Evgenia Medvedeva’s stunning announcement Monday that she was leaving her longtime coach, Eteri Tutberidze, in Moscow to work with Canadian coach Brian Orser in Toronto continues to make headlines in Russia and to both dominate and invigorate Internet and social media discussions about figure skating.
After writing about Medvedeva’s move Monday in an icenetwork story featuring my interview with Orser, there remained many facets of the story to be covered. Here are several:
When emotions run high. . .again
Orser understands the emotions that led to Tutberidze’s critical comments about Medvedeva when the Russian coach learned Medvedeva was ending their working relationship after 11 years.
Orser had reacted similarly about Yuna Kim’s decision to leave him after she won the 2010 Olympics. They had been together four seasons.
“This transition, it’s always hard,” Orser said via telephone Monday. “I had a hard time when Yuna left. I had a hard time when Adam (Rippon) left. You take it personally as a coach. You’re disappointed and sometimes you get angry.”
Orser, 56, got in a public hissing match with Kim and her management team after what he called “a series of insults,” notably learning from media accounts about her plans for the 2011 season and not having his emails returned by Team Yuna, which rebuffed his criticisms. Kim accused Orser of lying.
So history repeated itself when Tutberidze, who coached both 2018 Olympic champion Alina Zagitova and runner-up Medvedeva, said on Russian TV last weekend that her messages to Medvedeva had gone unanswered for several weeks and that she first learned the skater was leaving from a news report.
In the TV interview, Tutberidze also recounted a private conversation with Medvedeva that made the 18-year-old skater look bad. According to an Associated Press account of the TV interview, Tutberidze said that at the 2018 Olympics, Medvedeva asked her why Zagitova, 15, couldn't have been kept out of those Winter Games by remaining a junior competitor for another season. Tutberidze described that question as “this really childish phrase.”
I asked two-time Olympic silver medalist Orser Tuesday if he now had any regrets about the way he had reacted to Kim’s departure and if that reaction had owed in part to his having been early in his coaching career when it happened. (There was no public acrimony when Rippon left the following year over differences in training philosophy.)
“Good question. . .I have been reflecting back on that. . .I have no regrets,” Orser said via text. “I was disappointed at the time and even still, I’m hurt by it. At the same time I want her (Kim) to be happy and I always wanted her to do well.”
Yet when he first talked with Medvedeva about the possibility of their working together at an April 22 meeting with the skater and her mother in Seoul, South Korea, Orser was concerned about the way Medvedeva would address the change publicly.
“The first thing I spoke to her about was, `They (Tutberidze and her coaching team) have done something right, and you need to be grateful,’” Orser said. “You are here (as a 2-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist) because of them.”
Medvedeva, 18, expressed just that in a statement released Monday by The Figure Skating Federation of Russia:
“I grew up in front of Eteri. . .She made an invaluable contribution to the development of me not only as an athlete, but also as a person. From her I got many life lessons. I will remember them all my life. On the rink `Crystal,’ my childhood passed; I will remember with gratitude the time of hard but fruitful work.”
Through the Russian federation, I have sought to speak with Tutberidze, but my initial request was made after the coach had left for vacation this week.
Show me the money
There have been questions raised about how Medvedeva will pay for working with Orser and his coaching team, including coach Tracy Wilson and choreographer David Wilson.
In Russia, according to what a leading Russian coach told me, coaches of the highest-level skaters like Medvedeva are paid by a combination of money from a special government fund, from the national federation and from the club where the coach works. Those skaters do not pay for coaching, ice time, choreography and off-ice training, but they give the coaches a percentage of their earnings from competition prize money and, in some cases, shows.
Russian Federation of Figure Skating spokesperson Olga Ermolina said in a Tuesday email, “Evgenia will meet with Orser discussing the work plan and then FSRF (the Russian figure skating federation) can talk about details of training expenses.”
Orser said he discussed the issue of finances with Medvedeva and her mother in Seoul. He said he charges an hourly rate and takes no percentage of a skater’s earnings. In 2010, Orser told me his rate was $110 per hour; he declined to reveal the current rate, saying, it “has gone up, but not much.”
