Last season, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva finished a lowly 10th at the Russian national championships and had to sit at home while fellow Russian Adelina Sotnikova won the gold medal at the Sochi Olympics. Then she broke her foot and was off the ice altogether for three months.
What a difference a year makes.
Tuktamysheva wrapped up the most successful season of her promising, young career by easily winning the women’s gold medal at the figure skating world championships on Saturday.
The 18-year-old Russian had a huge lead after landing a triple axel in the short program and extended it further by landing seven triples in a slightly nervy free skate to score 210.36 points overall, more than 15 points ahead of silver medalist Satoko Miyahara of Japan.
Russia’s Elena Radionova, who was recovering from a fever, had a shaky skate to slip from second after the short program to third overall.
"After the unfortunate last season, it was very tough for me, but my coaches helped me a lot and they believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself anymore," Tuktamysheva said. "I realized that I can go on, that this is not yet the end. I’m very glad I was able to overcome this difficult time and come back so strong."
Tuktamysheva showed such promise at a young age, she nearly won the Russian championships at 13 years old, falling just short to Sotnikova.
Her results have been inconsistent in recent years due to struggles with growth spurts and injuries, but this season has brought a dramatic turnaround. With Sotnikova on the sidelines with an ankle injury, Tuktamysheva has captured eight international events, including the Grand Prix Finals, European Championships and now the world championships.
It was Russia’s first win in the women’s event at worlds since Irina Slutskaya took the title 10 years ago.
Tuktamysheva’s win came in dramatic fashion after she joined an exclusive club of female skaters by successfully landing a triple axel in competition. She promised to continue pushing herself next year by adding a triple axel to her free skate, but as for a quad jump, that might be some time off.
"I haven’t excluded the idea of learning a quad toe, but for sure I won’t do it in my program," she said.
Her rivals are already feeling the pressure to increase their levels of difficulty to keep up.
"I admire her so much for coming back and bringing a whole new level of difficulty to the sport," said Ashley Wagner, a three-time U.S. national champion. "Triple axels will be mandatory before we know it."
Wagner and the other top American, Gracie Gold, rebounded from disappointing performances in the short program to move up in the standings. Gold finished fourth and Wagner was fifth — just short of ending the nine-year drought of American women on the podium at the world championships.
Gold was pleased to turn in a consistent performance in a season beset by error-strewn skates and an injury to her foot.
"It’s what I kind of hoped to do is skate strong and be tough," she said. "This year was a little more rough and tumble for me. I’m used to being at least consistently going up, maybe a little down."
Wagner, the veteran of the U.S. team, also felt positive about ending the season on a good note.
"It might sound silly because I’m 23 years old, but I’m still learning in this sport. I was a late bloomer. To go out there under such immense pressure, to redeem myself in a way, that’s something I’m very proud of," she said.