“It just happened,” laughs the 20-year-old from St. Petersburg. “I was doing Figure Skating a lot when I was younger and I don’t think I was that good – but I was quite fast. I thought that it would be good to try something different, and there was Short Track on the same rink, so I gave that a go.
“I didn’t really like it so much at first. It was difficult to adapt. But then I was winning and started getting some junior medals, and winning felt nice. I came to like Short Track a lot, the more I understood about it and the better I got.” Prosvirnova’s natural speed, willingness to learn and fighting spirit soon caught the eyes of Russia’s coaches.
Within two years of taking up the sport, she was on the junior national team, and, aged just 16, she made the Olympic squad for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games – competing in the 500m and 1000m, and bagging a respectable fourth place as part of the 3000m Ladies’ relay team.
“I was so young when I skated at Sochi, I didn’t really understand what was going on,” she admits. “But it was incredible, so difficult to put into words. With the next Olympics being in China, in Beijing 2022, it’s a long way off, and I’m not sure if I’ll make it. Nobody can know that yet. But to have been to PyeongChang too, and do two Olympics at the age of 20, that’s not bad.”
Those who have charted her rise will be surprised not to see her in action in four years’ time. Prosvirnova set a junior 500m world record at the 2014 World Junior Championships in Erzurum, Turkey, and first showed that she could mix it with the seniors with an impressive gold medal in the 1000m at the 2015 ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Dordrecht, Netherlands.
Those wins have been backed up with further European Championships golds in Turin (2017, 1000m) and Dresden (2018, 3000m Super Final), and – most impressively – a silver medal in the 1000m at the 2018 Montreal ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships. Prosvirnova looks like a skater on the verge of something big.
Her enthusiasm is surely a big part of it: after initially not knowing what to make of the sport, she is now a huge fan of the discipline’s thrills, spills and tactics. “I love the speed, I love being out there and competing,” she says.
“The competition element is really good. You always get a hard race in Short Track. It’s also a very unpredictable sport, you don’t get the same people winning every time, you don’t know who is going to win and there are always lots of different factors affecting each race. I like that a lot. Everyone has a good chance on the day.
“And I like the crowds a lot. There are always good exciting atmospheres in Short Track. You have to love it when people are cheering for you.”
Prosvirnova combines her sporting career with study at the Lesgaft National State University of Physical Education, Sport and Health, St. Petersburg. It’s a tough combination, as skating often takes her away from family and friends.
“When I train back in Russia, we are in Moscow at a special camp, so it’s not often I can get home,” she says. “I love my family so much and miss them all the time. But my family support me very well, as do my coaches. I’m grateful for this opportunity to skate and I have such a great team to train with. Without them, I wouldn’t be succeeding.
“I’m really inspired by team-mates like Viktor An. Having the opportunity to train with him on the same ice is fantastic – he is an incredible skater.”
Prosvirnova didn’t have the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games she was hoping for: she got to the B final of the Ladies’ 500m, and Ladies’ 3000m relay, but no A finals.
She certainly has the talent and youth to make it to plenty of future big races, though. For now, she’s just taking it one day at a time. “I don’t know what I will do with my life when I’m not a skater. I ask myself this question every day,” she says. “I don’t have much time to think about anything apart from skating and school at the moment.
During her spare moment Sofia Prosvirnova takes time out to enjoy other pleasures and hobbies: “I love snowboarding and I like to watch comedies, horrors and cartoons – and improve my English skills. But I’m really shy, and so it’s mainly just about skating. I sharpen my skates every day.” Just like her skates, her skills are being sharpened daily and she intends on being a fierce competitor in the upcoming season.
Check out the ISU Short Track Skating 2018 video: