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Yulia Lipnitskaya, the youngest gold medalist in Olympic figure skating history, has retired at 19, after spending three months recovering from anorexia

Source: Meduza
Sergey Fadeichev / TASS / Vida Press

At the age of 19, Sochi Winter Olympics champion Yulia Lipnitskaya announced this Monday that she is retiring from figure skating. According to Lipnitskaya’s mother, Daniela, she informed Russia’s Figure Skating Federation of her decision back in April, after returning from three months of treatment for anorexia. Meduza reviews this star athlete’s career following her breakout success at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

Yulia Lipnitskaya became an Olympic champion at the age of 15, setting a new record in women’s single skating. In Sochi, she placed first in both the free skate and short program segments, helping Team Russia win the gold medal. Though Lipnitskaya finished only fifth in individual competition, she emerged as one of the symbols of the Russian national team’s success in 2014.

What came next: some underwhelming performances

After the Sochi Olympics, Lipnitskaya took second place at Grand Prix competitions in China and France, but finished only fifth in the Grand Prix Final. In late 2014, Lipnitskaya finished ninth in the Russian Championships, failing to qualify for the European Championships. After this, she didn’t perform publicly again for another year.

Lipnitskaya’s next competition was in October 2015 at the Finlandia Trophy tournament. “On the first day at the competition, it was like the first time all over again. But then all the sensations came back to me. Did I have thoughts about quitting the sport? I had thoughts about everything,” Lipnitskaya said after her performance, placing second. Later that month, she would place finish in sixth place at Skate America, after trouble with her free skating routine.

Yulia Lipnitskaya - Finlandia Trophy 2015 - SP

Parting ways with her coach

In November 2015, after missing the European Championships and a season of consecutive losses, Lipnitskaya decided to part ways with her coach, Eteri Tutberidze. In an official statement, the figure skater thanked her mentor, but noted that “time does not stand still,” saying she needed “to move forward.”

Tutberidze, for her part, said the mutual trust had gone from her relationship with Lipnitskaya. “I can forgive anything, but the one thing I can’t understand is when I feel that an athlete doesn’t want to train or has lost the will to compete. Surrounding the situation with Lipnitskaya, there’s a lot that’s been held back. In fact, everything was gradually headed toward a parting of ways,” Tutberidze said.

Lipnitskaya replaced her with Alexey Urmanov, who won a figure skating gold medal in the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics. After changing coaches, she finished seventh in the 2015 Russian Championships, again failing to qualify for the European Championships. In early 2016, she won a silver medal at the Russian Cup Final, and then a gold medal at the Cup of Tyrol in Innsbruck, Austria — her first victory in two years.

Lipnitskaya competed in Austria despite a lingering injury to her hip. “They examined me and immediately started doing various procedures and prescribing me medications, but the doctors’ recommendations were to stay on my back and not even to try walking. But there were only four days until the tournament,” Lipnitskaya said. In the end, she ignored her doctors’ advice.

Lipnitskaya began the all-important 2016-2017 season, which leads into the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, by placing second at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial in Bratislava. Her final professional appearance would be at the 2016 Rostelecom Cup, where she was in third place after the short program, but aggravated a leg injury in the free skate, forcing her to pause her routine at the halfway point. She finished in last place, her eyes full of tears as she waited for the judges to reveal her score.

Yulia Lipnitskaya at the 2016 Rostelecom Cup. Free skating. November 5, 2016. Moscow, Russia
Yulia Lipnitskaya

After slipping on a patch of ice and injuring her right hip and lower back, Lipnitskaya withdrew from the December 2016 Russian Championships in Chelyabinsk.

Battling weight (gain and loss)

During the summer of 2015, Lipnitskaya noticeably started gaining weight. “I tried to lose weight. I ran. I dieted. But nothing helped. It was like I was getting fat off the air itself. A spoonful of honey in my tea, and I gained another kilogram. There were times when I didn’t understand what was happening. I’d really thought that all the horrors they talk about when describing the awkward years wouldn’t even apply to me,” Lipnitskaya said. In early 2016, she started losing weight again.

In June 2017, Lipnitskaya was awarded an apartment in New Moscow for her victory in Sochi. In videos showing her at the apartment, she had again apparently gained weight, leading to rumors that she might even be pregnant. The figure skater immediately rejected the gossip, writing on Vkontakte: “I’ve never been pregnant. Honestly, people, show some dignity. Do I have to weigh 37 kilograms [82 pounds] for the rest of my life for you to be happy? I’ve already lost enough weight.”

Lipnitskaya didn't say anything about her treatment for anorexia, and the public is only aware of it because of her mother, who revealed the information on August 28, when announcing her daughter’s retirement from figure skating.

According to Daniela Lipnitskaya and Valentin Piseyev, the honorary president of Russia’s Figure Skating Federation, Yulia Lipnitskaya’s retirement was agreed upon in April. Journalist Elena Vaitsekhovskaya, who interviewed Lipnitskaya in April, wrote in a blog post that month, “I know the diagnosis. It’s not compatible with major sporting competitions. Why it came to this, I’m not ready to say right now. It’s entirely and completely a question of what Yulia wants — how exactly and in what form does she want to be heard.” A month later, Lipnitskaya’s coach, Alexey Urmanov, said they would be waiting until the September competitions before announcing any plans.

Russian text by Vladimir Tsybulsky, translation by Kevin Rothrock

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