For the first time ever, Cyprus will take part in a Winter Olympics with a skater. SARA DOUEDARI meets a 16-year-old pushing winter sports to new levels

Despite facing unique challenges, including the absence of a suitable ice rink in Cyprus, Stefania Yakovleva has shown immense resilience and passion for her sport, and will this week become the island’s first participant in an Olympic event on ice, representing the island on the global stage.

featrue2 3Ten days ago the 4th Winter Youth Olympic Games opened at the PyeongChang Dome in South Korea. And, for the first time ever, Cyprus will take part with athletes from two disciplines, Skiing and Skating. The Games will conclude on February 1, encompassing a programme that features 15 sports and 81 events. Stefania will compete in the junior women’s singles short programme today and in the free skating event on Tuesday. “Figure skating is more than a sport to me; it’s a way to express my emotions and tell my stories,” she says.

Her journey, however, has not been without sacrifices. Living away from her family and balancing rigorous training sessions with academic commitments as a remote student has been a challenging but rewarding experience. “It’s tough, but every moment spent on the ice brings me closer to my dreams”.

Despite her sacrifices, she isn’t alone. Though not widely recognised for its ice skating expertise, Cyprus is home to a small yet talented group of skaters. Among them are three young girls, all competing internationally, who share her dream, albeit at a different stage in their journey. The island also boasts a senior ice dance couple and another senior female skater, all making their mark in competitions abroad.

Stefania has been dedicated to the sport from a young age, displaying an impressive blend of technical skill and artistic flair. Despite this, it came as a shock to find out she would be heading to South Korea. “I did quite well, me and my coach were satisfied with my performances, but still at the first moment, I could not even imagine that I had qualified. I was thinking it’s not enough because the level of world championship is so high,” she says.

Born in St Petersburg in 2007, Stefania faced a significant shift in her life when her family moved to Cyprus in 2017. This relocation posed a unique challenge: Cyprus lacked a proper facility for ice skating. Undeterred, Stefania made a bold decision at the age of 14 to move to Dubai with her coaches to train under expert guidance.

Stefania and her parents all hold Cypriot passports. Her family, deeply rooted on the island, where they live and work, has been a pillar of support in her journey. Their choice of the island as a place to settle was reflected in Stefania’s choice of Cyprus as the country she would represent in the competitive arena of figure skating.

And Stefania still calls Cyprus her home despite her training, studies and international competitions meaning she’s often away. This tight schedule limits her time on the island, but she cherishes the moments she does spend here.

feature2 2Her commitment to the sport soon began to pay dividends. Stefania’s performances at international competitions started turning heads, establishing her as a promising talent in the figure skating world. Her most notable achievement came in 2023 at the World Championships in Toronto, where she qualified for the Youth Olympics in Gangwong, a historic first for Cyprus. “Qualifying for the Youth Olympics was an indescribable feeling. It was a culmination of years of hard work and dedication”.

But the lack of an ice rink was not the only obstacle. Stefania had to overcome a serious injury and navigate the unprecedented disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic. These obstacles tested her resolve but also solidified her resilience. “There were moments of doubt and pain, but my belief in my dream and the support from my loved ones kept me going,” she says, expressing gratitude to her family, coaches and the Cyprus Skating Federation for their support. “Their support has been so important in my journey. I owe my achievements to their belief in me”.

feature2 4As Stefania prepared for the Youth Olympics, her training regime intensified. Her coach Sergi Komolov, commends her discipline and dedication: “Stefania is a rare talent. Her commitment to the sport and ability to overcome adversities are exceptional. She’s destined for great heights.”

Looking beyond the Youth Olympics, Stefania is setting her sights on the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan. “The Youth Olympics is an important step, but Milan is my ultimate target. It’s where I want to achieve my best,” she adds.

Stefania’s achievements have had a significant impact in Cyprus, inspiring young athletes in a sunny Mediterranean country not known for winter sports. “Stefania’s journey proves that with enough passion and hard work, barriers can be broken, and dreams can be achieved,” says a Cyprus Olympic Committee spokesman.

For more follow @_superstefa_ on Instagram