In an era dominated by talented teenagers, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva is an inspiration for many other mature female skaters around the globe. She is a person who marches to the beat of her own drum.
When Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva won Rostelecom Cup last November, she not only collected her fifth career Grand Prix title but also rounded out her medal collection with podium finishes at all six Grand Prix competitions and the Grand Prix Final — a feat only Japan’s Mao Asada and Shizuka Arakawa had previously achieved.
This unusual year marked her 10th consecutive season on the senior Grand Prix circuit. At 2020 Rostelecom Cup, her long program was packed with technical difficulty — including two triple Axels — but it was her captivating performance that brought the crowd to its feet in a standing ovation. It was a memorable moment for Tuktamysheva, who turned 24 on Dec. 17. “I am still full of emotions and I am in a kind of ecstasy,” she said a day after her victory. “I am so happy and I am trying to enjoy this moment to the maximum.”
For Tuktamysheva personally, the experience was uplifting and inspiring from the moment she stepped onto the ice. “I felt the really warm welcome from the audience, so I was on a high even before I started to skate,” she explained. “I was determined to fight and to show a good performance. I was very focused on the two triple Axels — I had not yet attempted two in the program this season — and I was especially nervous about the second one.
“But I did them and, even though the second one was not that great, I realized that it was still a good jump. Then I thought well now I have to skate the rest of the program and it shouldn’t be that hard because I knew I could do the remaining elements well. The crowd kept applauding all the way through and I didn’t even get that tired, as there was this exchange of energy. I gave energy to the spectators and they gave me energy back. That was really cool. It does not happen often that you are in the flow but when you are, you can do amazing things. At the end, when I had completed all the elements I then ran to the choreographic sequence. I thought to myself, ‘God, where are you running to so fast? You aren’t that young anymore to run like that at the end of a program.’
“There are performances where you have skated clean, but you realize that you have just done a good job, nothing more. I will remember this performance for a long time. When the audience gave me a standing ovation, I was incredibly happy.”
Tuktamysheva also enjoyed sharing the moment with her coaches, Alexei Mishin and Tatiana Prokofieva, who she said, “were just excited about everything. I saw their eyes were full of happiness. Not that I was the hero of the day — Alexei was. Three of the five students he and Tatiana had at Rostelecom Cup landed on the podium. It was good that all the work was not in vain and we gave each other a present.”
The other two students of Mishin who earned podium finishes were Mikhail Kolyada, who captured the men’s title, and Anastasiia Guliakova, the bronze medalist in the ladies competition.
There is a happy and positive atmosphere at the Yubileiny ice rink in St. Petersburg where Mishin is based, and all of his students are very supportive of each other.
“I watch the boys that now have started to play around with jumps and see who does more, who does a cooler quad,” Tuktamysheva said. “While watching them I asked myself why I shouldn’t also be doing a quad toe as it did not look that hard. It helps me to develop further as we have now a high level of technical difficulty in the group and I thought that maybe I will also try to learn the quad Salchow.”
Tuktamysheva has landed quad toe loops in practice and also done some work on the quad Salchow. Her only quad toe attempt in competition — at the 2020 Russian Championships — was unsuccessful, with Tuktamysheva taking a tumble to the ice on the landing. But, she has continued to work on it and was hoping to have it ready for nationals in late December, where she felt she would need it to be competitive.
“We need to get it consistent so that there won’t be the same blunder as at the last national championships,” the Glazov native said with a laugh. “I would like to include the quad toe in my program and be more or less confident in it. The plan is to replace one of the triple Axels with this jump.”
However, in early December, she tested positive for COVID-19, which forced her to miss valuable practice time. Fortunately, Tuktamysheva only had a mild case and after quarantine hoped to return to form in time for nationals. “At first the quarantine was hard. For any professional athlete that is used to training twice a day, practically every day, this was something out of the norm,” Tuktamysheva recalled. “But with time I got used to it and I did online work with Tatiana. Obviously, it was not the same kind of physical exercise that you get when you prepare for a competition, but this gave us the opportunity to work on those muscles that we did not usually work on because maybe there was never enough time. Figure skating is a sport where many muscles work together and we did really good work on strengthening them.”
While many people have struggled with the psychological side effects of a pandemic that has changed everyone’s life, Tuktamysheva said she also found some positives. “If I look at the psychological side, this quarantine was probably one of the most useful times in my life because I started to approach some things in a more conscious way,” she explained.
“I discovered something that is very important to me. Usually, athletes have training and competitions and a very active life. There is not always time to just sit down, reflect and think some things through. This quarantine helped me to develop more as a person. The most important thing I discovered for myself was that you cannot be happy if you cannot be happy being alone with yourself. I learned to be by myself.” Tuktamysheva and her boyfriend, Lazukin, ended their five-year relationship not long before the quarantine was implemented in Russia.
