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The Russian dominance in figure skating is paramount and unmatched. No country comes close to the athletes of Russia in any world championships and global tournaments. Russian skaters are the best and have swayed the figure skating world with their distinctive style of play and performance. The fusion of the technical abilities with artistic innovations in their performances has stunned and mesmerised the world.

Decades have passed but the supremacy of the athletes in this region has not gone down or diminished. In fact, Russian figure skaters have raised the bars and every time they appear in a prominent tournament, they look better than before. But what makes them so exceptional and a potent force in the figure skating world? Russia develops the best skaters because the country has adopted skating as their heritage. They have the best talent identification, pioneering training, and coach kids at a very young age when the body is so agile. Their figures skaters can perform some difficult jumps with grace. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that make Russian figure skaters the best in business.   

Russian skaters dominate Gold and Silver position at the 2019 World Championships
Alina wins Gold at the 2019 World Championships, Saitama – Japan

Russian Skaters Coached At A Very Young Age

Russia’s kids are born to skate and seize the ice. Three to four years is the best age for kids start to explore the world but for Russian kids, it is the time to explore the world of figure skating. Training at this young age helps them develop right at the beginning and never go astray in their moves and training. The problem of training a little late for a sport like this is that it makes your body grow in the wrong way as an athlete. So you end up compensating and overcoming the initial blunder, which makes training even harder.

Take Anna Shcherbakova as an example. Born 28 March 2004, started skating in 2007 under Oksana Bulycheva. From 3 years of age, she progressed to massive heights. She is the 2020 European Silver medalist, 2019 Grand Prix Silver medalist, 2019 Skate America Champion.

A young Anna Shcherbakova training on the ice, one of Russia's best skaters
A young Anna Shcherbakova, aged 11.

Russian Kids are Adopted Early into the Skating Profession

Coaching kids early gives them the best time to introduce their own innovative style of performance. They develop in a way that their imaginations go way beyond the other athletes which help them apply inventive and unprecedented things on the ice rink. 

Figure skating techniques are taught to Russian kids as a language. The tradition of applying unconventional things in their performances, like a quad jump, is directed by their coaching. When Russian skaters start, the first lesson that is being taught is to fall safely on the ice. So, when they learn to fall safely, they become fearless in their approach and are able to maneuver some moves that others would hesitate to attempt. This also helps them reduce the chances of injuries in their whole career.

Russian kids are trained very professionally in a controlled and restricted environment. Their diet is monitored quite closely so that they do not have an intake of any improper food that can harm their physique. Sometimes when the kids are picked up to take part in a competition, their diet and training are not revealed to even their parents. This makes them compatible and strong for the competition – like any professional sport there is a strict regime of practice, diet, and body conditioning.

Russia embraces figure skating as part of its heritage 

Figure skating is ingrained in Russian culture and they want to remain dominant in this sport. Kids who want to skate are seen as potential future Olympians, therefore, they have to enroll in the training culture.  Although they have a choice to opt for any of their favorite subjects and courses, they need to train skating in parallel. Russia does not want to lose any possible future medallist by not introducing this beautiful sport to almost every individual, especially youngsters. This is also the reason why we see many professional Russian skaters at a very young age.

Does being small and lightweight help to ice skate?

Kids who are small and light, as young as 10-12 years, can perform challenging jumps for extra points. For example Alexandra Trusova manged the quadruple salchow, aged 13 at the Grand Prix final Dec 17.  So has Anna Shcerbakova (15), with now Alena Kostornaia (16) pushing the 3A (Awarded Best Newcomer by ISU 2020). They are certainly pioneering the sport.

Youth does have an advantage.  Alina Zagitova, who pipped Medvedeva to Gold at the 2018 Olympics and European Championships in Jan 19, is a clear example that the lighter you are, the easier it is.  Alina pushes most of her difficult jumps into the 2nd half of the routine and aims for 10% bonus points.

Below are the Ladies Singles European Figure Skating Championship Gold medalists since 2014, a stretch all won by Russia. In fact, before this, they dominated for 10 years from 1996 mainly with Irina Slutskaya and Maria Butyrskaya. Russia also soaked up all the Silver medal positions since 2013. Another example of why we think Russian skaters are the best.

Year & Host City Ladies Single Gold WinnerWinning Country
2014 BudapestYulia LipnitskayaRussia
2015 StockholmElizaveta TuktamyshevaRussia
2016 BratislavaEvgenia MedvedevaRussia
2017 OstravaEvgenia MedvedevaRussia
2018 MoscowAlina ZagitovaRussia
2019 MinskSofia SamodurovaRussia
2020 GrazAlena KostornaiaRussia
Ladies European Figure Skating Championships since 2014

Russia's crop of the best figure skaters, Alena Kostornaya
Alena Kostornaia. 2020 European Champion, 2019/20 Grand Prix Final Champion

How do Russians handle the emotional and physical nature of skating?  

There is a drawback to exposing kids to the world at a very young age. Everyone can not handle fame and popularity during their teens. Even the grown-ups find it difficult to manage the stardom and some derail in their career. 

The same happened with 14-year-old Russian skater Anastasia Shabotova, who was involved in a controversy that stunned the whole Russian sports community. She was asked by a follower in an Instagram live session about achieving consistency and raising the performance in figure skating. In Jan 2019, she said they all take a lot of dope, illegal drugs to enhance performance and stamina. She even accused a figure skater of taking dope and said all of them use it. This enraged the whole sporting community and fans. It quite clearly shows that some teenagers can not handle the pressure of fame and their hard work and career can end abruptly.

Alina mentioned a while back that she was taking a break from skating due to the demands, not her skill, but her weight target.  Such unwelcome news for any skater.  However, that’s what this sport is demanding, recently masterminded by coach Eteri Tutberidze (Awarded Best Coach by the ISU 2020). It’s not Eteri’s her way, its simply decided most coaches in Russia, If you get too old or too big, they find someone younger.  Luckily Alina had signed a huge makeup and beauty contract with Shiseido after the Pyeongchang Olympics, which financed her well, prior to rejoining the Novogorsk camp (training camp of national figure skaters) with Eteri, June 20.

Alina Zagitova signs a make up contract with Shiseido
Japanese company, Shiseido, signed Alina in June 2018

The competitiveness and multiple training regime can put stress on small bones and lead to injury.  Whilst their bodies are more flexible they are still developing and something can break.  Its something every young Russian skater wants to avoid.  Anna Shcherbakova broke her leg in 2017 when practicing the triple loop, she then missed the majority of the 2017/18 season. Constant off ice conditioning is employed to help their bodies strengthen and recover.

Skating Is A Go-To Game For Russians

It is not hard to believe that in countries like Russia, the most popular games are ice skating and figure skating. There is ice everywhere so you only need to have a good pair of skates and you are ready to go. People in Russia love skating even if they are not doing it for professional purposes, it is the most popular recreational activity. This popularity encourages many youngsters to pursue this sport as a career. 

Russians have made this game accessible to every individual by building infrastructure and facilities. They have ice rinks all over the country and places where ice rinks are naturally built in the winters. Russia has over 2,700 outdoor inks, vs 500 in the US, and Sweden 130.  It has to be said though that the United States boasts more indoor Rinks than Russia, 1,500 vs 612 and Canada has 3,300 Indoor and 5,000 Outdoor.  

The people of Russia love to skate, especially at the VDNH rink in Moscow
VDNH Rink in Moscow, with 20k Sq Metres of Ice Rink

However, the weather has an important role to play in making the country an unbeatable force in skating. Even toddlers are brought to ice rinks to skate with their parents. Their family time is actually the skating time and people in Russia prefer this recreational activity for entertainment. 

The mass popularity of ice skating in Russia has also outnumbered other countries. This is also because of the extreme cold weather they have throughout the year that deprives them of other activities but in a good way. They do not have any other activities so they are forced to play games on ice and therefore, after so many years they are still the leaders of figure skating.

Russian spectators are all ice skaters 

Russians have not only mastered the sport on the ice rink but they also have a great sense of it as a viewer. It is because almost every person skates at some level in their lifetime, so they have the basic knowledge of the game. They are known as one of the most passionate audiences of the game. This puts an added pressure on Russian skaters but gives them the motivation to perform even better for their country and themselves. 

In Russia, ice skaters are in mammoth numbers. They come like a flow of water in a stream. Hence, there is an overwhelming number of athletes that bring astounding competition in the game. This makes it so tough for an average athlete to penetrate the system.

There is always someone knocking on the door to be a representative of a Russian figure skating team, therefore, everyone has to be always on their heels to remain in the circuit. This whole environment of competitiveness and professionalism makes the figure skater in this country so special and sensational.

The Figure Skating Federation Of Russia  (FSFR)

FSFR is a governing body and the most important factor of Russia’s dominance in the world of figure skating. They are responsible to train the figure skaters and bring the medals in their country. They have built infrastructure, systematic training, and a skaters management program that covers the whole career of the skater. Their development program covers three aspects of a figure skaters’ life; talent identification, training, and lifestyle management program, to make Russian skaters the best.

Logo of the Skating federation of Russia, which trains the best skaters of the world

Among all the phases, talent identification is the most important and crucial part of a whole development program. People often take it for granted but FSFR makes sure that it does not leave behind a talented individual who can win medals in the future for the country.

