Russian Figure Skating Shows Its Force at National Championships
Third title for Shcherbakova, Kolyada, Tarasova & Morozov and first one for Stepanova& Bukin
by Tatjana Flade
(8 January 2021) The Russian Figure Skating Championships are currently worldwide the national championships with the highest level as no other country boasts so much talent in all four disciplines. The 2021 Nationals, held over Christmas in Chelyabinsk in the Ural mountains, once again proved the overpowering dominance of Russian skating. The Russian Figure Skating Federation continues to hold their events in spite of the ongoing pandemic, which motivates their skaters and helps them to progress.
However, not all top skaters were able to compete or were in top form due to illness or injuries. The Corona pandemic has hit Russia hard and also the skating community. A lot of skaters have contracted the virus and reigning European Champions Dmitri liev, Alena Kostornaia and Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov missed Nationals because they were still not fully recovered or had not enough time to get in shape following their infection. 2020 European silver medalist Artur Danielian had to withdraw as he is coming off an ankle injury that kept him off the ice for months.
The National Championships were organized in an excellent manner and the anti-Covid-19 measures were reassuring. In addition to multiple disinfectant dispensers, air cleaning and filtering machines were installed in the press room, skating lounge and other rooms. The arena was filled up to 30 % capacity. Most, but not all people wore masks which was mandatory. All accredited persons needed to provide a negative Covid-19 test.
Shcherbakova victorious in the battle of the quads
Shortly before the ISU Grand Prix Rostelecom Cup Anna Shcherbakova came down with pneumonia which most likely was caused by a Covid-19 infection. How this delicate yet so strong-willed girl was able to muster the physical and mental strength to put out two clean programs with the highest degree of difficulty is just amazing. The European silver medalist took a narrow lead in her Short Program to “Oh doux printemps d’autrefois“ that featured a 2A, 3F and 3Lz-3Lo combination. Only her flying camel spin was wobbly. In her Free Skating to music by Philipp Glass, Panu Aaltio and the Piano Guys, the 16-year-old landed a 4Lz, 4F and seven triples including three triple-triple combinations. With total score of 264.10 points, Shcherbakova claimed her third consecutive title which is an achievement in itself considering the deep field in Russia.
“I am surprised I was able to skate my program the way I did considering the kind of preparation I had,” Shcherbakova said. “I focused on being able to do it. I remembered the best things I can do, put it all together and I went out with a cool head,” she added.
Both programs are very well done and showcase Anna’s strengths. She is a very smooth and musical skater.
Kamila Valieva was not less convincing in what was her debut at Russian Nationals at the senior level. She fell on the 3A in the Short Program, but all other elements were well done. The 14-year-old produced two quad toes and five clean triples in her “Bolero” routine. Some people criticize the choreography and choice of music, but the program is powerful and Kamila can pull it off. The 14-year-old shows off her impressive flexibility in her spins that get her lots of +4 and +5 Grade of Execution scores. “I am very pleased that I was able to debut at Russian Nationals and that I was able to skate clean long for the first time in this difficult season. I tried to stay calm and not to have any doubts and that worked out for me,” the World Junior Champion noted.
Everyone was curious how Alexandra Trusova would do after the disappointment at Rostelecom Cup that left her in fourth place after multiple falls. The European bronze medalist proved that she had learned from her mistakes and she did not go for as many different quads as possible as she is not able to train them properly due to an injury. Therefore, she also did not risk a 3A in the short. As a result, the 16-year-old delivered two clean programs with a 4Lz-3T and a solo 4Lz in the Free to “Romeo and Juliet”. It was questionable that she came fourth in the Short, but the judges gave Daria Usacheva and Valieva a bit more for the execution of the elements (although Usacheva had a stumble in her footwork).
“I don’t even remember when I skated two clean programs in competition for the last time,” Trusova commented. “Two quads in the free is very little for me and I will try to do more, but for today it was the most difficult content that I was able to do.” The ISU Grand Prix Final bronze medalist confirmed that she has an injury, but did not disclose the nature of her injury. Trusova moved up from fourth to third (246.37 points).
Fourteen-year old Usacheva debuted like Valieva at the senior level championships and is a student of Eteri Tutberidze and her team as well. She is another elegant skater, very pleasant to watch and has a lot of potential. She currently does all the regular triples. As the last to skate, she knew how well Trusova, Valieva and Shcherbakova had skated. “I never had seen before that the girls before me got so high scores one after the other. The audience was in shock, there were ovations and toys flying on the ice, it was like the competition was over, but I still had to concentrate,” the World Junior silver medalist shared. She slipped from third to fourth (230.56 points).
Maia Khromykh is another promising skater from Tutberidze’s school. She only missed her quad toe in the Free Skating (5. & 211.91). Lisa Nugumanova from St. Petersburg surprisingly finished sixth, because she finally did not struggle with under-rotations – only one loop was under-rotated in the Free (204.63).
