Figure skating-Dainty image masks drive for perfection

Mon Feb 17, 2014 10:06am EST
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By Alissa de Carbonnel

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Julia Lipnitskaya's whirlwind grace stole hearts and earned the Russian team gold, but when the teen dynamo left the ice in Sochi all she could think of was what she had done wrong.

"I don't think it's my best," she said, listing lapses mostly invisible to the figure skating audience and, apparently, the judges.

After Yuzuru Hanyu's own gold-medal performance, the Japanese skater told his coach "No, I'm not happy," consumed with chagrin over the jumps he had flunked in an error-strewn men's competition.

That degree of focus on achieving a flawless skate is part of what has made Olympic champions of them. It is the kind of passion that coaches know will help sustain them through years of grueling training - at least four hours a day on the ice.

Faced with the sacrifices of uprooting one's life to seek out the best trainers, the savings-sapping expense and the stinging strains on the body, even the likes of American Kristi Yamaguchi have come within a hair's breadth of quitting.

"Four-time world champion Kurt Browning is the one who sat me down and said, 'Why are you so miserable?," Yamaguchi said of a pivotal moment not long before she won at the 1992 Albertville Games.

Then 19, she had abandoned her skating partner of seven years, Rudy Galindo, and left her family in San Francisco to follow her coach to Edmonton, Canada. After slipping up in some competitions, she was assailed by self-doubt.

"I had one of those moments when I had to look and ask myself, 'Is this what I really wanted'," she told Reuters.   Continued...

Yulia Lipnitskaya of the gold medal-winning Russian figure skating team poses with her medal during the medal ceremony for the figure skating team ice dance free dance at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics February 10, 2014. REUTERS/David Gray