FSFR has three schools for talent identification and early training process. The schools are Dynamo, CSKA, and Sambo 70, and these are situated in Moscow and St. Petersburg. You probably think how on earth only three schools are enough to train so many skaters. FSFR only selects skaters they think have the potential to win medals. And the concentrated training makes it easier for them to implement innovative ideas and unorthodox methods to bring the best out of an individual.

One thing that should be kept in mind that this organisation is not for a person who wants to learn figure skating, but it is a platform for those who will be going to represent Russia on a world stage. Therefore the selection criteria are extremely strenuous and merit is quite high. It is not easy to surpass thousands of emerging skaters around the country, you need to have some special skills and abilities. 

FSFR selects skaters at a very young age and the schools, under the organization, are responsible to take care of the education of young athletes. The education of the best Russian skaters revolves around the sport. Their whole lives are controlled and operated in a manner so that it helps them grow their abilities and skills. They have given carefully and customised diet plans for every individual and their habits are closely monitored.

Russian figure skaters have to follow a strict optimum training program.  The time they get for their social life is mostly spent with other athletes to grow a competitive culture among them. This may have sounded like army training but to achieve such a big stature in a particular sport, discipline and hard work is emphatic. 

Russian Skaters Receive Pioneering Training

The development program helps young athletes in the professional circuit be world-beaters. The training goes throughout their career and the coaches incorporate modern techniques and innovation in the technical aspect of the game and artistic elements, such as choreography, of the performance.

The precise method and exact training techniques are not yet revealed as FSFR thinks that it is their intellectual property so they ferociously and strictly protect it. But whatever they do, they are one of the most successful sports organisation in the world with 50% of gold medal record for Russia. There is no doubt that FSFR is the backbone of producing such great athletes in Russia that are not only the pride of the country but also raising the sport to the whole new level. 

Below are the Ladies World Championship Gold medalists since 2014. The event was cancelled in March 2020 due to COVID-19 and will likely be re-run in the 2nd Half. With Alina now back in training since June 2nd 2020, she will have this event as her target.

Year & Host City Ladies Single Gold WinnerWinning Country
2014 SaitamaMao AsadaJapan
2015 ShanghaiElizaveta TuktamyshevaRussia
2016 BostonEvgenia MedvedevaRussia
2017 HelsinkiEvgenia MedvedevaRussia
2018 MilanKaetlyn OsmondCanada
2019 SaitamaAlina ZagitovaRussia
2020 MontrealPostponed.
Ladies World Figure Skating Championships since 2014

The Dip in the Interest of Russian Skating

In recent years it has been noticed that the love of figure skating among the Russians has dropped from what it was initially in the Soviet time. The professional enthusiasm, though, has almost remained the same. But the interest of masses is seen to be dipped. Therefore, Russian president Vladimir Putin himself takes notice of the situation and becomes active in regaining the popularity of winter sports among the general public. 

Enthusiasm is one of the main reasons for Russia producing gems in figure skating, if this fails their new generation might lose interest. Now some steps have been taken, for example, more ice rinks have been built throughout the country and mostly free. Many shows are held on the ice rink to popularise the sport and make people aware of their tradition and culture.

Even in an ice hockey exhibition match, the president himself took part to reestablish the importance of this sport among the Russian people and especially the younger generation. With everyone’s expectations, he did not perform badly at all in the game keeping in mind his age. 

For our last table we focus on the big events – the Winter Olympics. The history of the Olympics shows a record 24 Gold medals, 18 Silvers for Russia (incl. the Soviet Union). Versus the USA with 15 Golds & 16 Silvers. Special note for Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir who are the only figure skaters to hold 5 Olympic medals. You will know that Russia was banned from the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and only the best Russian skaters could attend, wearing the title ‘Olympic Athlete from Russia’.

Year & Host City Ladies Single Gold WinnerWinning Country
1994 LillehammerOksana BaiulUkraine
1998 NageroTara LipinskiUSA
2002 Salt Lake CitySarah HughesUSA
2006 TorinoShizuka ArakawaJapan
2010 VancouverYuna KimSouth Korea
2014 SochiAdelina SotnikovaRussia
2018 PyeongchangAlina Zagitova Olympic Athletes from Russia
Ladies Olympic Winners from 1994

Alina Zagitova on the podium waving to Russian supporters
Podium wave to Russian supporters at the 2018

I aim to keep this article up to date for years to come as we track the Russian Figure skating success. Yep I know I only covered the beautiful Russian dolls of figure skating, but they are the most successful, their pictures are gorgeous and they are the gems of the next generation.

Credits to pictures supplied by Instagram account aesthetik_of_figure_skating