For Russian skating star Medvedeva, a huge change was necessary to keep going

  Yevgenia Medvedeva after her short program at Autumn Classic. (Screenshot from Skate Canada feed.)

Yevgenia Medvedeva after her short program at Autumn Classic. (Screenshot from Skate Canada feed.)

TORONTO – She was not supposed to be sitting here, in a coach’s office at a skating club in Canada. Yevgenia Medvedeva is Russian, just 18 years old, figure skating world champion in 2016 and 2017, and only eight months ago winner of the singles silver medal at the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Barely two months after the Olympics, she left her Russian coach of 10 years, Eteri Tutberidze, who had guided her to the top of the figure skating world, for reasons Medvedeva has not discussed except in general terms. The move she made was startling and utterly unexpected.

Star Russian skaters stay in Russia. Never before had one of the sport’s pre-eminent Russians left the country to train with a non-Russian coach. Not since Michelle Kwan in 2001 had a skater with a career record as brilliant on the world and Olympic level as Medvedeva’s made such a dramatic coaching change, and Kwan did it without leaving her native California.

But Medvedeva felt she had no other choice after a tumultuous 2018 season that did not end with the Olympic gold medal she had seemed a lock to win.

“I just thought if I will not do any changing, if I will leave everything how it was, I just wouldn’t compete at all,” Medvedeva said. “I just understood that I really wanted to improve myself. I want to start a new life.”

She made the change huge. She moved from her native Moscow, the only place she had lived, to train with Brian Orser, the Canadian who won singles silver medals at consecutive Olympics and coached a singles winner in the last three Olympics. The distance was not only 5,000 miles but also a world of difference linguistically, culturally, and gastronomically.

(For my whole story on nbcsports.com, click here)