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was not in top shape as she just recently recovered from a Covid-19 infection. She did not manage a clean triple Axel in her programs (7. & 204.25). There were also several other skaters that proved the deep field of Russian Ladies such as Ksenia Cibinova (8. & 203.56) and Maria Talalaikina (9. & 197.32). 2019 European Champion Sofia Samodurova made a few smaller errors (10. & 196.28).
Evgenia Medvedeva, who first was sidelined by a back injury and then was so sick with Covid-19 that she was hospitalized, had resumed light practice on December 8 and obviously was not ready for Nationals. She performed in the gala.
The level of the Russian Ladies is incredibly high and the three medalist at Nationals had an even higher element score in the Free Skating than the Men’s Champion. There are not many international Ladies that have a chance to beat the best Russians in competition.
Kolyada strikes again
Mikhail Kolyada celebrated his fourth consecutive victory following the Russian Cup event in Sochi, the Minsk Ice Star and the Grand Prix in Moscow. The 25-year-old seems to gain confidence with each competition and with the help of master coach Alexei Mishin has a much better control over his jumps and subsequently his nerves. He won with 30 points to spare in spite of some small errors. The Short to “Let’s Get Loud” was clean with a 4T-3T combo, and he only stumbled on a connecting step. The Free Skating to “Nureyev” from the movie “The White Crow” is already a classic and enchanted the audience again.
Since Kolyada caught a cold (rumors that said it was Covid-19 were not true) after the Grand Prix and missed some practice time the quad Salchow was not consistent enough and he did not risk it. However, the total of three quad toes were excellent and garnered many positive GOEs as did most of the other elements. Mikhail’s jumps look so light and easy and he is a joy to watch on the ice. The only glitch was that he stepped out of the first 3A in the Free and that he doubled the Salchow in the combination with the triple Lutz. Kolyada racked up 296.15 points.
“When I compare this Championship to the others, it is for sure one of the most meaningful as it is always difficult but also interesting to come back after a long break. To me it gets more and more interesting to test myself with each competition, to overcome the difficulties that each event has,” the 2018 World bronze medalist noted.
Makar Ignatov from St. Petersburg hit a nice quad loop in both programs, but quite a few other jumps were wobbly, especially in the Free to "Je suis malade“ so that he left a lot of points on the table. Nevertheless he did enough for his first medal at Russian Nationals. "After the Short (he stood in 2nd) I tried to chase away all thoughts about what to do and how to do it. I remembered last year when I was first after the Short and also had to skate last in the Free and I didn’t want the same thing to happen again (he slipped to fourth),” the 20-year-old shared (2. & 265.37).
However, the biggest surprise of the event was Muscovite Mark Kondratiuk who never even had made it to a Junior Grand Prix before. The 17-year-old had missed almost two full seasons because of knee problems (Osgood-Schlatter syndrome). But now he got into good shape and learned the quad toe and Salchow during the summer. He didn’t try the toe, but he landed all three quad Salchows in his programs. Kondratiuk was already surprised to be in third after the Short and overwhelmed when he claimed bronze in his debut at Nationals and ranked second in the Free Skating (260.31 points).
“When I saw my score, I didn’t think that I would be in the top three. The moment I realized it, I had mixed emotions – happiness and a certain relief,” he commented.
Andrei Mozalev was a medal hopeful, but the ISU World Junior Champion fell akwardly on the quad flip attempt that was downgraded in the Short Program. He landed the flip in the Free, but made costly mistakes on other jumps (4. & 252.92). Alexander Samarin was unable to train a lot as he had a back injury and then suffered from Covid-19. His quad attempts looked out of control with no realistic chance to land them (5. & 251.38). Anton Shulepov, the husband of Alena Leonova, delivered two clean and expressive programs without quads (6. & 249.89). He did not want to comment on rumors about his retirement.
Petr Gumennik, the Rostelecom Cup bronze medalist, suffered from back pain and was not at his best (7. & 247.47). Artem Kovalev, who trains in Evgeni Plushenko‘s school under Alexander Volkov, is another talented young skater (8. & 247.17). Evgeni Semenenko drew attention at the St. Petersburg Championships earlier in December when he landed three quads – loop, toeloop and Salchow – but he couldn’t deal with the pressure and and finished 11th after several errors.
The Russian men are stepping out of the shadow of the Ladies. Mikhail Kolyada finally starts to realize his huge potential and leads the charge of the Russian men. Dmitri Aliev when fully recovered will be a contender again and Mark Ignatov is developing in a positive way. Plus there is lot of talent among the next generation with Mozalev, Kondratiuk, Gumennik, Semenenko and others.
