It is a strange training method when a coach confronts and not comforts a crying 15-year old at the Olympic Games.
According to the International Olympic Committee, “Chilling” is the key. According to the Russian government, “Key” is essential for athletes to win.
According to what millions saw this week, the Eteri Tutberidze type.
This and all the events surrounding Kamila Valieva, her young skater at the Beijing Winter Olympics has put the spotlight on a coach that has produced many young champions.
What do we know about Russia and her methods? What will happen if anything changes?
A former ice dancer & award-winning coach
Tutberidze (47), is an ex-ice dancer and has lived in the United States for six years, working in ice shows.
She was involved in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, which resulted in the deaths of 168 people. She was with her group, who were staying just a few blocks from the Federal Building where the explosion occurred. They received compensation for being victims of the attack.
She was in the US with her daughter Diana Davis. Diana finished 14th in the ice dancing competition at Beijing 2022, along with Gleg Stmolkin. Davis is not trained in ice dance by her mother.
Tutberidze started her coaching career in the USA, but she then returned to Russia and joined the Sambo 70 club in Moscow. She became a household name when she coached Yulia Lipnitskaya, 15, to gold medal with Russia at Sochi 2014.
Since then, she has won numerous coaching awards including the International Skating Union (ISU) coach-of-the year award in 2020 and an award from the Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018.
At the time, the ISU described her as a “talented Coach” who had “given so many strength and dedication her athletes this year”.
Early success and early retirement
The thing that sets Tutberidze’s skating team apart is their athleticism and age.
Lipnitskaya won gold in the 2014 Olympics. Alina Zagitova was 15, when she won gold. Evgenia Medvedeva, an 18-year-old silver-medallist, was 18.
Everything was pointing towards a sweep by Russian teens of the podium places. At the European championships in January, they had achieved exactly that with Valieva finishing ahead Anna Shcherbakova et Alexandra Trusova.
Instead, 17-year-olds Shcherbakova & Trusova took the gold & silver here. Valieva finished fourth after a sloppy performance in Thursday’s free skating. This was following a difficult 10 days during which she had been allowed to compete despite being told she had failed a drug test.
They are also known as the “quad squad” because they perform quadruple jumping, which is the most difficult and rare form of women’s figure skaters. They were the only skaters to attempt quadruple jumps among the 25 competitors in the individual event.
Tutberidze is proud of their youthful age at winning. Many of them are still teenagers when their retirement comes.
The reputation of Her skaters is one of “disposable”, as Beatrix Shuba, the 1972 Austrian figure skating champion, used it. It’s part of a production line.
It’s not surprising that they don’t last very long. By their nature, high-scoring quads (rotating four times in mid-air) are easier when your body is small with narrow shoulders and hips.
Robin Cousins, a figure skating champion from 1980 and BBC commentator, said that it was the little girl bodies which allow for this type of rotation.
“With the men they can do them [quads] at 30 years old, the male physiology seems different and allows for the longevity that is not possible with the female body. “
Should Valieva’s failed drug test result in her being banned, Trusova may be considering her future. Trusova stated that she was considering her options after an outburst about missing out on gold. Trusova also said she was thinking about her future.
Tutberidze’s “tough” methods
Tutberidze stated that she champions people through “love” and not “strictness” in an interview she gave to Russia’s Channel One back in 2018.
She said she also didn’t want to demand anything but wanted to make athletes feel unsatisfied by their inability to finish a task so they “feel disgust within themselves”.
Medvedeva stated last year that Tutberidze’s methods “work but as you age, it’s harder and more difficult to endure it” and that she was sometimes “half-starving”.
At 17 Lipnitskaya began treatment for anorexia. Medvedeva has stated that she was unable to function without the “toughness”, which Tutberidze’s coaching style has given her.
What is Tutberidze’s view of the Valieva case after?
Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, said that it “doesn’t give me much confidence in Valieva’s entourage” after seeing how she was not offered any comfort on Thursday when she stepped off ice sobbing. Tutberidze instead asked her “Why did you quit fighting?” “.
Dmitry Chernyshenko was the deputy prime minister in Russia to Bach. He said that he was deeply disappointed to hear an IOC president create his own narrative about the emotions of athletes and present them publicly as the voice for the IOC.
“This is simply wrong and inappropriate. We know that our athletes are world-beating regardless of whether they win or lose. “
The anti-doping investigation is also looking into Valiera’s entourage. The World Anti-Doping Agency has announced that it will launch an investigation into her coaches, doctors, and all other adults who surround her.
This could include the coaches Sergei Dudakov, Daniil Gleikhengauz and Filipp Shvetsky, who were in Beijing.
Is it time for a higher minimum age for competition?
Many are now asking if it is time for the sport to raise the age of senior athletes from 15 to ensure safety and equality in jumps.
The women’s singles gold silver medal for girls has been won by Teenagers in seven of the eight Olympics.
Mariah Bell, an American figure skater, stated this week that she believes there should be an age limit. “I know that when you grow there are a lot more changes. There are minors competing…that’s quite another thing. “
Adam Rippon, her coach, said: “If two people are competing against one another, like a woman who gets a period, has breasts, and has hips, against a little girl who’s 80 pounds, is that fair? “
The age limits for sports are set by the federations of the sport, not the IOC. It would then be up to the International Skating Union.
Is it the quadruple jump? What coaching methods are available to older skaters trying to improve their jumps?