Russia's darling is all the talk in figure skating

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 18, 2014 - 6:26 AM

But the 15-year-old faces a tough field and the pressure of performing at home.


Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia performed her free skate in the team figure-skating competition during the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Photo: Chang W. Lee, New York Times

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

– For a 15-year-old figure skater, Yulia Lipnitskaya already has amassed an impressive collection of admirers. Russian teammate Ekaterina Bobrova called her a “tiny genius.’’ Another countryman, Nikita Katsalapov, said she is “our heroine,’’ while pairs skater Ksenia Stolbova said she watched Lipnitskaya skate and was “inspired.’’

Even American skater Gracie Gold, one of Lipnitskaya’s rivals in the Olympic women’s competition, paid homage to the flexibility and nerve she showed in her Winter Games debut. “She’s completely unfazed,’’ said Gold, the U.S. champion. “She’s got no spine, but she’s got iron in her bones.’’

What Lipnitskaya wants is gold in her hand. No Russian ever has won the women’s title at the Olympics, but the teen from Yekaterinburg has positioned herself to make a run at it in her home country. Defending gold medalist Kim Yu-na of Korea — whose own legion of groupies has dubbed her “The Queen’’ — is the prohibitive favorite. Lipnitskaya, though, is gliding into the competition on a roll, with a wild Russian crowd at her back.

Already, Lipnitskaya has become the youngest skater in 78 years to win an Olympic gold medal after two brilliant programs that propelled Russia to victory in the team event. Before her short program in that competition, Bobrova said she worried that her young teammate would be overwhelmed by the pressure of performing before a full house cheering her every move.

Lipnitskaya responded by topping a field that included world champion Carolina Kostner, 2010 Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada and American Ashley Wagner. Then she did it again in the free skate of the team event, cementing her status as the skater who could steal the marquee event of the Winter Games.

“Now I fully know the ice and the arena, and I can relax a bit and skate better in the individual event,’’ she said after the team victory. “I felt calmer, even better than at other competitions.

“I am well prepared, and I always try to be self-confident, even if something goes wrong. Also, I could please the audience. It’s a joy for me.’’

The reigning champ

Kim, 23, has been sidelined most of this season with a metatarsal injury to her right foot. She missed the entire Grand Prix season and has competed in only one minor event in Croatia. Still, she enters the Winter Games as the reigning world champion and an imposing presence who earned gold at Vancouver.

Since Vancouver, Kim has competed only intermittently, but her already considerable stardom has escalated. Forbes Magazine last year estimated her annual earnings at $14 million, ranking her No. 6 among female athletes. When she arrived in Sochi, a horde of Korean media camped out at the practice rink for hours to watch her training session.

The first figure skater from Korea to medal at the Olympics, Kim split with coach Brian Orser after Vancouver and reunited with former coach Shin Hea Sook. Despite her long layoff from competition, she said her previous Olympic experience will benefit her in Sochi.

“This is now my second time, and I think it will be easier than it was in Vancouver,’’ she said. “I try not to feel pressure. I am not focusing on winning the gold medal twice. I am focusing more on taking part in the Olympic Games rather than winning twice.’’

American hopes

The United States’ hopes rest with Gold, who looked strong and confident in winning her first U.S. title last month, and Wagner, who would rather forget her experience at nationals.

Wagner has dumped the “Romeo and Juliet’’ free skate she has performed this year, going back to last year’s “Samson and Delilah’’ program. She had only three weeks to fine-tune it, and while she admitted it is a risky move, she felt she needed the fresh start.

“This music makes me competitive,’’ Wagner said. “It raises the hair on my arms and makes me excited and just go out there and be vicious. Juliet is not that vicious. I am so passionate about what I do, and so driven to get on that Olympic podium. I just felt in my heart that [the Romeo and Juliet] program was not going to get me there.’’

The Olympics could represent a changing of the guard in women’s skating. Both Kim and Asada have announced they will retire after the Sochi Games. If Lipnitskaya wins gold, she would be the second-youngest skater to do so, only five days off the Olympic record set by 15-year-old Tara Lipinski of the United States at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

That would swell her ranks of admirers exponentially. But she will have plenty of competition from a deep field aiming to make just as great an impression.

“Yulia is a machine and an excellent skater,’’ Gold said. “When it comes down to competition, it’s not always about the best skater. It’s about who skates the best in that competition. We’re going to try to beat her at her own game and on her own turf and, at the end, leave everything out on the ice.’’

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Tennessee 7:25 PM
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
New York 7:00 PM
New Orleans 7:30 PM
Milwaukee 9:00 PM
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
Golden State
Florida 6:00 PM
Colorado 6:00 PM
Toronto 6:00 PM
Washington 6:00 PM
Anaheim 6:30 PM
St. Louis 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Edmonton 9:30 PM
San Jose
St Thomas (TX) 11:30 AM
Stony Brook 6:00 PM
Temple 6:00 PM
FIU 6:00 PM
Long Island
Lehigh 6:00 PM
South Alabama 6:00 PM
Seton Hall 6:00 PM
South Florida
Ga Southern 6:00 PM
Yale 6:00 PM
Cleveland State 6:00 PM
Wright State 6:00 PM
Western Carolina
Nicholls 6:30 PM
Louisiana Tech
Morgan State 6:30 PM
Idaho State 6:30 PM
South Dakota St
Oakland City 7:00 PM
Austin Peay
Eureka 7:00 PM
Appalachian St 7:00 PM
Connecticut 7:00 PM
Southern Miss 7:00 PM
Jackson State
Coastal Carolina 7:00 PM
Ole Miss
Montana State 7:30 PM
South Dakota
LSU 8:00 PM
Ohio 8:05 PM
CS-Dominguez 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Walla Walla 9:00 PM
DePaul 9:00 PM
Oregon State
Nevada 9:00 PM
Portland State 9:00 PM
San Francisco
CS-Bakersfield 9:05 PM
Utah State
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Niagara 10:00 AM
Cleveland State
High Point 10:00 AM
VA Commonwealth
Towson 10:30 AM
Wake Forest
Presbyterian 11:00 AM
Chicago State 11:00 AM
Northwestern Coll 11:05 AM
Vanderbilt 12:00 PM
Temple 4:00 PM
Southern Miss 4:00 PM
Ole Miss
UMBC 4:00 PM
Miami-Florida 5:00 PM
St Mary-KS 5:00 PM
South Dakota
William & Mary 5:00 PM
Troy 5:30 PM
Loyola Marymount 6:00 PM
St Francis-PA 6:00 PM
Indiana-Southeast 6:00 PM
Delaware State 6:00 PM
Tenn Temple 6:00 PM
West Virginia St 6:00 PM
Fairfield 6:00 PM
Seton Hall
Dartmouth 6:00 PM
New Hampshire
Ball State 6:00 PM
Jacksonville 6:00 PM
Tennessee St
Trine 6:00 PM
Western Mich
Tenn Tech 6:30 PM
Samford 7:00 PM
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Incarnate Word 7:00 PM
TX-Pan American
Ark-Little Rock 7:00 PM
South Dakota St
CS-Northridge 7:30 PM
Northern Ariz
Santa Clara 8:00 PM
(19) Oklahoma St 8:00 PM
Weber State
Washington 8:00 PM
San Diego State
Cal Poly 8:00 PM
New Mexico
(10) Louisville 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon


question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite pro sports coach in the Twin Cities?

Weekly Question





Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters