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Tuktamisheva aims to return to previous form

Former Russian prodigy tries to overcome injuries, psychological issues
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Last season was a difficult one for Liza Tuktamisheva, but a renewed attitude and a hopeful spirit have her believing she will perform better in 2014-15. -Getty Images

For Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, this past season could be considered a turning point in her career. Indeed, the 17-year-old, who in 2011 achieved unexpected victories at both of her Grand Prix events and initiated a Russian "avalanche" in ladies figure skating, failed to qualify for the Olympic team.

The 2013 European bronze medalist and 2013 national champion had to face the challenges of a transition period, involving a variety of ailments and psychological issues, which greatly impacted her results. She began last season by winning a bronze at the 2013 Finlandia Trophy, and then finished fourth at both of her Grand Prix assignments and 10th at the Russian championships.

She sustained an ankle injury in March at the Russian Cup Final. The resulting tests showed she had torn a ligament. After a difficult recovery period, the skater resumed training. This month, she joined Alexei Mishin's training camp in Pinzolo, Italy, where she is working on her programs for the new season.

Icenetwork talked with the Russian skater about her recovery period, her memories of last season and her future goals.

Icenetwork: Last season was quite difficult for you because of injuries and other factors. Tell us how your recovery process is going.

Tuktamisheva: Recovery is going well. Four days ago, I started doing my jumping elements. The only thing I have left to do is try my triple toe loop combinations. The injury still bothers me a little, but basically everything is positive. I think that in a couple of weeks I will be able to fully perform all my elements.

Icenetwork: You are now at Alexei Mishin's training camp in Italy. What can you tell us about your preparation for the new season, taking into account your recovery period?

Tuktamisheva: Yes, this training camp in Italy is an annual event, which is attended by almost all athletes of Alexei Mishin's group. I think that by September, I will be in good shape.

Everything is going on as usual, including the process of developing my new programs. At the moment, one of them is ready, and next week we will start to work on the other one.

Icenetwork: How difficult was it to go through the last season, in which you didn't qualify for the Olympic Games?

Tuktamisheva: It is good that this past season is already history. A new one will begin with a clean slate for me, so to speak. I hope that everything will be a bit different, especially psychologically. This summer, I will have test skates here in Italy, and I will try to adjust myself psychologically, so that my mindset is different than it was the last year.

Icenetwork: So your main problem last season was psychological.

Tuktamisheva: Yes, absolutely true.

Icenetwork: Many people discuss the future of the triple Axel in ladies figure skating. Last season, only Mao Asada performed this jump. What is your opinion of this?

Tuktamisheva: The rules now are focused mainly on skating skills, transitions and choreography. If we look at five years ago, then yes, a triple Axel would definitely be a winning element, and it would give you a distinct advantage over others.

But now we have such a high level of skating that you can do splendid triple jumps, but they will not play a big role without having good transitions. However, if everything is OK with the components, the triple Axel definitely adds showiness to a performance, and the final evaluation of a program will also be better.

I believe that [the triple Axel] is not for the short program, where stability is crucial and where any error is very costly. It is in the free skate where you may impress, amaze and, so to speak, "shock" the audience with such things.

Icenetwork: If you compare yourself a year ago and today, what differences do you notice?

Tuktamisheva: Now I feel a lot freer and more at ease. I think the Olympic season puts added pressure on athletes and coaches. Now I can breathe more freely.

Icenetwork: What does Alexei Mishin think about your current condition?

Tuktamisheva: If we consider the fact that I practically didn't skate for almost three months and just 10 days ago touched the ice for the first time, and that four days ago I just started to perform jumps, then my coach is quite happy. In general, I quickly began performing all of my elements again, so I can say that everything is going according to plan.

Icenetwork: Tell us about your new programs.

Tuktamisheva: I can say that my free skate program is based on Indian themes, in the Asian style. As for the short program, we continue to work on its subject.

Icenetwork: It seems that you like passionate programs.

Tuktamisheva: (laughing) Well, I won't say that it will be a particularly passionate program. But you're right, it is my theme, and many think that this new program will be very good.

For me, it is very important when a program has a message which I can show to the audience. I don't like just skating to "some" music -- I want to tell people a story with a clear theme and image.

Icenetwork: Last season, you struggled to skate your programs clean. Sometimes it seemed that they were two different Lizas. How is your work on improving your consistency going?

Tuktamisheva: I'm working on it. The reason for this inconsistency is exclusively psychological. In such matters, the athlete becoming fully aware of the problem is the key to the solution.

Icenetwork: In the Olympic season, many Russian athletes were faced with increased, sometimes even excessive, attention from fans and media. How do you feel about this kind of pressure?

Tuktamisheva: It depends on how the athlete responds to what is happening. Some can disengage from everything, while others take everything very personally.

Therefore, athletes must learn to live in their world, always keep a cool head on their shoulders and know what they can let go and what they can't -- then everything will be much easier, and the results will be much better.

Icenetwork: The level of Russian ladies skating is now so high that theoretically anyone at the national championships is a potential rival. Does that add pressure to you, or do you use it as motivation?

Tuktamisheva: I can say that if the competition wasn't so stiff, our girls would not have such good results. So it's very good in principle that in Russia there are many strong athletes.

Icenetwork: Tell us about your plans for the new season. What goals would you like to achieve in the next year?

Tuktamisheva: In the new season, my main goal is to return to my previous level of skating. It is the most important thing for me.