Evgenia Medvedeva knew it would be tough, moving away from everything she had known in Russia to come to Canada to train with Brian Orser.
Perhaps she didn’t know how tough.
It was tough enough, finishing second at the Olympics after appearing unbeatable in previous seasons. But at Skate Canada last month, she faced things she had never encountered before in the short program in which she finished seventh.
This weekend, she aims to set it all right again at the Grand Prix of France, the final of six stops before the Vancouver Final. She’s in an interesting field, including triple Axel-wielding youngster Rika Kihira of Japan, and Bradie Tennell, of the United States, who defeated Medvedeva at the Autumn Classic.
Medvedeva flagellated herself with disappointment and disbelief after crunching a triple Lutz close to the boards, and then underrotating her triple flip combination (didn’t get to the second jump) such that officials in this new system handed her a rack of -5s GOE and she earned only 1.08 points for that effort.
Her short program score of 60.83 was well behind her short program marks from her days of glory. We know it’s a historic mark now, but Medvedeva has become more accustomed to the 81.61 points that she earned for her Olympic short program (second to Alina Zagitova with 82.92).
After an emotional evening, with coach Orser at her side, Medvedeva won the free skate with 137.08 (still well behind her previous record score of 160.46 at the World Team Trophy) and took the bronze medal overall. Her final score of 197.91 was still well behind her old historic score of 241.31.
So far this season, Medvedeva’s short program score ranks ninth, her free skate score ninth and her total score ranks tenth among her peers. She needs a top effort in France to make the Grand Prix Final. It’s possible. Zagitova has all the top scores this season (80.78 for the short, 158.50 for the free and 238.43 in total.
Don’t be surprised if Medvedeva felt like jumping out a window somewhere that night after the short program in Laval, Que.
“We learned a lot the last 24 hours,” Orser said after the final skate. Most importantly, they learned from each other how they need to approach competitions. Those sorts of things aren’t automatic between coaches and students who haven’t had a lot of competitions behind them.
“I’ve learned how I need to be with her,” Orser said. “It’s different than Yu Na. It’s different from anybody. She [Medvedeva] has a fierceness that she has to skate with, that she has to be.
“Coming with us, it was more light. It was happy, engaging, with conversation. And I think that’s not the answer for her. So she has to be apart from me.”
Orser and Medvedeva did not even speak the day of the free skate in Laval. “On purpose,” Orser said. “I told her if you don’t want to speak, don’t speak. You do what you have to do. Don’t worry about me.”
This, Medvedeva seemed to discover, too. She needs to be in her own bubble. She needs to be somewhere that will put her in an warrior mode.
After Medevedeva finished her free skate, she was totally unaware of the crowd support that she got in Laval. People cheered her when she landed something. They cheered wildly when she finished. Medvedeva said afterwards she did not hear any of it.
“I had a mood like I saw nobody,” she said afterward. “It’s pretty important. I feel like there is a big mirror to the top [of the arena]. And in the mirror is everyone who is sitting in the tribunal. But I just saw myself in the mirror.” (and her coaches, Orser by the boards, Tracy Wilson above him in the TSN commentating booth.)
During the short program, she noticed everything. (And look where that got her.)
“I just know that if I not hear something, then I am ready. If I hear something, it means that I cannot concentrate enough,” she said.
She said she was sorry that she did not notice the standing ovation she got in Montreal for the free skate. “And maybe I didn’t want to see this, that people stand when not so good performance,” she said.
She did not smile, either. “I think I smiled enough before my performance yesterday,” Medvedeva said. “…I don’t want to smile because I did awful work yesterday and it’s like an insult, yesterday’s performance. I just see myself as a loser yesterday and I just didn’t want to smile today.”
All of this came after a long heart-to-heart talk with Orser that went on until 1 a.m. the morning after the short program. She asked to speak to Orser. “I need to talk,” she told him. “I don’t care about what. I just need to talk.”
“I really was so afraid to go crazy a little bit,” she said. “I thought a lot of terrible stuff. …It’s a terrible feeling when you feel sorry to yourself. It’s awful not only for my mind, but for my body also.”
She’s thankful to Orser that he supported her in a hard moment, that he was there to listen and talk her through a dark time. They talked about the performances, what they could do, what they could do in the future, what her main goals were, and her small goals, too. Everything.
“The rest of the night, I just tried to wake up my insides,” she said. “I don’t know how to say: the hunter.
“Today I felt like a wild animal,” she said. “I can’t say wild cat yet, because I don’t have enough grace for this. So wild animal.”
After the event, Orser heard Medvedeva’s voice again. “It’s nice to hear her talking,” he said. “She’s just been focused and quiet.”
But still, he had to deal with some technical issues in her routine. Mot notably, officials awarded her a couple of Vs on two spins at the end of her free skate. “That’s a lot of points,” Orser said. “The spin things were just a bit silly.”
The V signifies a violation, meaning that perhaps she hadn’t held a camel spin longer. In a combination spin, a skater must hit all of the positions, and if he/she is short on one of them, troubles.
“She knows,” Orser said.
It’s only the beginning for Medvedeva. She really wanted to try a lot of new things this season and she was ready to “maybe fall a little bit,” she said. “But it’s impossible to do something new and always good.
“It’s like a darkness. You don’t know what’s forward. You just taking every step and maybe some steps now are so weird, but I think we are doing a good job every day, every minute.”
It’s silly to expect Medvedeva to produce the moon so soon in her new relationships and new life. But it will come. Her story is not over yet. The process will be fun to watch.