Golden Skate

Korobeynikova makes fast progress

Polina Korobeynikova

Russia's Polina Korobeynikova performs to "Russian Dance" by Tchaikovsky at the 2011-12 Junior Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating.

Polina Korobeynikova of Russia began competing on the major international stage this season and had immediate success.

She qualified for the Junior Grand Prix (JGP) Final of Figure Skating where she claimed the bronze, and then went on to the European Figure Skating Championships, placing fourth.

The 15-year-old was the top-ranked Russian lady at Europeans, and was selected to compete at the upcoming 2012 World Figure Skating Championships in two weeks.

Korobeynikova had finished only seventh at the 2012 Russian Nationals, but since four higher ranked skaters are not age-eligible for the European and World Figure Skating Championships, she snatched up the opportunity.

While the qualifying round and the free skate went really well at Europeans, she missed two jumps in the short and was far behind. Still, she was pleased with her overall experience at the event.

My impressions are obviously positive,” she said. “I was glad that I could participate in this event and skate my programs. It is a little upsetting that I missed the podium narrowly, of course, but there is something left to strive for.”

While the tall, elegant Russian was a surprise for most spectators and media, coach Viktoria Volchkova knows what her student is capable of.

“I was asked if I expected the fourth place and I answered that honestly I expected her to make the top three,” said Volchkova. “Therefore, you can guess if I am happy or not with the fourth place.”

“In some ways I am happy, and in others I am not,” continued Volchkova. “Polina rightfully said that there is something to strive for and something to work on for the future, but on the other hand, she could have come to Europeans and made the podium right away. It was absolutely possible with her set of elements. We need to work on something; we need to look at things and at our preparation, especially for the short program so that there won’t be such defeats anymore.”

Unlike Russian “wunderkinder” Adelina Sotnikova, Lisa Tuktamysheva, and now Julia Lipnitskaia, Korobeynikova wasn’t touted as the next star as a 12-year-old, nor did she compete at that age at senior Nationals. The Muscovite made a breakthrough only this season when she added the triple flip-triple toe and a triple Lutz to her repertoire. While she doesn’t really know how to explain her rapid progress, Volchkova has an answer.

“This past summer we just worked like real athletes and not like amateur skaters,” explained Volchkova. “When she came to me in the group, she was 11 years old and she was more like a hobby skater. Last summer for the first time, we went to the training camp in Novogorsk where we worked six to seven hours per day. It was the first season that I saw that she was truly working.”

“I think the reason was that she knew she would get Junior Grand Prix assignments and not just go to Russian events like the Russian Cup,” continued Volchkova. “There was something to strive for, and she worked for it. It happened because she worked six to seven hours. She didn’t do these jumps (Lutz and flip) yet in August. It took two months of work until these jumps started to happen by themselves as she believes. But of course they don’t happen by themselves. There was a lot of work done to achieve this result.”

Korobeynikova started skating to improve her health when she was three and a half years old, as many kids in Russia.

“It started with me having a sour throat,” she said. “The doctors said in order to strengthen my health I should skate. There was an ice rink just ten minutes from our house.”

When Korobeynikova was 11, she was given to Volchkova who had just retired from competitive skating and started coaching in her old ice rink Moskvitch in the south-east of the Russian capital. Little Polina was one of three girls that formed Volchkova’s first group of students.

“She was the most contained girl, she is more introverted,” shared Volchkova. “Some people might consider this a difficult character, but it is not difficult. It might be even better for the sport that she is contained. She doesn’t open up herself to everyone and this is right. Polina always smiled less than the others. She is inside herself, she is modest, close-lipped, and it was hard to get a smile from her. Even now, if she isn’t a bad mood, you need to do a headstand to get a smile from her.”

Her student agrees with this description of her character.

Asked what she considers her strengths and weaknesses, Korobeynikova focused on the weaknesses.

“I think I still need to work on my programs, on the choreography, on the emotions and expression,” she said.

“She needs to become a grown-up on the ice,” Volchkova added right away. “She has enough choreography, enough emotions, but it is still child-like choreography and emotions. It is good that she was at the European Championship because this pushes her into the direction of grown-up skating.”

“Just a few weeks ago she still dreamed of competing in juniors,” the coach pointed out, “but now I think this European Championship makes her realize that she can skate at a high level and compete with such names as Carolina Kostner and Kiira Korpi. She is expressive, she understands choreography, she feels the music. She needs only to become an adult and to understand what she now can achieve in figure skating. She can do a lot. When this goes through her head, her skating and emotions will change. You don’t have to change these things, they just will become different, lady-like.”

Technically, Korobeynikova is already right at the top. She had the highest technical score in the free skating at Europeans.

“That was really nice. I actually expected it, because I have the hardest technical content,” the confident teenager noted.

Korobeynikova looks up to Carolina Kostner.

“I like her skating and she is a very nice person, but I don’t really have an idol in skating,” she explained.

Volchkova picked the music for her student, Tchaikovsky’s Russian Dance for the short program and Otonal for the free skating. The music for the short was decided quickly.

“Somehow I felt that this is the right music for Polina,” explained Volchkova. “This was right at the beginning of the season. For some reason this was Polina’s music.”

However, it took a while for the skater to embrace Otonal.

“I didn’t like this music at all in the beginning, I just didn’t enjoy it,” admitted Korobeynikova.

“I told her, listen to it again, this is the music Maria Butyrskaia won Worlds with,” recalled Volchkova. “I switched it on, Polina skated, and it happened by itself. The elements fit into the program, it was comfortable for her to skate to, and she is in harmony with it. The program came out successfully, although it took us a long time to get there.”

Off the ice, Korobeynikova attends school and enjoys coaching her six-year-old sister Sonia on the weekends.

“I am in the 9th year of school,” the ISU Junior Final bronze medalist said. “It is harder to keep up with school this year as I am going to more competitions and I am traveling more than I used to. I don’t have so much time and energy for school now, but I try to combine school and skating and I am not a weak student. But it will be easier once I finish school.”

By now, the skater has developed a healthy ambition and sets high goals for herself.

“I want to be an Olympic and World Champion and I want to win everything,” she said firmly.

“She has an enormous potential,” agreed Volchkova. “She doesn’t realize yet it herself, although it might now dawn on her. Concerning the elements, she’s practically learned everything already. She basically can add a triple toe to any jump in practice. This is not a problem for her, she uses it as a warm-up.”

“Now she has to perfect herself as a skater as we said earlier about growing up,” summed up Volchkova. “She needs to become an adult on the ice so that the second mark will go up to the level of the technical score, like with Carolina Kostner. Polina said she likes her, and this is because she (Carolina) goes out on the ice, does two cross-overs, and gets a very high second mark. Carolina Kostner and the other skaters are like heaven and earth. If Polina reaches this level with her technical skills, then she indeed can compete for the highest placements.”

Korobeynikova is now preparing for Worlds and is looking forward to the event very much.

“After the European Championships, I took one week off,” she said. “Following the break, my preparations are going according to plan. There won’t be changes to my programs.”

“I really want to go to France,” she added. “Most of all, obviously, I want to skate well! And in my spare time I hope to get the chance to visit the city as everyone has been saying that it is incredibly beautiful.”