MOSCOW (AP) " Evgenia Medvedeva isn't your typical Russian figure skating champ.
Relaxed and chatty, with a passion for Internet memes, the 17-year-old wears her status as reigning world champion lightly ahead of this week's worlds. On the ice, she's formidably consistent.
Recent Russian stars have tended to burn brightly for a year, then struggle, but Medvedeva has gone from strength to strength since winning the world title last year.
Doubters "said it was a title for a single season but I'm happy that she's disproving them," her choreographer Ilya Averbukh told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "She set herself the big target of an Olympic medal next year and she treats every competition as a step on the road to the Olympics."
Medvedeva will be the first female singles skater to win back-to-back titles since Michelle Kwan of the U.S. in 2001 if she defends her title this week in Finland. She'd also avoid the fate of fellow Russians like Olympic gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova and 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who both slumped after big wins.
Averbukh credits tough competition in a training group which also includes newly crowned world junior champion Alina Zagitova, and a supportive family, for helping Medvedeva stay focused.
Medvedeva has kicked the social media habit in the weeks leading up to worlds. For a skater who otherwise thrives on live-blogging her favorite TV shows " even posting a picture dressed as a character from a Japanese anime series about skating " that's a signal of devotion.
Her free program showcases her emotional range, putting her in the character of a woman hearing the heartbreaking news of a loved one's death. The Russian youngster is also stretching her abilities, performing one more combination than needed at the European championships, and adding an extra triple jump at Russian nationals even though she knew it wouldn't be scored.
Medvedeva comes in on hot form to Wednesday's short program and Friday's free skate after setting a world-record total score of 229.71 points at the European championships in January, and will have plenty of Russian fans behind her in Helsinki. However, there are several talented skaters waiting to take the gold if Medvedeva slips.
This season, Russian Anna Pogorilaya finished second to Medvedeva at the European Championships respectively, while Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond must return to form following a fourth-place showing at last month's Four Continents Championship, and American veteran Ashley Wagner is struggling to match the skating that won her a world silver medal in 2016. One top skater won't be in Helsinki " Grand Prix finals silver medalist Satoko Miyahara of Japan has withdrawn with a hip injury.
Osmond says she's been focusing on psychological exercises after feeling disconnected during the free skate which dropped her out of the medal positions at Four Continents.
"If I feel that way in competition again where my feet don't feel like they're fully under me, or my head doesn't feel completely there, I can easily just switch it and bring myself back to the moment," she said last week. "I wanted a perfect skate and I almost became obsessed with the perfection ... Perfection is going to mess with my head, so we've been aiming toward excellence."
Wagner's had a mixed season, with victory at Skate America in October, but sixth place at the Cup of China a month later. That result "killed my momentum," she told reporters last week.
"I might be going in as the reigning world silver medalist, but at the same time I have to prove myself all over again," Wagner said last week. "I definitely have a huge task."
This year's world championships have the added spice of determining how many spots countries will receive for next year's Olympics, based on the positions of that country's two best skaters.
With the U.S. aiming for maximum participation, Wagner sees her role at her seventh career worlds as taking the heat off rookie teammates Karen Chen, the current U.S. champion, and Mariah Bell.
"We are sending two rookies in but I think that I have the experience," she said. "I've been on every variation of a worlds team that you can think of."
This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings