‘Snow Queen’: Valieva’s coach under scrutiny in Olympic doping scandal

Tutberidze’s coaching success has been tainted by behind-the-scenes scandals, with several athletes walking out on her

The coaching team surrounding Kamila Valieva has come under fierce scrutiny after the 15-year-old Russian figure skater was engulfed by a doping controversy at the Beijing Olympics — and none more so than Eteri Tutberidze.

After it was confirmed Friday that Valieva had failed a drugs test and could be kicked out of the Games, the hashtag “shame on Tutberidze” began trending on Twitter in Russia.

It did not name the 47-year-old Tutberidze and there is no suggestion of wrongdoing on her behalf, but it brings renewed focus on the notoriously strict methods of a coach who has trained up a team of brilliant young skaters tasked with winning gold in Beijing.

“It would be great if all three medals were ours,” Tutberidze told Russia’s Channel One network in late December.

She was thrust into the spotlight during Russia’s home 2014 Sochi Games, where her then-15-year-old star Yulia Lipnitskaya mesmerised with a “Schindler’s List” routine and took home gold in the team event too.

A striking figure with blonde curls and piercing brown eyes, she is a household name in Russia, where supremacy in the sport is a point of national pride.

“I prefer to tell my athletes the truth because they will hear flattery from others,” Tutberidze told Channel One in an unusually candid interview in December, sitting with her puppy Michelle on her lap.

Born into a family of five in Moscow, Tutberidze aspired to become a singles skater but a serious injury forced her to pursue ice dancing instead.

Stranded without work, she and her troupe struggled to make ends meet. 

She eventually found work as a skating coach, but missed home.

She then returned to coaching and in 2008 joined the Khrustalny ice rink in Moscow, where she continues working today. 

After Lipnitskaya’s success at Sochi, another of her skaters, Evgenia Medvedeva, took both the European and World titles in 2016 and 2017.

Alina Zagitova took gold and Medvedeva, in a bitter loss, was left with silver. 

Just before they all headed to Beijing, Valieva, Trusova and Shcherbakova won all three medals at the Russian championships and the European championships.

But Tutberidze’s success has been tainted by behind-the-scenes scandals, with several athletes walking out on her.

Tutberidze’s methods “work but as you get older, with every year it’s harder to put up with it”, Medvedeva said in a YouTube interview in August 2021.

Then in 2020 Trusova and another promising student, Alena Kostornaia, announced they were leaving to train under Tutberidze’s rival, four-time Olympic medallist Evgeni Plushenko.

“Will we change anything in our training system? No. We are doing everything correctly,” Tutberidze wrote on Instagram at the time of the departures.

“Eteri is an outstanding coach,” Tarasova said, describing Plushenko as just a “beginner”.

And ultimately, Trusova, Kostornaia and Medvedeva all returned to her.

Originally published as ‘Snow Queen’: Valieva’s coach under scrutiny in Olympic doping scandal


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