Yulia Lipnitskaya: Russia’s golden girl

The 15-year-old figure skating star has become the youngest-ever gold medalist at the Winter Olympics

Yulia Lipnitskaya became the youngest-ever Winter Olympic champion. Source: RIA Novosti

Anna Kozina, special to RBTH

The Russian team’s gold medal performance in the team figure skating event made figure skater Yulia Lipnitskaya the youngest-ever Winter Olympic champion, at an age of 15 years and 249 days.

The previous record was held by American skater Tara Lipinski, who won a gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Games when she was 15 years and 255 days old.

Lipnitskaya’s teammate, Evgeni Plushenko, who won his first figure-skating world championship medal before Lipnitskaya was born, called her a “little genius.” Other skating stars have also spoken about Lipnitskaya’s potential. Tara Lipinski commented to the New York Times before the Games that Lipnitskaya had the potential to give Russia it’s first-ever women’s single’s figure-skating gold. Canada’s Elvis Stojko, a two-time Olympic figure skating silver medalist (at Lillehammer and Nagano) tweeted “Julia Lipnitskaia can be the new super star. If she can stay in it for years to come, she will inspire many.”

First steps

Lipnitskaya was born in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg and began figure skating at the age of four. However, her opportunities in her hometown were limited, so she moved Moscow in 2009 to train with the renowned coach Eteri Tutberidze. Lipnitskaya has said that she was ready to quit figure skating if Tutberidze did not accept her as a student.

During the 2011-2012 competition season, Lipnitskaya won all of the junior events in which she participated, including the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating. The following year, she medaled twice in the adult category of the Grand Prix, but was forced to pull out of the final round of the competition due to injuries sustained during a practice session.

Growing up

In 2012, Lipnitskaya began to experience the growth spurts and weight gain associated with puberty. Her first coach, Elena Levkovets, said that Lipnitskaya was frustrated by the effect the changes in her body had on her skating. “She did not understand what was happening to her, what to do with her arms and legs. She had trouble at practice,” Levkovets said. She also had trouble managing her weight. But Lipnitskaya was determined to continue her training.

Tutberidze has said that Lipnitskaya has amazing willpower. “I have never seen anything like it,” said Tutberidze. “She can practically not eat anything. When she has to lose weight, all she eats is powdered nutrients, which give her energy. But she manages, thank God. She is intensely driven.”

Not a day of rest

Although on the ice Lipnitskaya makes her moves seem effortless, her accomplishments are the result of extremely hard work.

 “If you only knew how much work I have to put into stretching. If I take even a few days off, I will feel like I am made out of wood, my muscles won’t respond at all!” Lipnitskaya said.

A perfectionist by nature, she is sometimes unsatisfied even with a winning performance. Commenting on her second Olympic performance, Lipnitskaya said: “The jumps were not my own, and the last pirouette could have been done better. I don’t yet know how to forgive myself mistakes, perhaps that will come with experience and I will be able to smile like Carolina Kostner after a fall at the European Championships.”

Tutberidze agrees with her student’s assessment: “There are some elements that need work. Yulia got nervous toward the middle of her performance, but this is normal, she is human after all. We will learn from her mistakes during this performance and improve her routine.”

Lipnitskaya’s next event is the women's singles, which will take place on Feb. 19-20. In order to avoid the euphoria and attention caused by her first gold medal and train productively, the skater and her coach returned to Moscow on Feb. 10.

The competition

In the upcoming event, Lipnitskaya will face competitors with more experience and trophies. They include 2012 World Champion and five-time European Champion Carolina Kostner of Italy, as well as the 2010 Olympic silver medalist and two-time World Champion Mao Asada of Japan. Also contending for gold will be Vancouver gold medalist and two-time World Champion Kim Yuna of Korea and fellow Russian skater Adelina Sotnikova, who shared the podium with Lipnitskaya at the 2014 European Championships.

Lipnitskaya, however, has the fans on her side – but this is a double-edged sword. “I have been warned many times that the audience will be loud and that I won’t even be able to hear the music, not just during the competition, but also during the warm up,” Lipnitskaya said. "In general I was ready for this, but I didn’t think it would be as loud as it was. Thankfully this only spurred me on… The most important thing is that I am well-prepared and comfortable on the ice, which is of excellent quality on this arena. I am just going to try my hardest for now, and I will only feel that I am an Olympic champion once all the competitions are over.”

CV

Yulia Lipnitskaya was born in Yekaterinburg on June 5, 1998.

She is the 2014 team competition world champion, 2014 European Championship winner, 2012 Junior World Champion and 2013 runner-up, 2013/14 Grand Prix silver medalist, 2012 and 2014 Russian Championship silver medalist, 2012 Russian Junior Champion, and Junior Grand Prix winner 2011-12. As of January 2014, she is ranked third in the world by the International Skating Union (ISU).

Short program: “I love you openly” by Mark Minkov.

Free skating: Schindler’s List Soundtrack by John Williams. Lipnitskaya picked the music for her performances on her own, but several choreographers refused to work with Schindler’s List. Silver medalist ice dancer Ilya Averbukh agreed to work with this music, but due to his busy schedule, Lipnitskaya often had to work at night.

She received a score of 141.51 for her free skate performance, which is the second-highest score ever, after Kim Yuna’s 150.06.

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