Ice Network

Tsurskaya looking to build on international success

Latest Russian wunderkind reaches potential under tutelage of Tutberidze
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Russia's Polina Tsurskaya was the most impressive ladies skater in this season's Junior Grand Prix Series. -Getty Images

Things could have turned out very differently for Polina Tsurskaya if she had followed the path often taken by other female athletes from her hometown.

The 14-year-old Russian, who made an impressive debut in the Junior Grand Prix Series this fall, was born and raised in Omsk, a city located in southwestern Siberia, more than 1,300 miles from Moscow. It is a place that has produced famous rhythmic gymnasts, like Evgenia Kanaeva and Irina Tchachina. Tsurskaya took an initial interest in the sport, but she ultimately decided to focus her energies on figure skating -- a choice that, in light of recent events, seems like a wise one.

Tsurskaya debuted on the international stage this August at the Junior Grand Prix (JGP) in Bratislava, Slovakia. There, she confidently took the gold medal, recording a staggering technical mark of 68.76 for her free skate -- two points higher than any ladies competitor scored at the senior world championships last season. Her program included a triple lutz-triple toe worth 12.23 points -- more than either Olympic champions Shizuka Arakawa of Japan and Yu-Na Kim of Korea ever earned for that combination.

At the JGP in Torun, Poland, Tsurskaya was again head and shoulders above her competition, recording an even higher technical score for her free skate (69.33) and easily qualifying for the JGP Final.

Icenetwork talked with Tsurskaya about her Omsk childhood, moving to Moscow, her work with coach Eteri Tutberidze, her programs and her successful international debut.

Icenetwork: You began figure skating in Omsk, which is famous for its champions in rhythmic gymnastics. Why figure skating?

Tsurskaya: I was an active child at a very early age, and my parents always noted my high activity. There was a skating rink near our home, so one day we went there. I also liked rhythmic gymnastics. I even had friends who were gymnasts, and in our home I had some special gymnastic items like a hoop, rope, ribbon and ball. My parents just prohibited me from having sticks, because I could destroy everything around.

Icenetwork: You moved from Omsk to Moscow two years ago. When did you realize that it was necessary for you to relocate in order to achieve your goals?

Tsurskaya: My parents and I knew that good results could be achieved only [by my moving to] Moscow or St. Petersburg, where the [training] conditions are better. Going to competitions, I knew that my peers were technically and choreographically better equipped than me. That was a major impetus for my parents to make a decision about leaving Omsk.

Icenetwork: How difficult was your move to Moscow and how did you and your coach, Eteri Tutberidze, meet each other?

Tsurskaya: I easily endured the move because my parents were always with me. We immediately went to Eteri Tutberidze for tryouts. At first, things were hard, and I was even a little scared. Gradually, I got to know my coach and the other guys at the rink, and we came to a good understanding. Now, we are all good friends.

Icenetwork: You started your first international season very strong, with two victories and astronomically high technical scores. How were able to make such a remarkable debut?

Tsurskaya: My coaches and I understood that it is my first international junior season, so we tried to be well prepared: choosing the music, choreographing the programs, going to training camps. It was important to us that I feel the excitement of the start of the season, adapt to my strange surroundings, meet new rivals and get to know my [Russian] teammates...and, of course, experience the joy of victory.

Icenetwork: You convey a deep understanding of musical themes and images in your programs. How are you able to be so strong technically but also very good at expressing your programs' artistry and emotions?

Tsurskaya: I have to say that I still have a long way to go, particularly in terms of musicality and presentation. My coaches and I paid a lot of attention to the jumping part of my performances from the very beginning of my training (in Moscow), so that part of skating has been less difficult for me.

Icenetwork: You decided not to change your free skate from the last season. Can you tell us more about it, as well as your new short program?

Tsurskaya: My long program -- its music, choreography and imagery -- was suggested by Eteri. The music is from the famous musical Chess, and the program is based on Alice in Wonderland, where Alice is fighting with the (Red) Queen, playing cards. That's why there are card suits on my palms. The program was very successful last season, and we have decided to show it at international competitions this year.

The music for the short program was found by my coach and choreographer, Daniil Gleikhengauz. Here, we decided to try a Spanish theme.

Icenetwork: In Russia, there are so many strong ladies skaters. How does the level of competition affect the quality of skating in your country?

Tsurskaya: Indeed, we have a lot of strong girls, but I think that's why the discipline itself has become so interesting. You go to competitions and you have to fight; you have to prove that you deserve to win.

Icenetwork: Describe your typical day.

Tsurskaya: I train every day from 12 to 8, with a break for 2-3 hours to rest. I have one day off a week. On that day, I go to school. In addition to training sessions on the ice, there are also choreography, physical training and modern dance classes. It's a big workload, but I understand that without it, there will be no results.

Icenetwork: What is your opinion on the place of the triple axel in ladies skating?

Tsurskaya: I believe that it is necessary to progress and include technically complex elements in skating performances. I, with my coaches, also decided to learn the triple axel.

Icenetwork: What are your main goals for this season?

Tsurskaya: I want to go up to the highest step of the podium at the Junior Grand Prix Final, but my rivals have the same wish. Therefore, there will be a good fight. I'll also try to get to the world junior championships and Winter Youth Olympic Games.