A day after snagging a gold medal for the Russian figure skating team at the Sochi Games, Julia Lipnitskaia was back at her usual rink in Moscow, hoping to escape the buzz and stay focused on the individual competition ahead.
Since Lipnitskaia awed spectators at the Olympic rink earlier this week, her body dipping like a graceful rag doll with each downward swoop of the violin in music from Schindler’s List, Russian and foreign fans alike have been desperate to learn more about a girl who, at only 15, seems all too grown up. But scratching the surface hasn’t been easy.
“Julia is not a fan of the attention and press in general,” her mother, Daniela, told The Associated Press, describing the television crews who have staked outside the rink for hours. “I’m almost afraid she’s going to mouth off to someone. She’s a girl with character, she’s capable of that.”
Julia Lipnitskaia grew up in the Ural Mountains town of Yekaterinburg, raised by a single mother after her father went to complete his mandatory military service and never came back. Daniela Lipnitskaia says she never had any skating ambitions of her own, and her decision to put her daughter on the ice when she was 4 years old was “totally random.”
“At the beginning ... there wasn’t anything special there other than her bravery,” said Elena Levkovets, Lipnitskaia’s first coach. “She would stand up and fall down and stand up again, she didn’t cry. She’s had that serious face since she was a child.”
By the time Lipnitskaia was 10, she had outskated everyone in Yekaterinburg. It was clear that, to continue doing what she loved most, she would have to move to Moscow.
Outside the rink, Lipnitskaia loves music and horses.
When her career took off, her mother was able to buy a cottage outside Yekaterinburg so that Lipnitskaia could go riding whenever she visits. Lipnitskaia posts pictures of the horses on her official page on VKontakte, Russia’s Facebook equivalent, along with status updates like: “I want ... many, many balloons!”
And while she has kept the press at arm’s length, Lipnitskaia uses VKontakte to keep in touch with her fans, commenting or liking everything they post to her page. Only when a photograph of her with a medal drew 30,000 likes and hundreds of comments did she stop trying to keep up.
Daniela Lipnitskaia says her daughter has had to do a lot of growing up this past year, as a growth spurt and a spate of injuries nearly derailed her career.
“We had seven (injuries) in one season,” she said. “I think things will work out.”
Levkovets, Lipnitskaia’s first trainer, will travel to Sochi on Wednesday to cheer her on. Most of all, she says she’s been dying to see the performance in person for the first time – and see just how far the teen has come.
“She’s a child,” Levkovets said, “but she’s growing up.”