Teenage Russian figure skating star Alina Zagitova says she let ‘haters’ get to her early on in her career but learned to tune out the negativity as she forged a path to success.
Zagitova burst onto the senior figure skating scene in the 2017-18 season, winning the Grand Prix title before clinching gold at the Winter Olympics in South Korea at the tender age of 15.
That victory was not without controversy, with critics accusing Zagitova of ‘backloading’ her routine with jumps to take advantage of the scoring system, in contrast to the program of countrywoman Evgenia Medvedeva, who picked up silver.
In a wide-ranging interview and photoshoot with Cosmopolitan, Zagitova admitted that the online haters did occasionally get to her at the outset of her career.
“At the beginning I tried not to pay attention to comments from the haters, but there were times when I made a bad start [at competitions] and they got through anyway,” she said.
“They wrote telling me what I had to do. But basically I don’t owe anyone anything, I wanted to perform successfully myself.
“At first it bothered me, but my coaches and parents reassured me and explained that it was normal, that not everyone will like you.”
Zagitova, 17, failed to follow up her Olympic success with victory at that year’s World Championships in Italy, finishing a disappointing fifth place.
She said that failure had hurt twice as much because of the spectacular success that had come before it.
“I wasn’t afraid [of losing], but it was a shame not to repeat in competition what I’d done many times in training,” she said.
“If I skated a program cleanly but didn’t come first, you think about complicating it.
“I know that the quad jump can cause injury, but I still do it and I’m happy when it comes off.
“In my first adult season when I won everything, including the Olympic Games, and then didn’t perform well at the World Cup, it made me twice as upset. “
Zagitova has since righted that wrong, winning the World Championship title in Japan in 2019.
But it wasn’t long before even the fresh-faced Zagitova came under threat from an even younger batch of Russian stars such as Anna Shcherbakova, Alena Kostornaia and Alexandra Trusova.
Amid a disappointing season, Zagitova announced at the end of last year that she was taking a break from competing officially but would still be performing at exhibition shows.
That led to fears she was retiring for good, although Zagitova later vowed she will return to competition.