Tracy Wilson said she also gets an hourly rate, which varies based on whether she is working alone with a skater or whether she is working with Orser or another of the coaches at the Toronto Cricket, Skating & Curling Club, expected to become Medvedeva’s new training base by late June.
David Wilson said he gets a flat fee for choreographing a program and that fee covers touch-up work until a skater gets comfortable with it in competition.
“I told them (Medvedeva and her mother) that for the first six months, it (the cost) is probably going to be a little more than usual,” Orser said. “We’re going to have to jump in with both feet, spend extra time on skating skills and choreography.”
Since her first senior season, 2015-16, Medvedeva has earned just over $300,000 in International Skating Union prize money for her two world titles, two European titles, two Grand Prix Final titles, five Grand Prix Series wins and for second places at the Europeans, a Grand Prix Series event and the World Team Trophy.
Medvedeva also has three personal sponsors, Pantene, Nike, and John Wilson blades, according to her agent, Ari Zakarian.
The Yuna Plan, redux
Orser said the plan to have Medvedeva work with him and the two Wilsons was based on “wanting to try to keep the same program we had with Yuna.”
David Wilson choreographed all Kim’s competitive programs in her world title (2009) and Olympic title (2010) seasons with Orser as well as all Kim’s programs in her three competitive seasons after leaving Orser, when she won a second world title (2013) and silver medals at the Olympics (2014) and worlds (2011).
Asked if he already had some ideas about what type of programs he might like Medvedeva to try, David Wilson replied in a text message, “I’m gonna wait ‘til she’s here and we take some time to know her. I think she needs to have a voice now as well. She can do anything, such limitless potential.”
David Wilson also collaborates with other choreographers, including Sandra Bezic, who choreographed for Olympic champions Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi and Tara Lipinski.
“Sandra has always been a mentor to me,” David Wilson said Wednesday by telephone. “She’s like the fairy godmother or a silent partner for me. We work well together.”
Bezic and David Wilson just worked together on an exhibition program for another Orser skater, 2018 Olympic bronze medalist Javier Fernandez.
“Brian, Tracy and David are a dream team for Medvedeva,” Bezic said via text. “They do not need me! But if I were asked I’d happily add what I could.
“David and I work well together and share ideas regardless of whether it’s a formal relationship or not. We are similar in our approach and how we hear music. . . This is a time (for Medvedeva) to explore her expression as a woman - and the full range of what that can be. . .Since this is coming off an Oly year it all doesn’t have to happen overnight. There’s time for an authentic creative journey.”
David Wilson did instant choreography for Medvedeva on a solo she did in the 2016 version of Fernandez’s show, “Revolution on Ice.” He said she had never received the email about the music planned for her, so they pulled together a program at the last minute.
“She was so professional,” David Wilson said of Medvedeva.
Orser said expected new figure skating rules should help Medvedeva as she competes over the upcoming four years with Zagitova and the next wave of Russian tyros, many coached by Tutberidze, some doing quadruple jumps.
“I have talked to her about some of these rules changing, and I honestly believe it is going to be in her favor,” Orser said.
One change expected to be approved by next month’s ISU Congress would limit back loading. There are proposals to allow just three (Japan proposal) or just four (Canada proposal) of the seven free skate jumping passes in the second half of the program, when they get a 10 percent bonus. The Canadian proposal calls for allowing just two of three short program jumping passes in the bonus area; the Japanese proposal, just one of three.
In the Olympic free skate, Zagitova did all seven jumping passes and Medvedeva five of seven in the second half. The bonus missing from the two passes Medvedeva did in the first half of the free skate was more than the point difference between her and Zagitova in the final standings.
Another change expected to gain approval lowers the base value of the most difficult jumps, with the biggest impact on quads and the triple axel.
When asked what he expected from the Orser-Medvedeva combination, venerable Russian coach Alexei Mishin said in a WhatsApp message that he also sent to sovsport.ru, “A lot will depend on the changes in the judging system. In my memory, there have been two revolutionary changes: once canceled compulsory figures, and the other ended the 6.0 system.
“And now number three: less points for difficult jumps and +/- 5 GOE. I don’t like that, but have to accept it. So, after this the situation can seriously change. Will this be in Medvedeva’s favor? I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see.”