(Originally published in the April 2016 edition of IFS)
Evgenia Medvedeva burst onto the senior scene this season, taking the world by storm. After winning the Grand Prix Final, Russian national and European titles in succession, she heads into the World Championships as the top contender and the one to beat.
Medvedeva has the sprightliness of a fairy as she spins and leaps across the ice, her contagious smile captivating audiences everywhere she competes. But behind that façade lies a young woman whose will is as strong as iron. Her steely character was evident in her final year in the junior ranks, during which she won every international event she contested. Medvedeva carried that fierce competitive spirit into the senior ranks this season, mining gold at five of the six events she has so far contested. Her only defeat came at Rostelecom Cup, where she placed second behind her main rival, Elena Radionova.
Medvedeva’s coach, Eteri Tutberidze, said that her young student has shown on many occasions that she possesses an iron will. “Zhenia competed at Russian nationals when she was very young, and, in her first appearance in 2012, she skated with her arm in a cast. She had a fracture, but nobody knew about it; she hid the cast under her costume. We received a little criticism that her left wrist was not moving well, and, after the competition, we explained that the cast didn’t really allow much movement,” Tutberidze recalled.
“At 2014 nationals, she skated in new boots she had worn for just three days because her old skates broke just before nationals. The question was whether to withdraw or to skate in new boots, but that was not a question for Zhenia. She was determined that she would skate.
“Last year, during the first practice at Skate America, she slipped off the blade on the first circle and crashed heavily into the boards. She continued jumping very well and apparently didn’t feel anything. But later we taped her elbow and gave her painkillers. When we returned home, she was diagnosed with a fracture and again had to skate with a cast.
Medvedeva described herself as quick-tempered and, in some ways, suspicious. She said that she does not always believe what she is told but prefers to discover things herself. “But my best character trait is my obstinacy,” Medvedeva said. “I am very stubborn, and in order to achieve something, I’ll go to the very end. I believe that a certain hot temper is helping me. Together with all my bad character traits though, I have positive ones: I am sympathetic and supportive — at least I think so.”
After winning the Junior Grand Prix and World Junior titles in the 2014-2015 season, Medvedeva transitioned into the senior ranks with an ease that surprised her. “At first I thought everything would be much harder, as I was just a junior yesterday,” she said. “But after the first senior competitions I realized that it is basically the same, almost like Russian nationals. The only difference is that there are also foreigners participating. So in the end it wasn’t that hard.”
At the Grand Prix Final last December, Medvedeva was untouchable, commandeering the title with a score of 222.54 points, the third-highest any lady has ever been awarded. “Winning the Final came unexpectedly because I participated for the first time at the senior level,” Medvedeva said.
“At first, I didn’t even think I qualified, so it was a success for me. I just worked at skating clean and well, and I did that. When I was told that I came close to the World record, I almost freaked out. I never expected that. I never had this kind of score, and I never had such high components.”
Setting new records, however, is not where her focus lies. “I just want to skate even better,” she said. Tutberidze believes that Medvedeva can and will do just that. “I think she can go higher. This is not yet the limit for her. I’m not talking about scores — because different panels score differently — but about her performance. I know that she can skate better. We were joking that her score compared to Yuzuru Hanyu’s wasn’t really that high,” Tutberidze added with a laugh.
Medvedeva was the odds-on favorite heading into the European Championships. From the outset, it was clear that she was on top of her game and would be tough to beat. She took the lead in the short program with a clean performance of her romantic “Melodies of the White Night” program.
The double Axel, never her friend, was shaky, but she earned enough positive grades of execution on the other elements and a high component score to win the segment. Medvedeva racked up the points with a strong free skate set to“W.E.”and“Allegro,” which was error-free until she fell on the last jump, a double Axel. “Going into the Axel, I thought, ‘Do it; do it,’ and, when I fell, I was like, ‘Oh no.’ I just had let it go. I lost my focus, and that is something I need to work on,” she explained.
When the scores came up and she ranked first in the free and first overall, the tears flowed. Medvedeva had conquered Bratislava, winning the title by 5.46 points over Radionova. “I cried for the first time out of happiness. I never did that before,” Medvedeva said. “But I was just so overwhelmed with emotion. I was so incredibly happy. I have no words. Right after my victory, I had no thoughts, but then the first thing that came to my mind was to thank my coaches. Without them, this never would have happened, and I’m so grateful to them. These were my first Europeans, and everything was new to me.
“To be honest, there were a lot of nerves before the short program, and, therefore, not all my practices were perfect. The day in between the short and the long meant another day of nervousness. All kinds of thoughts went through my head, but I needed to fight with them. This victory is another step for me and a motivation to continue to work hard. When I returned to Moscow, I had to detach myself from all this and continue to prepare for the World Championships.”
