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'Child factory & inhumane culture': Russia’s figure skating system faces lazy stereotypes simply because it’s winning

'Child factory & inhumane culture': Russia’s figure skating system faces lazy stereotypes simply because it’s winning
Russian dominance in ladies’ singles figure skating has been unquestionable in recent years as champion after champion has emerged – a fact causing increasing resentment among the usual anti-Russian brigade.

Revered Russian coach Eteri Tutberidze has brought fame to numerous world and Olympic champions, including Alina Zagitova and Yulia Lipnitskaya, but finds herself consistently accused of running a morally dubious ‘factory of champions.’

READ MORE: ‘Envy is a major sin’: Tatiana Tarasova slams German figure skating boss for calling Russian team ‘factory of champions’

Tutberidze has led a revolution in the sport as her new generation of charges land quads in routines that are on a completely different level to what has come before.

But instead of receiving praise and admiration for her achievements, Tutberidze has become the object of attacks from those who claim she values victories more highly than her skaters’ health.

The latest such scruples have come from former Finnish skater Kiira Korpi in an interview with the notoriously Russia-skeptic Guardian newspaper in the UK.

I don’t think Eteri’s child factory is the biggest problem in skating,” said Korpi. “The problem is the sick culture that’s been created. Eteri’s factory is a symptom of this inhumane direction and culture our sport is taking.”

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The three-time European medalist somehow seems to be aware of the atmosphere at Tutberidze’s training sessions, despite not attending them.

It also remains unclear where suggestions regarding a “sick culture” come from, given that none of Tutberidze’s skaters – including those who have already retired or ended their partnership with the coach – have never suggested they were treated badly or pushed to extremes.

Tutberidze does have a “factory of champions,” but one which she herself has created through a long process of hard work, instilling in her skaters a sense of tough competition which drives them forward.

Indeed, the competition inside her team is intense, with high-profile athletes being replaced by younger competitors with increasingly complex technical content.

Does that really mean Tutberidze should be blamed for propelling the sport forward? Isn’t that what sport has always been about, breaking boundaries and pushing barriers?

Skating has had child stars – Tara Lipinski, Michelle Kwan, Sarah Hughes – but they weren’t pushed out of the sport because they couldn’t keep up with the technical demands,” continued Korpi in the Guardian article – failing to mention that Hughes and Lipinski both retired from amateur competitive skating soon after their Olympic triumphs as teenagers.

Take a look elsewhere and the imbalance in the treatment that Russian skating receives is made even more stark.

The US artistic gymnastics squad has been on a remarkable roll since the 2012 London Games, winning major events by huge margins.

Their brightest star, Simone Biles, with her gravity-defying acrobatics, has effectively converted every competition she takes part in into a mere battle for second and third places.

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Has anybody suggested raising the age-limit in gymnastics due to American dominance? Has anyone suggested US gymnasts are mindless gold-winning ‘machines’ who symptomatic of an 'inhumane culture' developing in the sport? 

Last year, the 2017 world all-around champion Morgan Hurd failed to make it to the US national team and was replaced by younger teammates who produced better results at the national trials.

The US team was formed on basic principles whereby stronger athletes get the right to represent their country.

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The problem appears to be that when the same principle is used by the Russian team in figure skating, it causes a public outcry and takes on sinister undertones with suggestions of exploitation.

Immensely talented young Russian athletes are branded machine-like and ‘disposable’.

Would their achievements and records be treated the same way if they were not from Russia? Or would they be feted for their remarkable achievements and moving their sport into entirely new territory?

Given the continued bias rife in some quarters, it’s an easy question to answer.

By Elena Dilber (follow @ElenaDilber)

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