Russian new agency TASS published an interview with 13-year-old Sofya Akatyeva. Another up-and-coming ladies’ figure skating star from Eteri Tutberidze’s Khrustalny, Akatyeva is regarded as a potential candidate to place high in the 2026 Winter Olympics.
This season, she has already competed in two junior-level events in Russia, even though she is not even old enough to do so at international events, and won two gold medals. At the first stage of the Cup of Russia series in Syzran last month, Akatyeva began her free skate performance with a triple axel and then a quad toe loop on her way to a dominant forty-point victory, earning a total competition score of 230.83 points.
In early 2019, coach Tutberidze posted the young skater – then just 11 years old – performing a quad toe loop in practice, thus becoming a sensation.
Akatyeva spoke with TASS about training during quarantine, quadruple jumps and triple axels, what inspired her to become a figure skater, and the joy of training with Tutberidze at Khrustalny.
Interview with Sofya Akatyeva by TASS reporter Vladislav Zhukov:
TASS: After the test skates, Elena Tchaikovskaia said that our skaters skate as if there was no pandemic at all. She spoke about the senior team, but this characteristic, as for me, can be safely attributed to the juniors. Tell us what it cost to reach a high level in such a short time?
Akatyeva: I spent 2.5 months in quarantine. For skaters, of course, the term is very long. I conducted training at home – just like in the gym. I jumped jumps, spun, stretched. Was engaged in choreography, general physical training. Of course, it was hard – I was afraid that when I go out on the ice it would be very unusual.
Then we finally started our classes in Novogorsk, at the training camp. Gradually came into shape. It’s good that everything worked out – for this, by the way, many thanks to our coaching staff. In isolation, I mainly studied, I had tutors. Well, I really like to dance – I improvised to the music.
TASS: From the training camp in Novogorsk, Daniil Markovich made two videos how Alena Kostornaia and Anna Shcherbakova, for the first time after the break, awkwardly went out on the ice. Did you have a similar case?
Akatyeva: Pretty much, yes. It was unusual. At first we slipped a lot in training, then gradually did single and double jumps. After that, triple jumpers began to jump slowly. Of course, a lot of people fell (laughs). But without it, nowhere.
TASS: During the pandemic, many said that skaters would have to remember what it was like to skate.
Akatyeva: I didn’t have to learn to stand again, of course. But we really learned the elements from scratch. Muscle memory is short, so it was really hard to recover.
TASS: How long did it take to return difficult jumps?
Akatyeva: I managed to jump triples back in Novogorsk. A quadruple toe loop and a triple axel – only when we returned to Khrustalny. This was around mid-August.
TASS: So late? A couple of weeks later you already won the Moscow Championship.
Akatyeva: Well, it happened (smiles).
TASS: What will be the main thing for you in this vague season?
Akatyeva: I really want to show the maximum and skate clean. Improve spins, programs…
TASS: …and learn something new?
Akatyeva: Yes. I have plans to jump two quad toe loops and a triple axel (in a free program). I also want to learn the quadruple Salchow. In training, I already go into it. I hope by the end of the season it will succeed in competitions.
TASS: Hopefully, the end of the season is still far away. We must at least get through the Cup of Russia series and the National Championship. By the way, which stage of the Cup series will you be at next?
Akatyeva: Most likely the fourth. In Kazan.
TASS: You said that you became interested in figure skating from the Vancouver Olympics. But then you were a little over three years old – it is unlikely that you yourself stumbled upon the broadcast. Does your family like figure skating?
Akatyeva: Yes, everyone in my family loves figure skating! We watch all the broadcasts of competitions. It was my mother who showed me the performances of the skaters at the Olympic Games on TV.
TASS: I suppose you go to tournaments with your mother?
Akatyeva: She travels with me to all competitions, is present at trainings. And she really supports me.
TASS: And she watches your performances? Doesn’t close her eyes?
Akatyeva: She worries, of course, strongly. But she watches the performances, doesn’t leave.
TASS: Can you remember why figure skating attracted you so much?
Akatyeva: I remember that I was strongly inspired by the white, dazzling ice… I really liked how the skaters did jumps. Naturally – girls’ dresses! Loved the way they dressed. Dresses with stones, they shone so brightly I immediately wanted to try on the same.
TASS: This is the first time I’ve heard that a sport begins with dresses.
Akatyeva: But they’re really very beautiful! (laughs).
TASS: Who would you call your main hero of that Olympics? Yuna Kim, Mao Asada? Or maybe Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir?
Akatyeva: I did not know any names then – I was too small. But what I saw on the screen just mesmerized me. I wanted to become a part of this fabulous world. Then, of course, I rewatched Vancouver. Mostly girls – Mao Asada and others.
TASS: As far as I understand, you immediately got into Khrustalny. Why did you choose this particular ice rink?
