CW// abuse, disordered eating
A few days after the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing began, a woman started making the news.
Her name is Eteri Tutberitze.
Going to the Olympics as the coach of all three ROC (Russian Olympic Committee) women skaters, she was the one whose students have broken almost all of the ‘firsts’ imagined in the women’s field.
Alexandra Trusova was the first female skater to land the quad lutz, flip and toe, holding four Guinness World Records. Anna Shcherbakova was the first to land the quad lutz in seniors, holding the second highest free skating score in the field. Kamila Valieva, the current record holder for both the short and the free –– as well as the total score –– is also coached by Tutberitze and was the favourite for Olympic gold.
It was her athletes, too, that took the gold and silver of the 2018 Olympic Games and swept the podium in almost every competition of the last two Olympic quads.
However, after the team event, another side of Tutberitze started to be talked about by the media.
One by one, the major outlets started to write about something that many figure-skating fans had been talking about for years: After it was revealed that gold-medal-favourite Valieva tested positive for a banned substance in December, this darker side of the coaching team slowly started to take the limelight.
This article isn’t about the doping scandal or how the doping scandal could feed into the extraordinary achievements of this coaching team.
It is about abuse, plain and simple.
It’s been surfacing for years, just how this team has treated their skaters, and yet continued to be praised for their achievements. They don’t let them eat proper food, encouraging unacceptable disordered eating habits.
Zagitova, the 2018 Olympic Gold Medalist talked about how the skaters, who rely on such a low body mass and delayed puberty to complete the difficult elements, weren’t even allowed to drink water at the Olympics –– they had to spit it out. It could have altered their weight even by a few grams and thrown off their jumps.
Similar stories have surfaced about almost all of her skaters over the seasons, as she continued to get praised for their beautiful performances and difficult program content.
Then we saw the phenomenon of the ‘Eteri expiration date’ –– the fact that no skater training with Tutberitze stayed with her past the age of 18 without retiring due to an injury or eating disorder or leaving her for another coach.
And yet, she continues with her athletes at the top of the ranks, as these children are disposable to her. Because why should she care that one is injured, when another one can swoop right in and pick up the gold?
Aliona Kostornaia was a crowd favourite in juniors, and at the start of her senior career too. After she started struggling (and briefly left Tutberitze’s and her team of coaches before returning), she was swiftly brushed aside. She couldn’t even try to qualify for the Olympics after she broke her wrist. This was not the first and certainly will not be the last.
Kamila Valieva was the current favourite for this gold. And then the girl became shrouded in a doping scandal with the whole world suddenly knowing her name, but for all the wrong reasons.
After every possible media outlet reported on the doping scandal, and with many prominent members of the skating world and the media calling for her to be disqualified, the Olympic Committee made the decision to let her skate. They would, however, withhold the medal ceremony if she podiumed until after a full investigation could be completed.
Finishing first in the short program, Valieva tried to bear the weight of her coaches’ and fans’ expectations in the free program.
pressure to bear
The fifteen-year-old was unable to deal with the pressure. Valieva skated with a plethora of under rotations and step outs, as well as two falls. This was the most mistakes the young skater had made since she started seriously competing in juniors, let alone seniors.
What would you expect the adults around you to say after you had just, most likely, experienced the most heartbreaking moment of your young life? Words of support, maybe. Or at least a shoulder to cry on.
“So, what, did you just completely give up fighting?” was all Tutberitze had to say as a child who saw her Olympic dreams crushed sobbed in her arms.
After all the skaters were done, a moment that is normally filled with cheers, hugs and support from loved ones of those on the podium and their teammates turned into one of the most gut-wrenching scenes the sport has ever witnessed.
Alexandra Trusova, the so-called ‘Quad Queen’ had just made history by landing five quadruple jumps in a free program, an insanely impressive feat. She expected to place first, above her teammate Anna Shcherbakova who skated second-to-last.
With Scsherbakova’s component score (PCS, awarded for aspects such as performance and skating skills) as well as her lead over Trusova in the short bringing her the gold, Trusova came in second.
We watched three athletes that revolutionised the sport, two of whom made the podium, completely break down on live television.
We watched the result of years of emotional and not unlikely physical abuse as the cameras followed these young girls around with no shame –– because young despair makes for good television, I suppose.
Kamila Valieva, whose career has just been ruined in a week, screamed and cried on the side of the rink with the adults, meant to protect her from this, nowhere to be seen.
all said and done
A volunteer had to guide Valieva away from the cameras and the rink. “Is there anyone you want to speak to?” she asked. “No? Okay, let’s just go over here.”
As all the cameras were on Valieva, it took a second to realise that something else was going wrong. Trusova was beginning to have a tantrum. And this isn’t something she should be blamed for, either: It was the result of enduring years of abuse and false promises.
“I never want to do anything in skating ever again in my life! Never, I hate this sport! I hate her! I hate all of this!” screamed Trusova, trying to get away from the cameras.
NOT AS PROMISED
Trusova said she thought if she would skate clean, she would win the competition, something she had been told, promised, even by her coaches. If you land the quads, you win.
As all the adults around them failed them, the girls threw tantrums at the boards. And the whole world watched.
“I’m not going to the ceremony,” said Trusova. “I won’t go.”
You would think that the skater that’s just won the Olympics would be happy. But no, not even. As her teammates had to be guided away from the cameras while they quite literally screamed and cried, the Olympic champion sat in her seat, hands folded neatly in her lap.
No one around her to celebrate. She couldn’t even be happy: “I still can’t comprehend what has happened; on one hand, I feel this emptiness inside,” she said at the press conference after the event.
Three skaters who had had some of the most hype surrounding them since they came onto the scene fell apart at what was meant to be one of the most important – and hopefully, happy –moments of their lives.
hope they recover
Instead, no adults were around when they needed them most.
One can hope that with this will come an investigation into the methods of a coach to whom young girls are disposable, just a means to an Olympic-gold end. But frankly, that might be too much to ask for.
I, for one, mostly just hope that after today the girls can eventually recover from this and lead happy lives, whether or not they choose to continue with the sport. Of course, I also hope that years of abuse and unacceptable methods get overthrown but given how ingrained they are into a sport that is so important for Russia as a country this seems like a slightly more reasonable wish.
About the Article
A look at the disruption in the life of three young Russian women skaters.