August 20, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) Olympic figure skating champion Adelina Sotnikova has a simple message: I'm back.

Since her triumph in Sochi last year, the Russian has experienced both a season-ending ankle injury and a swift rise to celebrity status, including a run to second place on the Russian version of ''Dancing With The Stars.''

As the new skating season approaches, Sotnikova says she is putting both the physiotherapist's room and the dance floor behind her to focus on what she does best.

''I want to skate,'' she said Thursday. ''Just to skate and compete as usual.''

For now, building up fitness is Sotnikova's main concern after 18 months away from elite competition. ''We've laid the foundations,'' her coach Elena Vodorezova said. ''It's early to talk about 100 per cent readiness but we're going to try.''

The 19-year-old skater is planning a slow return. She is not scheduled to compete in Grand Prix events this fall. Instead, her comeback will start at a small-scale Russian domestic competition in the provincial city of Samara before the invitational Japan Open and another Russian event. With the European and world championships not until next year, she has time to recover her form.

Sotnikova's injury problems mean she has only skated in one minor competition since beating South Korea's much-favored Yuna Kim to Olympic gold in Sochi in February 2014. That result surprised many observers and prompted calls from South Korean officials for an investigation into the judging. While Sotnikova was injured, fellow Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva stole the limelight by winning the world championship in March.

At her training facility in Moscow on Thursday, Sotnikova performed parts of her free skate and her new Latin American-themed short program, including the triple lutz and triple flip jumps that will be key tests of her ability to challenge Tuktamysheva in the coming season.

Afterward, Sotnikova was reticent when speaking with journalists. The one subject that sparked her interest was the free program that she was unable to perform last season due to injury. Set to the passionate and mournful song ''Je suis malade'' by Belgian-Canadian singer Lara Fabian, it has caught the Olympic champion's imagination. ''You can't skate to it without feeling the emotions,'' she said.

Also returning for Russia this season are Olympic pairs champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who missed last season due to a shoulder injury for Trankov. After celebrating their wedding Sunday, they come back to the Grand Prix circuit with Indian and Dracula-themed programs.

Veteran star Evgeny Plushenko is also on the Russian team for the upcoming season, although the two-time Olympic gold medalist remains affected by injuries and has not skated competitively since the Sochi Olympics.

The first Grand Prix, Skate America, starts in Milwaukee on Oct. 23.

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