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Alina Zagitova extends break from figure skating competition

Alina Zagitova

GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 23: Gold medal winner Alina Zagitova of Olympic Athlete from Russia celebrates during the victory ceremony for the Ladies Single Skating Free Skating on day fourteen of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 23, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

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Alina Zagitova, the reigning Olympic and world figure skating champion, is extending her indefinite break from major competition and will not enter any top-level events until 2021 at the earliest.

Zagitova, who in PyeongChang became the second-youngest Olympic women’s singles champion at age 15, will not compete in the Russian Championships in December, according to the Russian skating federation, confirming a TASS report from Monday.

That likely means that Zagitova will not be selected for the Russian team for the European Championships in January, nor the world championships in March. The top two spots go to the first- and second-place finishers at nationals. The third spot is subjectively chosen and could be filled by a skater who does not compete at nationals.

“Everything will depend on Alina’s form and readiness,” a Russian federation spokesperson said Wednesday.

Zagitova last competed at the December 2019 Grand Prix Final, finishing sixth in a six-skater field. Three younger Russian teens swept the podium with either triple Axels or quadruple jumps, neither of which Zagitova has attempted in competition.

She announced an indefinite break from skating on Dec. 13 and, this fall, has been hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show rather than entering the Grand Prix Series. Zagitova will not take part in nationals because she’s not participating in other competitions, according to Russia’s federation.

Zagitova said in December that she needed to find the motivation to compete again, would continue training and learn new elements.

“This is her decision, and, regretfully, it did not come out of thin air,” her coach Eteri Tutberidze said in December, according to TASS. “Alina has been talking about this for about 18 months.

“The past 18 months when she kept competing and fighting, were difficult.”

Since Katarina Witt won back-to-back Olympic titles in 1984 and 1988, one of the eight Olympic women’s singles gold medalists returned to defend her title -- South Korean Yuna Kim, who took silver in Sochi in 2014. Even Kim took a break after gold in Vancouver in 2010, going about a year and a half between competitions from 2011 to 2012.

The Russian system produced a conveyor belt of female singles skaters in the last decade, with new teens constantly replacing past champions.

Adelina Sotnikova and Yuliya Lipnitskaya earned gold medals in Sochi, then stopped competing in 2016.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva swept Grand Prix Final, European and world titles in 2014-15, but while competitive since has not returned to worlds or competed in an Olympics.

Yevgenia Medvedeva went undefeated for two years from 2015-17 before being supplanted by Zagitova in PyeongChang. She left Tutberidze’s group, took bronze behind Zagitova at 2019 Worlds under Brian Orser, then returned to Tutberidze last month while in Moscow during the pandemic, thousands of miles from Orser in Toronto.

All of the top Russians from last season -- Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova -- are entered in the Russian stop of the Grand Prix Series next month.

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