Akatyeva: As soon as I got skates, I tried them on at home every day and imagined myself as a skater. I constantly asked my parents to take me to the rink. As a result, I was taken to a skating rink next to our house – it was Khrustalny. We decided that this would be the best option for us.
TASS: It often happens that in parallel with the figure skating, children at an early age are engaged in something else. Did figure skating compete with any other sport for you?
Akatyeva: When I started figure skating, I was probably like all children. In parallel, I went to dancing, drawing. Even to a choir. Then I began to slowly get involved in training and realized that I liked the rink much more than anywhere else. So what kind of choir here (laughs).
In short, the more often I went to Khrustalny, the more I wanted to devote time to figure skating and less to other activities.
TASS: From what moment did figure skating become serious for you and you realized you would skate for a long time?
Akatyeva: Exactly with the transition to the group of Eteri Georgievna.
TASS: Your first coaches were Yulia Krasinskaya and Oksana Bulycheva. I remember Anna Shcherbakova told me that when she trained with the same specialists, she often spied on Yulia Lipnitskaya’s training with Tutberidze. Who were you spying on?
Akatyeva: Alina Zagitova, Zhenya Medvedeva, Polina Tsurskaya. They skated right before my group, and before my workout – I looked out of the locker room, watched them practice. I especially liked how they skated programs. At that time, I dreamed of learning how to jump as high, glide easily and gracefully.
TASS: So you used to come to training to watch older girls?
Akatyeva: How could you not come early for this? (Laughs.)
TASS: In 2017, you yourself ended up with Eteri Georgievna. How strong was the contrast with your previous group? And what made the biggest impression at first?
Akatyeva: The contrast was strong, that’s true. Well, I’ll say it right away – I dreamed of getting to Eteri Georgievna! I came to training, began to show jumps, which I then knew. If I’m not mistaken, I had all triples then, except for the loop. Eteri Georgievna corrected mistakes, and I tried to listen to every comment and do better. I remember that I was very worried then (laughs). I spent about two weeks like that, I managed to jump a loop and a double axel-triple toe loop combination.
And everything worked out. I was very happy when they told me that I would stay. In fact, I am very lucky to be skating in this group. I saw real champions with Eteri Georgievna. I take an example from them in skating, jumping, hard work, in striving for victory.
TASS: I personally heard several stories when figure skaters who came to Eteri Georgievna, in the shortest possible time, began to jump what they were not able to before. You yourself have figured out this secret for yourself, why does this happen?
Akatyeva: In fact, in my case, I was just very strongly motivated by the girls at the rink. I then worked with the senior group – Zhenya, Alina, Polina, Anya, Sasha Trusova. I watched them with admiration, wanted to try to jump what they jumped.
TASS: The most popular characteristic of Eteri Georgievna, which I have heard from those who have worked with her, is that she is cold for those around, but at the same time open and friendly for “her own.” During the trial period, did you manage to feel her coaching rigor and firm grip?
Akatyeva: Eteri Georgievna is, first of all, fair. And she really loves what she does. It seems to me that only with such a mentor you can achieve truly great results.
TASS: Fair? What is that like? Usually they say “strict” or “demanding.”
Akatyeva: She’s not exactly strict… You know, that’s exactly what is fair. When you can’t do anything at all, she gives such advice so that you calm down and correct the mistakes. That is, she does not start to swear strongly or something else. On the contrary, she speaks calmly, tries to support in every possible way.
TASS: With the transition to Tutberidze, you did not change the rink, but the group still changed. How quickly did you manage to join the new team? And who helped you with this?
Akatyeva: I can say – I immediately got involved. In the group, we communicate well with each other, we congratulate each other on holidays. Everyone is on an equal level with each other – there is no age separation and all that. Well, my family also supports me and helps me a lot in everything.
TASS: Did you find Eteri Georgievna at exactly the time as the preparations for the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang began? Did this prevent you from adapting to the new team?
Akatyeva: Absolutely not. We have three coaches and eight to ten athletes on the ice. So everyone has enough attention in any case.
TASS: With what thoughts did you look at what was happening? Was there a feeling that something great was about to happen?
Akatyeva: It really stimulated me to work. I liked watching the workouts, how they skated their programs, prepared the elements. I remember how we saw off Alina and Zhenya to Pyeongchang.
I also watched the Games, of course. The competition started at about six in the morning – very early, but I could not miss it. I was rooting for our girls, coaches, Russia. So I wanted to win the Olympics. Well, after – to practice.
TASS: In fact, I remember both Vancouver and Pyeongchang for a reason. It so happened that in the first case, we saw, probably, the last case in history of a victory in men’s singles without quads, and in the second – without ultra-si among girls. Moreover, the latter is a direct consequence of the work of Eteri Georgievna’s group, and yours in particular. Watching from the sidelines how Anya and Sasha Trusova did quads in training, did you realize that you too have to join this stream of quads?