Medvedeva’s popularity with the media and the fans hit a new high in Bratislava.Testing out her English at the press conferences and during her interviews endeared her to the non-Russian media. “If you get attention, it means that somebody is interested in you, so I can deal with it very well. It is nice, and it is encouraging that I also have a lot of fans who support me,” the reigning Russian champion explained.
She is still able to live a normal life in Moscow and, for the most part, people do not recognize her when she is out in public. “Nobody has ever approached me,” Medvedeva said with a hint of disappointment in her voice. “It would be interesting. But once, in the winter, I was in the metro with my hood on, and a young couple was standing next to me. The girl said, ‘This is Zhenia Medvedeva!’ I looked up, but they did not approach me. But it was really nice to be recognized.”
She watches closely what the Russian press writes about her and has no hesitation in calling people out for writing things that are not true. At nationals in December, she approached a journalist in the mixed zone and told him that she did not appreciate that he incorrectly quoted her in an article.
HARD WORK PAYS OFF
Medvedeva has not let success go to her head. She remains grounded and said she does not feel like a star. “Honestly, I don’t feel any change with my friends. I don’t have so many close friends, but the ones I have are really important to me. The support of people close to me and my friends means a lot to me,” she said. “I don’t know what it is like to be a star. I think the life of a star is hard. I like to talk to everybody and at the same level. This is my character, and I never feel that I’m above others.”
She attributes her progression to the extra effort she put in during her preparation for this season and the work she does on a daily basis. “I’ve worked a lot. Every day I go to practice, and I work in order to perfect myself to be competitive with the best athletes in the world and to compete for the top placements,” she said. “I work very hard on everything: the elements, the steps and maybe even a little more on the choreography than on the other things.
“The way you train is the way you will perform in competition. The success I have had gives me confidence and the power to continue working hard. To be honest, the major part of what I know to do and can do comes from my coach. Eteri is a person with incredible willpower and ability to work. I really respect her, and I will always listen to her advice and implement what she says.”
Tutberidze has been coaching Medvedeva for eight years and is familiar with the character of her student. “Zhenia has started to skate judiciously and more like an adult,” Tutberidze said. “She has this inner light, and, hopefully, it will continue to shine and shine even brighter to reach the spectators. “Concerning her progress in skating, this is the result of work — of hard, meticulous work every day. Zhenia is very aware of all her shortcomings.
“She respects all competitors and looks at all their strong points. In order to compete with them, you need to know their strengths, and you need to find your own strengths. Zhenia’s strengths are her light jumps. She is an actress on the ice who really feels her programs. She has always had this quality, and it has always been important to her.
“She sometimes asks me: ‘What should I feel here?’ or ‘How do I interpret the character there?’or ‘What is with this move?’She is able to project all this and adds something of her own to it. Behind all this is work, work and more work.”
Some of her competitive drive came indirectly through her idol, Evgeni Plushenko. “I was watching the Olympic Games; I don’t remember which one — probably when Plushenko won in Torino (in 2006). I thought, ‘I’ll skate like he did. I’ll go out onto the ice and skate like Plushenko but as a little girl.’ And then I went out on the ice and nothing worked,” she recalled with a laugh.
Medvedeva said she enjoys watching the men compete. At the Grand Prix Final, she rushed to the tribune to watch the men’s free skate and was especially impressed by Hanyu. “He jumps so easily — even the jumps that others don’t even think of,” she said. “I really respect him. He is fantastic. I haven’t seen someone like him before. And he is a nice guy. I chatted a bit with him, and I can say that he is always positive and funny. But he works very hard, and, for that, he gets my respect. He inspires me.”
In Moscow, Medvedeva trains in a strong group under Tutberidze and Sergei Dudakov. Sergei Voronov, Adian Pitkeev and reigning Junior Grand Prix Final champion Polina Tsurskaya are some of her training mates. Medvedeva said she enjoys the competitive training environment and the positive atmosphere at the rink.
She likes to do triple-triple-triple combinations in practice but said that, pointwise, it is not worth doing them in competition. When it comes to learning the triple Axel, Medvedeva did not hesitate to respond. “For sure, I won’t try the triple Axel. The Axel is not my jump,” she said with a smile. “If I want to learn something new, I’d do the quad Salchow. But I haven’t tried it yet.”
Tutberidze sighed when asked whether she would let her student train a quad jump. “We’ll see. She is pestering me for the second year with this question already, but for now no. I think right now it is not necessary,” she said. “But I don’t have to stop her. She trusts us, and it is easy for me to work with her. You can talk to her; she accepts criticism very well and listens. Zhenia has a big heart and an understanding of what she needs to do. She loves what she is doing.
“And if you love what you are doing, no other motivation is needed.”
2016 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS