Forced starvation of skaters in Eteri's training camp

bladesofgorey

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Anna Scherbakova discusses her eating disorder and states she was ordered to weigh 92 pounds at 5'3" by her coaching staff, and was told she was fat when she gained a few pounds but still weighed less than 100 pounds. She ended up weighing herself 50 times a day and needed to know how much she weighed at every moment.

I have no idea how anyone can feel anything but disgust for Eteri and what she's done to her students. These are children.

translation of excerpts from a November TV show interview by a poster on Golden Skate:

First, Tsiskaridze’s long introduction about how difficult it is for girls during puberty and how they fall under the bad influence of false friends, start smoking or taking some kind of weight loss drugs, which is absolutely forbidden to do, he specifically prohibits all this to his students, etc. .d.

Anna: I can say that girls who do gymnastics, figure skating and ballet all know this topic very well, they all understand that from childhood you are forced to monitor your weight. We are being weighed...

Tsiskaridze: You can’t imagine how they cry now when they go to weigh-in. But I force them to do it. You just need to weigh yourself.

Anna:
We had weigh-ins every day. At the same time, I started measuring my weight starting at the age of seven. But I’m probably one of those lucky girls [for whom this is not a problem]. Until a certain age, this was not a problem for me either. But I know girls who had to limit themselves [in food] starting at age 9. Their mothers watch them so that they do not steal some chocolate somewhere, and these problems begin with them from an early age.

I probably didn’t think about it at all until I was 15-16 years old...


Tsiskaridze: So you started puberty at that age?

Anna:
Yes, this happened directly during the Olympic season. Until that moment, I had a similar stories (Anna means that the story was similar to the story of one of the participants in the show), when they told me after the weigh-in: “If you lose weight now, then instead of general physical training we will send you to the locker room, and you will eat there." I said in response: “Please don’t!” and cried (laughs).

At a much later time, I naturally recalled these incidents and thought: “It was good then - instead of training, go eat!” But it’s really probably (she thought for a second)… it turns out that at the age of 17 I began adolescence - it was just the Olympic season. At that moment, I first encountered the problem that I needed to lose weight. And all the methods that worked before stopped working. Before this, I always thought that all I had to do was skip dinner for two or three days, and now my weight would return to normal. But here [during puberty] you are faced with the fact that nothing [changes].


Tsiskaridze: Moreover, you are still under pressure all the time due to the fact that at any moment they can check you and find some kind of illegal drug.

Anna:
Yes, we always monitor this very closely. But, probably, it was during that season that I began to monitor my nutrition very strictly. It also happened that I would put on five sweaters and five pants and go to the gym in the evening. That is, you are always chasing [optimal weight].

Tsiskaridze: So what was your critical weight then?

Anna:
Well, I knew exactly how much I had to weigh [for the competition]…

Tsiskaridze: What is this weight?

Anna:
This is 42 kilograms.

Tsiskaridze: 42, and at what height?

Anna:
With a height of approximately 161 centimeters.

Tsiskaridze: Well, this is cruel. Also, wait, is this with or without skates?

Anna:
(laughs) This is without skates, during our usual weigh-in before training. And it just so happened that in the offseason I suffered an injury, which caused me to gain weight.

Tsiskaridze: And how big was this increase?

Anna:
It was about 3-4 kilograms.

Tsiskaridze: This is quite serious...

Anna:
This is incredibly critical.

Unidentified woman: How is it determined what weight should be?

Anna:
This is determined during training with a coach.

Tsiskaridze: Well, firstly, this is determined visually. It happens that on one person these 3-4 additional kilograms are unnoticeable, but on another they say that he has become fat, even if the increase was only 30 grams. It [depends] on the natural structure of the body, of course.

Anna:
We do not use a general system of parameters, when a certain number is subtracted from height and the desired weight is obtained. This is determined individually for each athlete.

Tsiskaridze: By and large, the weight of boys should be calculated as their height minus 110, and the weight of girls - as their height minus 120. This is in the general case. But, of course, for those who do elements like Anna - the lighter you are, the easier it is for you to jump, land, and so on..

Anna:
And, of course, excess weight is always a risk of injury, because our jumping is a huge load on the body, and every extra kilogram is an additional load on the joints...

Unidentified Woman: The stress on the knees and everything else...

Anna:
Yes. But we do not use this scheme with subtracting some numbers from growth. This is individual for us. There may be athletes of the same height, but with different optimal weights.

Tsiskaridze: Well, in the end, how did you cope?

Anna:
Well, here’s the first, and, as it seemed to me [at that moment], the surest way is, as everyone says, “don’t eat!” So you just...

Tsiskaridze: But in this case there is no strength for training...

Anna:
Yes. But at that moment, my main problem was that I seemed to believe that food was my main enemy, and every meal seemed to me to be harming myself. And after each meal, when it seemed to me that I had eaten too much, I would put on [five sweaters and five pants] again and go to the gym.

After that, almost until the very end, Anna sat and was silent; all sorts of terrible stories were told about gluttony and anorexia, and she listened.

(two minutes before the end)

Tsiskaridze (addressing all participants): Tell me, do any of you count calories?

Anna:
I tried to count [some time ago].

Unidentified Woman: You're tired of this, right?

Anna:
No, because of this I just overly focused my attention on nutrition, now I’m trying to be more relaxed about it. It was like this: I look at food and a scanner starts working in my head, I count [calories] and a goal arises - to reduce the total number of calories.

Tsiskaridze: Stanislav, tell us about calorie counting.

Stanislav (professional nutritionist): Anna has already answered everything. This is a very difficult method that can cause anxiety in a person, so I do not recommend people to use this technique. Although in professional sports this method is probably effective.

Anna:
I always had to weigh myself. That is, I weighed myself 50 times a day, but now I’m out of the habit, now I weigh myself once a day, and even then I’m lazy. And when I was in active sports, during competitions I had to know exactly how much I weighed every minute of the day.
 

On My Own

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Anna Scherbakova discusses her eating disorder
(Someone who doesn't know much about the topic) Seeing that she says she no longer does it in routine, is it an eating disorder, or a forced regime? Or is she just past it?

I think I posted this from FS Gossips before, and it's indeed disgusting and the Eteri camp seems most culpable for it. That said, I'm not sure it's just an "Eteri thing" and not a Russian sports thing, as in I would guess Eteri's directed to do this to keep up her factory.
 

bladesofgorey

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(Someone who doesn't know much about the topic) Seeing that she says she no longer does it in routine, is it an eating disorder, or a forced regime? Or is she just past it?

I think I posted this from FS Gossips before, and it's indeed disgusting and the Eteri camp seems most culpable for it. That said, I'm not sure it's just an "Eteri thing" and not a Russian sports thing, as in I would guess Eteri's directed to do this to keep up her factory.
Does it matter whether Eteri is directed to starve children or not? The fact is she does it. And yes this is the absolute text-book definition of a crippling eating disorder.
 

hoptoad

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gkelly

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Especially for senior competition, now that the age limit will be over 17.

For juniors, BMI alone won't always capture whether a kid is undernourished vs. having just had a growth spurt in height and the weight hasn't caught up yet.
 

kwanfan1818

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The ski rules use BMI to control the length of the skis, not to limit participation based on BMI:
To counter the problem, the International Ski Federation put in a rule in 2004 that tied maximum ski length to a jumper’s relative height and body weight.
After the Olympics, the rules will be adjusted again. The minimum body mass index will be raised to 19 (20.5 with equipment) and, for most jumpers, the maximum ski length will be shortened to 143 percent of a jumper’s height, said Walter Hofer, race director for the International Ski Federation. The relatively heavier athletes will be allowed slightly longer skis as encouragement not to lose weight to enhance their performance.

There is no equivalent in figure skating equipment or the ability to create an incentive. The article states that shorter skis are advantageous in at least some ways, which undermines the incentive; hence the upcoming rule adjustment. Plus, like in sports with weight-based categories, those at the border have a lot of reasons to do what they need to be at the weight of their class before weigh-in.

BMI was developed in the 1830’s by a Belgian mathematician who studies white, European Men as a population-wide metric. The follow-up study in the 1970’s was across some ethnicities and races, but also only for men. Since then there are population studies that have shown that age, race, and gender also have different “sweet spots” across populations.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-01-02/the-problem-with-the-body-mass-index-bmi/100728416

So whether it is a useful tool is questionable.

And then you have this helpful gem from the NYT article:

“Women’s gymnastics, you hear a lot that maybe they have problems,” said Alan Johnson, the executive director for Project X, the developmental United States ski jumping team. “I look at all of them and those girls are way fatter than ski jumpers.”

Are skaters that are extremely thin more apt to have eating disorders than skaters who are in puberty or have post-pubescent bodies? The latter group might have a BMI that crosses the minimum or even is in the overweight range due to musculature, but is as much at risk.

Besides the mental component of eating disorders, which are classified as disease, there are blood and urine tests that are used to diagnose nutritional imbalances when malnutrition is suspected (before it is physically obvious in its later stages.
 
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bladesofgorey

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Anna: And, of course, excess weight is always a risk of injury, because our jumping is a huge load on the body, and every extra kilogram is an additional load on the joints...

By the way, since I have seen this argued so many times even on here by people who should know far better given they are in a medical field, you know what's more dangerous in terms of impact injuries? Being underweight with brittle bones. A few extra pounds on a softened landing knees is a negligible risk compared to the stress fractures and full breaks associated with being underweight. Then there's always the risk of dropping dead from potassium imbalances and heart issues associated with anorexia and/or bulimia so...
 

caseyedwards

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Why so much focus on eteri like she invented this and coaches all over the world do this
Anna Scherbakova discusses her eating disorder and states she was ordered to weigh 92 pounds at 5'3" by her coaching staff, and was told she was fat when she gained a few pounds but still weighed less than 100 pounds. She ended up weighing herself 50 times a day and needed to know how much she weighed at every moment.

I have no idea how anyone can feel anything but disgust for Eteri and what she's done to her students. These are children.

translation of excerpts from a November TV show interview by a poster on Golden Skate:
Why act like American girls in college gymnastics don’t talk about being called fat all the time?

In coaching circles this very widespread embraced tactic that may be controversial but embraced by almost all participants except the rare one who speaks against it
 

Mell

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I very much think that the ISU should establish a min BMI like in ski jumping. It is dangerous and cruel what is being done to girls and women. Not only in Russia but Russia is surely the worst.

You sure it's only a girls/women thing? It's actually weird that you all focus ONLY on girls when it comes to these things, maybe because they are more willing to speak out about it.
 

bladesofgorey

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This affects young men too, absolutely, and the same kinds of BMI minimums should be established to help stop boys from being psychologically and physically harmed if the ISU decides to go that route. I don't think Hedwig left them out on purpose.
 

Hedwig

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I am pretty sure it is more widespread in girls and women just because of bodily circumstances (women usually have more far) and cultural norms.
But of course if a min BMI was established it should be for both gender, that goes without saying.
 

Mell

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I am pretty sure it is more widespread in girls and women just because of bodily circumstances (women usually have more far) and cultural norms.
But of course if a min BMI was established it should be for both gender, that goes without saying.

"I'm pretty sure" means nothing here. It's a perception. And you contribute to the problem, since girls bodies is all you talk about.
Boys have bodies too. In all shapes. And from what i can see, body shaming boys is also being normalized. You constantly see comments about their size, how small/tall/muscular/not muscular they are, comments about their as* and legs and so on. Maybe it's a "cultural norm" that it's somehow shameful for boys to talk about how they keep themselves fit. It's also expected that they have a certain amount of muscles (i did see comments toward pairs men that they "should go to the gym" ). You think these things happen automatically to boys and they don't have to make sacrifices, counting calories, doing extreme workouts and diets or?
Since there's almost no talk about this, how do you wanna know the problem is more widespread in girls?
 

tony

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"I'm pretty sure" means nothing here. It's a perception. And you contribute to the problem, since girls bodies is all you talk about.
Boys have bodies too. In all shapes. And from what i can see, body shaming boys is also being normalized. You constantly see comments about their size, how small/tall/muscular/not muscular they are, comments about their as* and legs and so on. Maybe it's a "cultural norm" that it's somehow shameful for boys to talk about how they keep themselves fit. It's also expected that they have a certain amount of muscles (i did see comments toward pairs men that they "should go to the gym" ). You think these things happen automatically to boys and they don't have to make sacrifices, counting calories, doing extreme workouts and diets or?
Since there's almost no talk about this, how do you wanna know the problem is more widespread in girls?
I think there are some interesting points brought up here and I have in the past thought that maybe the focus goes away from the boys/men as well, but I don't think the poster you are quoting or referencing really had that intention.

Men (or even boys) do have it difficult when it comes to their bodies, and once upon a time on FSU I referenced the wrestlers in my high school days that would come in early in the morning having starved for X amount of hours to make their weigh-ins, and after having done so, I still remember my teachers in the early AM classes letting them go to the cafeteria to grab some food. The boys who want to play football from a younger age, at least from my experiences as a teenager, have to constantly be in the gym and trying to bulk as much as they can if they want to keep up. As it goes in figure skating, we already know the sport attracts many LGBTQ+ individuals where disordered eating is already part of a higher risk factor. Now throw in a highly demanding sport in which you have singles' skaters trying to keep up and land the most difficult jumps by being fit yet keeping lean at the same time, and pairs skaters that need to have a certain amount of muscle and overall mass in order to lift the girls/women.

There have been posts here over the years that hint at or straight-up play into the 'dumb jock' stereotype whenever a person (or even skater) does have a very fit body, or comments that go something like 'maybe if he spent less time in the gym... he would be able to [fill in the blank]'. But then on the other hand, when the lifts start looking wobbly or insecure, they may be a reference to the man needing to do more strength training-- as I see you mentioned.

I do agree with you that there are a lot of problems with body image for both men and women, and often the women are the ones who are highlighted the most, both in and out of sport. I also worry that threads like this will turn into 'well the man should be capable of dealing with it' as it turns out with some other topics here, but those posters seem to have gone by the wayside these days.
 

overedge

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@Mell because it's been extensively and credibly documented that there is a higher rate of eating disorders among women when compared to men. No one is saying that eating disorders among men should be ignored, but women may be more likely to have them.

ETA: Also, men in pairs and dance need to be strong to do lifts. Yes, they're also expected to look like they're fit -but if their eating is disordered enough that they're losing strength, that is going to be noticed, and hopefully addressed in a healthy way.
 
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Willin

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Tsiskaridze: 42, and at what height?

Anna:
With a height of approximately 161 centimeters.

That is insane. That's a BMI of 16.5 - a good 2 points below healthy.

Unidentified woman: How is it determined what weight should be?

Anna:
This is determined during training with a coach.

Tsiskaridze: Well, firstly, this is determined visually. It happens that on one person these 3-4 additional kilograms are unnoticeable, but on another they say that he has become fat, even if the increase was only 30 grams. It [depends] on the natural structure of the body, of course.

Anna:
We do not use a general system of parameters, when a certain number is subtracted from height and the desired weight is obtained. This is determined individually for each athlete.

Tsiskaridze: By and large, the weight of boys should be calculated as their height minus 110, and the weight of girls - as their height minus 120. This is in the general case. But, of course, for those who do elements like Anna - the lighter you are, the easier it is for you to jump, land, and so on..
Wait so they just have an uneducated guesstimate by a coach who knows nothing to determine their "ideal' weight? I guess it tracks with Eteri, but this is just insane... Especially given that your height minus 120 is always going to come out underweight. And the shorter you are, the more underweight you'll be expected to be. For instance, a skater who is 5' tall (probably around a lot of Eteri skaters heights) would be expected to be 71 lbs by this formula - or a BMI of 14. That's eating disorder inpatient ER now ranges. And then they're expected to try to be even lighter than that formula?
 

Rukia

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bmi is kind of trash in many instances though. Would you try to tell my perfectly healthy son he can't compete because his bmi is 14 (and it actually is I just checked)? He eats great and probably better food than most teenagers lol (he genuinely loves vegetables), but that's just how his body is. I think the whole thing requires a culture change. We need to stop trying to say there's some sort of ideal body for the sport and instead look to allow each athlete to maximize their skills in a healthy way. That's not easy to do though.
 

canbelto

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Willin

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@Rukia For kids sure, some kids are just super skinny. But the implication of this article is that this is the standard even for skaters going through puberty (who will naturally gain fat/muscle and therefore weight) and those who are adults (for whom BMI - especially BMI at such extremes as 16.5 and under - is a much more accurate predictor than you're giving it credit for.

Is it perfect? Of course not - especially in the overweight and the very low end of the obese portion. But is it better than some random uneducated guess by someone with no nutritional training? Of course, or it wouldn't be used as a measure of nutritional status in those who are underweight. I see it used every day at work to help gauge ability to survive/get surgery in obese and underweight patients, to monitor those with cancer/GI disorders, and to assess severity of anorexia. Anything under 16 or 17 tends to raise red flags... Of course it's not the only measure they use (muscle amount, fat amount, caloric intake, etc are also used), but if it had no merit no one would use it.
 

bladesofgorey

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Eteri's camps enforced limiting access to food for children as young as 9 in order to maintain an unnaturally low weight. (And started weighing them daily for at least a couple years before then). According to Anna in this interview she didn't actually start puberty until years later than normal, either due to starvation or drugs or both.

There are always going to be some BMI outliers (usually on the high BMI end, unless they are children and/or have other medical issues that cause them to be unable to maintain a weight at least near the healthy low range) but it's not like it's hokum. Some people (not you Rukia) loved to talk about how Anna was just naturally that thin and it was genetics, and that her build proved that these skaters in Eteri's camps were simply "blessed" to be underweight to a degree that they might need emergency medical interventions in most other countries, ergo BMI "doesn't apply to athletes".

For a number of years I knew a wildly successful Division I coach who also trained a stable of post-collegiate professional distance runners. His athletes (male and female) made world and olympic teams, won major marathons, and were national record holders. He refused to let his athletes train or race if they dipped more than about .5 to 1 point below the BMI tables (he didn't weight them, but he'd ask team trainers once someone started looking thinner than normal). He would not recruit high school stand-outs if they appeared suspiciously underweight, and he'd redshirt anyone with an eating disorder of any kind until they'd had full medical clearance and had recovered to a more normal weight. And this was for distance running where extra weight does have a direct influence to a larger degree on performance. His collegiate team dominated for many years, and they were strong, not fragile. Did some of his athletes still develop eating disorders? Yes, because competitive athletes are prone to them, but he made sure the environment he fostered made the conditions far less likely because he actually cared about his runners as human beings first.
 

canbelto

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This is very fvcked up, in case there are any impressionable young skaters reading this board who come across this post. Just so you know:

This is not normal, it's deeply sick, and not something to be emulated.

I'm not saying it's right. I'm saying it's a common belief among Russian coaches. It wouldn't vary that much by coach necessarily. Like Angelika Krylova and even Russian coaches in the US subscribe to this belief about weight.
 

Ananas Astra

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I actually know someone who used to skate in "Holiday on Ice" for a long time and then was working behind the scenes. And he told me that even at HoI they had weight checks every other day and whenever someone had gained "too much" weight they were told to lose it ASAP. So yes, not only a purely Russian "custom".
 

SidelineSkater

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I find it troubling that some people like to shift the blame - 'but other people do it too'. Rather than focusing on the fact the interview came from Anna, a Russian, from one of the more notorious training groups.

From the number of broken bones, injuries and other issues coming out of that camp, it's pretty alarming when you think about it over the years.

At the 2019 SKAM, I was sitting with an ER doctor, and asked her what she thought of Anna's performance. She said, the costume change was dramatic, but not as much as how malnourished she looks.

Julia L also talked about only being allowed to drink liquid meals during the 2014 Olympics and had limited water.
 

Hedwig

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yes, I agree. It does not help to sidestep the issue with other discussions. But it is long past time that the ISU does something to adress the problem which is the worst kept secret of all bad secrets in sports. We need to do something to stop this constant and over all countries spanning malnourishing of skaters - BMI might not be the best way to do this but it might be better than doing nothing.
 

On My Own

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Rather than focusing on the fact the interview came from Anna, a Russian, from one of the more notorious training groups.
While I agree the interview comes from Anna, the 'other people could be doing it too due to culture/directions' from me is to point out that someone like Eteri is merely a shill doing the work she needs to do to deliver results. If you kick her out, she'll be replaced by someone who does everything she does, but will probably smile fakely at the camera while doing it so fewer people are suspicious.

Don't expect her to be replaced by the American distance running coach described earlier.
 

canbelto

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I find it troubling that some people like to shift the blame - 'but other people do it too'. Rather than focusing on the fact the interview came from Anna, a Russian, from one of the more notorious training groups.

The "other people do it too" is just to point out that body shaming and disordered eating in figure skating are way more widespread than one coach, and that Russian coaches and teachers are notorious for sticking to their idea of "perfect weight."

Harsh coaching becomes a cycle too. Like Aljona Savchenko complained about the harsh coaching and weight shaming she experienced, but apparently became even harsher when she coached herself.

Eteri is not alone about weight. Her problems that DO seem unique to her are her jump technique teaching which does seem to have an expiration date, feuding in the press with teenaged former students, and extreme doping.
 

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