Evgenia Medvedeva Changes Coaches
Medvedeva leaving Eteri Tutzberidze to train with Brian Orser, announcing even as rival announces music.
For the last few years, the story of ladies figure skating has been one of Russian dominance. But also, it’s been the story of a single coach’s triumph. Eteri Tutberidze first rose to prominence in 2014, when her student Julia Lipnitskaia was the big breakout start of the Olympic team event. She was followed by Evgenia Medvedeva, who stood alone atop the ladies field for two years. When she was usurped for Olympic gold, it was by training mate Alina Zagitova. And meanwhile, Tutberidze’s ladies have flooded the junior scene, different ones showing up week after week to win most of the Junior Grand Prix events, before all being topped by Alexandra Trusova, she of two quadruple jumps. They all skate well, some with truly brilliant artistry, and their technical content just gets stronger and stronger.
Still, Tutberidze hasn’t gone uncriticized. Some question how hard she pushes her skaters, whether she might cause them long-term physical and/or psychological damage. Lipnitskaia’s years of struggling with an eating disorder didn’t exactly help her image there. Others simply lament that thanks to her students, ladies skating has become a show of jumping kids who can’t keep it up, and the Olympic champion may well now become whoever turned 15 that year.
Both her top two ladies have recently been performing in Japan, and they only just got back to Russia. It was time to start choreographing their programs, and until today, it looked like the biggest news this week would be Zagitova’s short program music. But then the bombshell dropped: Medvedeva’s leaving the group. Hours later, it was confirmed she’s headed to Toronto, to train under Brian Orser. He’s a longtime successful coach, and right now, he might be the most successful singles coach outside Tutberidze, especially with two of the three men’s Olympic medalists.
The news today shook the skating world. Although as it happened, not everyone was surprised. Longtime skating reporter Phil Hersh tweeted words from one Russian coach, sent before we had her destination confirmed:
Just got this text from 1984 Olympic pairs champion & longtime coach Oleg Vasiliev: "We all knew that she will leave Eteri sooner or later. Today it was kind of official. We just don’t know for sure who will be Medvedeva’s new coach. Most likely it will be Brian. I hope so."
— Philip Hersh (@olyphil) May 4, 2018
Crazy as it may seem when she barely lost gold in PyeongChang, Medvedeva’s situation going forward is actually precarious. She’s already suffered from having technical content not as hard as Zagitova’s, and her younger training mates are all stronger still. When Tutberidze’s students aren’t even the only strong ones around, nobody’s been able to stay at the top of Russian skating for long for years. A coach of Tutberidze’s relentlessness might even focus on her younger students and see Medvedeva’s time as already passed. Her reason for leaving could be as simple as wanting a coach who will give her the maximum effort, or just has less on their plate. Orser’s got plenty of top skaters, but still fewer.
Or it could be she’s no longer willing to work with her methods. It is worth noting that part of the reason Medvedeva became beatable this season was she suffered a foot injury, and skated through her Grand Prix events when it would’ve been more prudent to sit them out. It was portrayed as her decision at the time, but given Tutberidze’s reputation, and her students’ collective histories, it might not have been. If she was pushed to injure herself further that close to the Olympics, it’s very understandable she doesn’t want to work with the coach responsible anymore.
Or she might feel she needs a new approach. Tutberidze emphasizes winning on technical content, but Medvedeva can no longer rely on that. She may be hoping with Orser, she’ll find a fresh approach to the next four years and trying to stay competitive. Her best weapons going forward will be her artistry and the sheer quality with which she does everything, things Orser might help her develop further.
Certainly her decision looks like a better one considering the aforementioned music announcement. Apparently Tutberidze and choreographer Daniil Gleikhengauz went choosing program music while Medvedeva and Zagitova were both in Japan, and they’ve saddled the latter with another war horse:
It’s all very well for Zagitova to skate to Phantom of the Opera; she’s more a technical skater than an artist anyway. But when Medvedeva’s legacy likely will not be Olympic gold, and she’s already won everything else, one hopes her programs will be something a bit more worth watching. Also that she changes choreographers; the Ilia Averbuch programs she’s skated have been a mixed bag.
There is, however, one lingering worry, especially with her seeking coaching outside Russia. Tutberidze has plenty of clout within the country these days, and it’s possible Russian officials will turn against her. With so many other Russian ladies she can’t outjump, that could spell disaster for her career. Still, her most recent results might make them hesitate about throwing her away immediately.
She’s actually not done with Japanese shows for the summer; she’ll be skating in a few more in late May/early June. We may hear at length from her about this coaching change either before then, or when the Japanese reporters start interviewing her, and get a better idea of how she intends to approach this next quaddrennium.