is important, she said, to balance her life with activities outside of skating.

“I have friends that are former skaters and others that have nothing to do with skating, but they support me. If you’re only living around skating, you can get crazy,” said Pogorilaya. “Therefore, I have friends from outside skating, because this way I can distract myself. Sometimes, if it works out, we go out and do not talk about figure skating at all.”

Pogorilaya and Medvedeva are good friends who train at the same rink in Moscow under different coaches. Many wondered what they were doing during the medal ceremony in Boston, when Pogorilaya approached Medvedeva, who was on the podium, and both raised their arms in a symbolic gesture.

“It is a gag from Europeans,” Pogorilaya explained. “I have an accent in my music where I do this gesture and Zhenia knows that. Before the awards at Worlds, I went up to her and asked, ‘Are we doing it?’ and she said, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’”

During the off-season, Pogorilaya planned to work on her skating skills and fix the edge takeoff of her flip. She also wanted to put more work into her programs.

After almost splitting with longtime coach Anna Tsareva last year, the two have now settled into a good relationship. “After Worlds last year, I wanted to leave. Sometimes it happens that you’re skating for a long time and you feel like you’re stagnating, so you are looking for something new and different,” Pogorilaya explained.

“But we sat down and talked and this gave us a new push to start fresh. Everything has changed a lot since then, and now our relationship is much better and more productive.”

Her two Grand Prix assignments this season are Rostelecom Cup and NHK Trophy.

(Originally published in the IFS August 2016 issue)