Akatyeva: I had such a thought, yes. I looked at them and dreamed of trying some kind of quadruple. Of course, I wanted to be like them. It was interesting, but would I succeed? I really wanted to have this feeling of flying in a jump, and after a few years I succeeded. Working with such famous athletes at the same rink adds the incentive to develop. Everything needs to be done at the maximum.
TASS: And what was the future behind the quads, did you also understand?
Akatyeva: Yes, but, you know, it’s important to be calm about quads. Just train them and that’s it. We can do them, so we must be calm about them. But it’s really cool that almost everyone in our group can do such difficult jumps.
TASS: You are talking about tranquility, but how is it achieved?
Akatyeva: When you do so many attempts in training, confidence builds. And you no longer think when you go to it: “Wow, this is a quadruple, it is so complicated!” It is important to think only about the correct technique, not how difficult it will be to do it. That only gets in the way.
TASS: All the coaches who worked with Sasha said that in her case, quads were just a matter of time. Anna said that for the first time in training she tried a quadruple toe loop at the age of 12, and she did not prepare for it at all. Do you remember when and how you were asked to try a triple axel or a quadruple?
Akatyeva: It happened in December 2018. I was just very good at getting a triple toe loop, and I saw that quads are possible. I thought it meant that I could also do it someday. Well, I decided to go for it.
Akatyeva: Yes, I wanted to. Well, of course, I skated up to the coaches and told them. They replied: “Well, let’s try using a fishing rod.” We tried it. At some point, I was told that they practically no longer hold me. Then I was allowed to make independent attempts, and in March I already jumped it.
There was a similar story with the triple axel. After the toe loop, I wanted to learn something new even more, and again I asked myself (laughs). In January, I began to practice it, and jumped in April – almost immediately after the toe loop.
TASS: And weren’t you afraid at all? Alena Kostornaia, over there, rejected the triple axel.
Akatyeva: Well, no, I was definitely not afraid. Somehow… I had more interest. After the toe loop I thought: “Well, the quadruple has already worked out. The triple axel is probably not any more difficult.” And it worked out.
TASS: In general, what should a skater think about when he enters a difficult jump? Or is it more important in this case, what not to think about?
Akatyeva: I can say that in no case should you think about falling. It is important to concentrate on what the coaches said before this jump and correct any mistakes. That is, focus on the element, but not think about the bad.
TASS: Can we say that in terms of studying ultra-si it was mentally a little easier for you than for Anya and Sasha? After all, they actually had to cut a window into this world of difficult jumps, but you started getting to know them, living, roughly speaking, already in a new reality.
Akatyeva: Everyone has their own way, of course. For me, these were just ordinary elements that I would like to master. Somehow I didn’t really think about others.
TASS: I can’t get out of my head the Moscow Championship in September, where you simply did not leave your opponents a chance. First, because of the first impression of your new short program. Haley Reinhart’s vocals are not easy to keep up with at any age, but you do well. Secondly, because of how cleverly you “built” us – journalists – in the mixed zone after the free skate. Such charisma and self-confidence are rare and very valuable qualities.
Akatyeva: Self-confidence comes with experience. The better you get in training, the more stable and confident the performances are in competitions. If we talk about the short program, then I myself really like this image. I like to try on different roles, thanks to Eteri Georgievna and Daniil Markovich for the opportunity to appear as different characters.
TASS: I spoke more about confidence in everyday life. Where do you think it comes from at such a tender age?
Akatyeva: I don’t know, it somehow appeared itself (laughs). At competitions I try to be confident, but in life… Probably, I cannot call myself a very confident person.
TASS: All the specialists with whom I spoke, in a conversation about you used the phrase “future star.” Moreover, the context was not only purely sporting – it was more about presentation of oneself and the ability to stand in public. Tell me, have you ever wanted to become a pop star yourself?
Akatyeva: Actually in life – no, not really. But on the ice, I try to play this image to the fullest. I definitely don’t consider myself a star. There is still so much work to be done to become one. But I like performing in public, especially when I am supported. It gives strength.
TASS: Recently, figure skating is getting closer and closer to pop culture with all its pluses and minuses. The advantages are obvious – for example, you already have your own fan club, some of your fans even traveled to Syzran. But the disadvantages are, at a glance – hate, fan squabbles, scandals. Tell me, do you follow all this going on around skating?
Akatyeva: I don’t really read all these comments, because I try to devote all my free time to studying. To be honest, all this is not very interesting to me. Only quite a bit, but to get carried away with it directly – not at all.
TASS: Does all this interfere with training and performing?
Akatyeva: Before the start, I don’t think about it, because I am focused on the pure performance of the program, and not on what will then be written in the comments or said somewhere. In these moments, the right attitude plays a very important role.