While she has always been praised for her excellent jumps, Tuktamysheva has often been criticized for her less than spectacular spins. However, she showed vast improvement in that area at the Grand Prix event and has brought back the Biellmann position in the layback spin that she had previously abandoned to avoid back problems. She knows she now needs it to earn a Level 4 on that element.
“I have tried very hard and worked a lot on the spins,” she admitted. “Rostelecom Cup was probably the first time — or one of the first competitions — where I got good grades of execution for the spins.” She credits the intensive off-ice work during quarantine for this improvement.
Tuktamysheva has always described herself as a person who constantly needs to be busy and someone who has never shied away from trying new and different things. That was certainly the case when she agreed to create a new long program remotely with choreographer and ballet dancer Yuri Smekalov. When Mishin asked Smekalov to craft the program, Smekalov immediately suggested the music “Chronicles of a Mischievous Bird,” which was composed by his friend Bhima Yunusov for a modern ballet of the same name.
“Yuri saw me in the Japanese style and we were positive about this idea immediately as I had not really done much in this genre in my career. About 10 years ago, I skated to ‘Memoirs of a Geisha,’ but I think now with maturity I can pull off such a philosophical Japanese program,”Tuktamysheva explained.
She and Smekalov put the program together during several live sessions on Instagram, discussing and working on the choreography, with fans that were watching what they were doing invited to provide their ideas and suggestions. A video of this unusual experiment is available on YouTube in Russian with English subtitles. “First of all, I was really excited that I was the first person he wanted to do that with,” said the 2015 European champion. “My second feeling was that I am not used to doing that as we usually do not announce our new choreography and music at the end of a season. But I decided that this was a very interesting and creative concept that had never been done, so I should go for it and not be afraid.”
Many people participated in this project and Tuktamysheva said people wrote to her about which moves she should include and how they felt about the program overall. “Some viewers had very good ideas and we used some moves that came from them. Everyone was participating in this new program.”
Tuktamysheva said Mishin, who is always open to new things, agreed to the concept right away. “He is very innovative and it is important to him to move with the times. This is why he is such a great coach.When we suggested this project he realized that this is a step into the future.”
Following her recent graduation from the Lesgaft National State University of Physical Education Sport and Health, Tuktamysheva has been utilizing her creative talents away from the ice with the launch of her own clothing line “Empress Wear.” The collection includes T-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies. The concepts are based on Tuktamysheva’s ideas, but she hired professional designers to bring them to life. “The reactions were positive. I did not see any negative feedback,” she said about the fashion line. This project was very important to me. I did it together with my friend and I was afraid that because of our inexperience something would go wrong.
“There were some technical difficulties, obviously. But it was very important for me to go through this process myself, to understand it and not have someone else do everything. In the beginning I had to understand how it all worked, otherwise I would not be able to control the process further. We will see how it goes. When people receive the parcels they send me messages. I would like to think it makes people happy. I do not know if I will expand this activity, but I think now, as long as I am young, I have to take the opportunity and try it.”
Mishin has worked with Tuktamysheva for 13 years. When he first discovered her at a small competition, the legendary coach immediately saw her talent and potential and has been with her through all the highs and lows of a career that has often been described as a roller-coaster. ride. Though Mishin had been down that road with skaters in the past, his respect for Tuktamysheva is without question. “She has had success and failure and sometimes she maybe did not get what she deserved,” Mishin said. “What gives her the strength to continue? It is not the first time that I have been asked how Lisa can have such a long career. Some say she is very goal- oriented and very patient, but I want to say that no external circumstances can help you make a decision.
“I remember my wife, Tatiana, who was also my student. She told me much later that she was training and training and then in one moment before some competition, she realized ‘that was it. I can’t do this anymore.’
“Lisa feels that she still can do it and that keeps her going. If someone is doing a triple Axel and a quad toe — at least in training — this shows that she is in the front line of the sport. Her personal qualities keep her going and allow her to continue to be competitive. I also want to say that in our group we do not see her as some auntie getting ready for retirement. We really respect and appreciate her and she feels that. If our relationship with her were different, her career would not have been as long as it is.
“She is a very kind and good girl. She is not mean and does not have this bad feeling of envy. Many people crumble not because they can’t do something, but because they envy someone and that feeling is eating them up from inside. But Lisa knows that she is good and that makes it easier to be good. That is the most important trait in her mentality. I think she has more talent than will. Some people squeeze the last drop of talent out of themselves by sheer willpower, but she has a huge talent and gift.
“Lisa has also often been criticized for a lack of skating skills, a lack of components, but this is all a question of taste and in how you look at the components. She has very refined arm movements. There are some girls that are really outgoing on the ice; they skate like ‘take my clothes off,’ but Lisa skates more for herself, especially in the slow parts. Now that she has learned to be more outgoing, I can say only good things about her.”
With a fourth place finish at the Russian Cup Final in late February Tuktamysheva booked herself a ticket to the 2021 World Championships, her first trip to a global competition in six years.