“I let out my joy too early,” she said.
In hindsight, the fall may have resulted more from an injury to her right foot, later determined to be a broken bone, than from premature celebration.
Medvedeva is the third high-profile Russian skater to have had her career disrupted lately because of injury or an eating disorder.
Her fragile foot has raised continued questions about whether Russia’s reliance on tiny young female skaters — who best succeed with the difficult jumps required in today’s scoring system — has put some elite performers at risk of getting hurt and having their careers derailed while they are still teenagers.
Adelina Sotnikova, who in 2014 won Russia’s first Olympic gold medal for women in singles skating at age 17, has missed this entire Olympic season, citing injury.
Yulia Lipnitskaya, who won a gold medal in 2014 in the inaugural team skating competition at age 15, retired last August, saying she had struggled with anorexia.
“We didn’t have such a situation before,” said Alexander Lakernik, a Russian who is vice president of the International Skating Union, the sport’s governing body. “We must see what happens with this generation of young girls.”
In early November, Medvedeva won the NHK Trophy, a Grand Prix competition in Japan. But, after returning home, she revealed that she had needed painkillers to perform in Moscow in October and had competed in Japan with a broken metatarsal bone in her right foot.
She had risked competing with an injury, she said, because, “This is the Olympic season.”
Injuries and eating disorders are common in figure skating, affecting skaters from many countries. Gracie Gold of the United States, who finished fourth at the 2014 Olympics in singles skating and won a bronze in the team competition, is out of skating at the moment for what she described as depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.
The need to keep weight down to jump proficiently puts a lot of pressure on the sport’s athletes. “I cannot eat what I want after six in the evening like I could before,” Medvedeva said in October. “Things have changed from two or three years ago.
“The main secret is discipline. Our sport really demands that you have to control yourself anytime.”
That seems especially true under skating’s current scoring system, which attaches a numerical value to every element from jumps to spins to footwork and musical interpretation, and favors extravagant jumping.
Russia has rigorously maximized the possibilities of the points system. For instance, a 10 percent bonus is awarded for each jump in the second half of a routine, when skaters’ legs are tired. Zagitova does all of her jumps in the second half of her routine. Medvedeva performs several of her jumps with one arm above her head to increase the difficulty.
In Russia’s centralized training system, where a number of top skaters practice together and push each other daily, girls as young as 10, 11 or 12 are performing a number of challenging jumps requiring three revolutions. It is easier to jump before the body matures and fills out after puberty. Alexandra Trusova, who won the junior Grand Prix final in December, can land a quadruple Salchow, even if imperfectly, at age 13.
Yet, while young bodies are flexible and resilient, they are still growing and can be susceptible to injuries to the joints and soft tissue.
Last fall, Medvedeva dismissed questions about injuries and young Russian skaters. Jumps of four revolutions, long performed by men but seldom by women, would be “the next step” in the evolution of the sport, she predicted, adding, “In a few years, it will be normal.”
Johnny Weir, a retired, two-time Olympian from the United States who trained with Russians during his career, said that while there was always danger in overtraining or attempting jumps a skater was not ready for, Russian coaches and officials were systematic and careful in their approach.
“There are far more injuries to the Americans, I find,” he said.
But the increasing difficulty of jumps for men and women has put skating in “uncharted territory” regarding health repercussions, said Tom Zakrajsek, a prominent American coach.
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