Polina Edmunds Goes for Gold, Good Grades in Sochi

When Polina Edmunds isn’t performing triple Lutzes in the upcoming Olympic Winter Games, the champion figure skater will be reading about the Cold War and studying gene abnormalities for biology class.

The 15-year-old has asked her teachers at the top-ranked Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose for all her homework assignments so that she can complete them during the three weeks she’ll be skating in Sochi. She'll take to the ice to compete on Feb. 19 and 20.

And, if the past is any indication, Polina will return from the Olympics – perhaps with a medal in hand – and turn in her assignments and take her makeup quizzes without fanfare or ever asking for an extension.

“I definitely still have to do schoolwork,” Polina told NBC Bay Area before leaving for the Games. “I don’t know exactly how it’s going to work yet, but I’m probably going to be taking a lot of work with me and checking online when I’m there.”

Polina’s teachers want her to keep up with her studies, but they also realize that traveling to Russia – the birth country of her mother, who also doubles as her skating coach – is a teachable moment in itself.

 “I want her to find someone who speaks Spanish, an athlete, a coach or whoever and interview them,” said Leslie Zambo, Polina’s Spanish teacher. “I want her to come up with the questions and talk to the class about her experiences. Her classmates would just love it.”

The skater's U.S. history teacher,  Anthony Rojo, is also sending Polina off with readings on World War II and the Cold War, a topic that is sure to be of interest to her as her mother, Nina Edmunds, is a native of Tver, Russia.

Polina’s teachers said they would be lenient if the slight blonde skater with a wide, toothy grin and a quiet confidence needs extra more time to complete her assignments.

But she’s never been late or asked for special favors in the past, including when she juggled her coursework with major competitions in Japan, Belarus and Boston. Each time, she asked for her assignments before she left, checked the school’s online calendar on her iPad, downloaded the work, and taught herself the subject matter, all without a tutor or much of her parents’ help.

“She came back from Boston and I fully anticipated she would ask for an extension on her test,” Rojo said of the teen's recent silver medal performance in 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. “But she didn’t. She took the exam the next day and got a B. She is very responsible and diligent. She has never used skating as an excuse not to get her work in.”

Zambo added: “She simply has not missed a step. She’s really low-key and has asked for no special favors.”

Polina’s friend, Elliott Picone, 16, of Hollister, said Polina is dedicated and driven – both on the rink, where she has been since she was 20 months old – and off.

“She doesn’t go to a lot of social events,” Elliott said. “And people admire her for it. When she’s not on the rink, she spends a lot of time in the library.”

Elliott said despite the stress of competing on the world stage, Edmunds has never complained.

"Never. Not once," Elliot said. "She chooses the life she’s living. She just has so much drive.”

Another friend, Emma Chew, 15, of Saratoga, said she had no idea Polina was Olympic-bound until earlier this year.

“I thought it was just a hobby,” Emma said. “She’s very humble. She’ll talk about skating if you ask, but she never brags. I really have no idea how she does it.”

Polina is the third Olympian from Archbishop Mitty, a campus ranked in 2009 by Sports Illustrated as having the top athletic program in California and the third best in the country: Volleyball star Kerri Walsh and soccer champion Brandi Chastain also call the school their alma mater.  But, unlike Polina, they went to the Olympics after graduating.

“We draw people who are highly competitive,” Principal Tim Brosnan said. “And Polina’s such a nice kid, who handles the pressure well, without letting it go to her head.”

Polina’s mother, Nina Edmunds, studied at the Lesgaft Academy in St. Petersberg, Russia, and ended up marrying Polina’s father, John Edmunds, who was teaching English and business to Russian students in the early 1990s. The Edmunds also have two boys, James, 17, and Daniel, 11, both of whom are ice hockey players – a tribute to their maternal grandfather. 

John Edmunds,  CFO of Inphi Corp. in Santa Clara, said he tried to impart on all his children that school is important, and after the Olympics, "Polina will need a day job." He gave a lot of credit to his wife, who is "disciplined and organized" and always sets aside time for their daughter to study.

Polina is a regular kid, though Edmunds joked. It's not like his teenage daughter always "jumps right up" to do her homework. Sometimes, he acknowledged, it stacks up a bit.

Still, he said, the homework can often be a helpful diversion for Polina. That was the case in Boston, he said, when she took second place at the nationals and earned a spot on the Olympic team.

"The homework was good for her," her father said. "It kept her distracted from worrying about her skating programs in between events."

NBC Bay Area's Janelle Wang and Liza Meak contributed to this report.

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