Looking at the Future of Figure Skating at Russian Junior Nationals
by Tatjana Flade
The ISU has cancelled the World Junior Championships due to the ongoing pandemic – the event should have taken place in Harbin, China, in March. However, the Russian Junior Championships that take place February 3 to 5 in Krasnoiarsk are not a bad replacement considering that Russian skaters had won eight out of 12 medals including three gold at the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Tallinn, Estonia, last March. The Russian juniors have shown a high level of skating again this season and they had more opportunities to compete in live events than almost everyone else. So you can expect an interesting competition and will get a glimpse of the future not only in Russian, but in international figure skating when you follow the event.
The "quad generation“
The girls are attracting most attention as they have done in the past few years. In Krasnoiarsk you’ll get to see the next generation of Russian ladies most of which are preparing to compete internationally next season (when this hopefully will be possible again). Some of these girls have landed quads and triple Axels in competition. For them, this is not anything special anymore.
“Many have mastered these jumps by now,” Sofia Samodelkina said. “Now I think it doesn’t create such a wow effect anymore, well you did it, you are improving, your rating gets higher, but it not ‘wow’. Maybe when someone does a program with six quads like Nathan Chen did, it will be a sensation,” the 13-year-old explained.
Samodelkina herself has included the triple Axel into her programs since last season and this season she started doing the quad Salchow and also the quad loop. “I really want to do all the quads, like Sasha Trusova,” Sofia, who trains with Sergei Davydov in Moscow, shared.
She is not the only one. There is another “starlet” coming out Eteri Tutberidze’s school, Sofia Akateva. She became the first Russian female skater to land a triple Axel and a quad (the toeloop) in one program earlier this season. Internationally, American Alysa Liu was the first one to accomplish this feat in fall 2019.
Veronika Zhilina, coached by Evgeni Plushenko, and Elizaveta Berestovskaia, another student of Davydov, have a quad in their arsenal and Veronika also has landed the triple Axel.
Beside these “quad princesses”, it is worth watching out for Adelia Petrosian, Sofia Muraveva, Anna Frolova, Ksenia Cibinova and Elizaveta Osokina. The top juniors from the past season, World Junior Champion Kamila Valieva, World Junior silver medalist Daria Usacheva and World junior competitor Maia Khromykh, are not competing in juniors this year. They all successfully debuted at the senior-level Nationals in December and Valieva and Usacheva will take part in the Russian team competition that is scheduled from February 5 to 7 in Moscow. Khromykh might come in as a substitute.
Unpredictable Junior Men
The Men’s event is probably the most unpredictable and several skaters have a shot at the podium.
While the attention is on the ladies, there is a new generation of talented male skaters coming up, but they are not as consistent as the ladies.
Evgeni Semenenko, a student of Tatiana and Alexei Mishin out of St. Petersburg did well at the Grand Prix in Moscow, won the fourth Russian Cup in Kazan and landed three different types of quads – toe, Salchow and loop – at the St. Petersburg City Championship. However, at Russian Nationals (senior level) Semenenko apparently crumbled under the self-imposed pressure and placed a disappointing 11th. Obviously, the athlete is aiming at a different result this week.
"I’ve been practicing the loop since last season,“ said Evgeni. “I did it last season, but then we decided not to do it in the program, because I already had two quads with the toe and the Salchow.”
Andrei Kutovoi, who is also from St. Petersburg, but coached by Veronika Daineko, doesn’t have quads in his arsenal yet, but he is a real artist on the ice and attracts with his artistry, emotion and the quality of his elements.
“I enjoy interacting with the audience,” Andrei commented. “This is one of the reason, why I like figure skating. I like to skate my program in front of an audience and I enjoy the crowd support, the nice feedback, the attention.”
Nevertheless, the skater does not forget about the technical aspect. “I need to do the (triple) Axel clean every time, but sometimes have under-rotations. I am working on all quads: Which one will be the first (to try in competition), will be a surprise.“
Ilia Yablokov is already experienced and competed at the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships 2020 where he came 10th. The Muscovite, a student of Viktoria Butsaeva (better known under her maiden name Volchkova) has mastered the quad toe. Artem Kovalev, also from Moscow, has the quad Salchow, but he has had some ups and down this season and ranked 8th at senior Nationals.
Nikolai Ugozhaev is another talented skater from St. Petersburg and trains together with Kutovoi. He is combining technical difficulty with strong skating and presentation skills. He has the triple Axel since a while and in practice has landed the quad Lutz – maybe we’ll see this jump in Krasnoiarsk.
Other to watch include Egor Rukhin, Andrei Anisimov, Vladislav Dikidzhi and Maxim Beliavski, who became famous for doing a quintuple toe loop on the harness. Two-time Junior Champion Daniil Samsonov who won bronze at the ISU Junior Final in 2019, enters his first competition this season after struggling with injury and it will be interesting to see what he can do.
Experienced Teams and Newcomers
The Russian Junior pairs have been dominating for a few years and took all three medals at Junior Worlds the past three years. Two reigning World Junior medalists are back this year with Ksenia Akhanteva & Valeri Kolesov from St. Petersburg and Julia Artemeva & Mikhail Nazarychev from Perm, but there are also interesting newcomers.
Akhanteva & Kolesov had to withdraw from Russian Nationals in December as he was injured, but they feel ready now. “We have been preparing for the Junior Championships since the beginning of January,” Kolesov noted. “As always we set the highest goals for ourselves, but the most important things are clean skating and a good mindset,” he added.
Artemeva & Nazarychev on the other hand competed at senior Nationals and ranked eighth.
Polina Kostiukovich & Alexi Briukhanov from St. Petersburg compete in their first season as a team, but they won their two Russian Cup events. Kostiukovich is a two-time World Junior medalist with former partner Dmitri Ialin in 2018 and 2019.
Muscovites Anastasia Mukkhortova & Dmitri Evgeniev are internationally unknown as they did not compete at the Junior Grand Prix, but they have shown some good results at the national level. Another interesting pair are Ekaterina Petushkova & Evgeni Malikov from St. Petersburg.
Ice Dance Duel to be Expected
The battle for the Ice Dance gold will most likely between Arina Ushakova & Maxim Nekrasov from Odintsovo and Muscovites Elizaveta Shanaeva & Devid Naryzhnyy. Both teams were World Junior bronze medalists – Ushakova & Nekrasov in 2018 and Shanaeva & Naryzhnyy in 2020. However, Ushakova & Nekrasov had missed some time in the past two seasons as Nekrasov had an injury and surgery. Shanaeva & Naryzhnyy on the other hand withdrew from the Russian Cup event in December as he was unwell.
2020 Youth Olympic Games Champions Irina Khavronina & Dario Chirizano that train together with Ushakova & Nekrasov under Alexei Gorshkov and Maxim Bolotin won two Russian Cup events and are serious podium contenders in Krasnoiarsk.
Muscovites Vasilisa Kaganovskaia & Valeri Angelopol and the only St. Petersburg dance team Sofia Aleksova & Ivan Vladimirov left a good impression earlier this season as well. The defending National bronze medalists Diana Davis (the daughter of famous coach Eteri Tutberidze) and Gleb Smolkin are not participating as she had broken her foot in the summer and took a long time to recover. The same happened to Sofia Tiutiunina & Alexander Shustitski more recently and they are obviously out, too.
The competition also will be streamed live on YouTube with English commentary by Ted Barton.