Tarasova & Morozov are back
Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov struggled with inconsistency and loss of confidence in the past two seasons. It looked like the younger teams such as Aleksandra Boikova & Dmitrii Kozlovskii have surpassed them. Now the two-time European Champions proved that they are back in the game. They took the lead with a powerful and precise Short Program to Ravel’s “Bolero” and defended their lead with a strong performance of their long program to a version Albinoni’s "Adagio“ with lyrics. They made just one major error – Tarasova went down on the throw triple Salchow in the Free. The two-time World silver medalists scored 228.23 points. Their performance deserves respect considering that Evgenia had missed two weeks of training as she caught Covid-19 and developed pneumonia.
“I feel great,” Tarasova assured. “We were in really good shape before Kazan (Russian Cup event) and so I was able to get back into shape quickly. We had a total of three weeks to prepare and everything was a bit extreme.”
Boikova & Kozlovskii had only one week of full practice before Nationals as she was sick with a cold. Their 3S and triple twist in the Short were excellent, but she stepped out of the throw triple flip. She repeated the same mistake in the Free to “James Bond” and her 3S was shaky, but everything else was strong (2. & 224.99).
“Obviously, we wanted to win. Today we fought for each element, for each second of our program. We didn’t have a real preparation and I am proud of my partner who was able to pull herself together in spite of the difficult circumstances and helped me to pull myself together so that we were able to give good performances,” Kozlovskii commented.
Daria Pavliuchenko & Denis Khodykin continued their positive development and turned in two nice performances. They stand out thanks to innovative lifts and transitions. She only under-rotated the side by side triple flip and touched down on the throw triple flip in the Free Skating to “S.O.S. d’un terrien en détresse” (3. & 221.39). "We are not pleased with all elements, but we were able to bring across our story,“ Khodykin said.
Anastasia Mishina & Alexander Galliamov did not perform at their best and made uncharacteristic errors. He popped the Salchow in the Short Programm while she did the same in the combination in the Free Skating. He also stumbled on the 3T and struggled with a lift. The 2019 ISU Grand Prix Final bronze medalists did not really have an explanation for what had happened (4 & 211.95).
ISU World Junior Champions Apollinaria Panfilova & Dmitry Rylov shone in the Short with the excellent pair elements but they only went for a 2A as the solo jump. They tried the 3S in the Free Skate, but it was unsuccessful – she landed forward and fell (5 & 207.03).
Jasmina Kadyrova & Ivan Balchenko are a promising team that has a triple flip in their arsenal (but she missed it in the Free Skate).
The Russian pairs certainly are on their way back to former glory. The top four teams can compete for World medals and there are some other young teams coming after them. All the best pairs competed at Nationals with the exception of ISU World Junior silver medalists Ksenia Akahanteva & Valeri Kolesov who had to withdraw due to him suffering from a foot injury.
Golden Comeback for Stepanova & Bukin
Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin competed in their first event this season as she first was injured and then they both caught Covid-19, but not at the same time. The multiple European medalists only came back to train fully about three weeks before Nationals, but they did not look rough around the edges. They were very nervous before the RD, but they hid it well. Dancing to “Cry Me a River“ interpreted by Justin Timberlake, they looked confident and were expressive. In both programs, Stepanova & Bukin collected mostly a level four for their elements and took their first national title with ten points to spare.
“We couldn’t wait to compete at Nationals. We are fed up with illnesses. After break of 11 months it felt like we were at a competition for the first time,” Bukin shared.
Tiffani Zagorski & Jonathan Guerreiro turned in two dances full of energy to "The Greatest Showman“ in the Rhythm Dance and "I’m a Survivor“ in the Free Dance. They, too, got very good levels for their elements. “Tiffany and I felt a huge support,” Guerreiro explained. “This music gives us energy and also to the audience and they give us energy back. We feel that our program is getting improving and we feel comfortable with it,” he added. The team from Moscow won their first silver medal at Nationals with 210.94 points.
Anastasia Skoptcova & Kirill Aleshin have now taken the next step and really look like a senior team. The 2018 World Junior Champions skated really well to “Bonnie and Clyde” and to “Never Tear Us Apart”. Their only error came when she was shaky on the twizzles in the Free Dance. The Muscovites that train together with Zagorski & Guerreiro took home bronze, which was their first medal at senior Nationals (196.97).
The teams ranked third to sixth were close in points and in ability. Sofia Shevchenko & Igor Eremenko gave solid performances as well to finish fourth (194.29).
Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva & Egor Bazin who have teamed up only this season, are left a good impression, but she stumbled on the twizzles in the Free Dance (5. & 192.68). Annabelle Morozov & Andrei Bagin lost all medal chances when they fell both in the Pattern Dance type step sequence in the Rhythm Dance. They came back strong in the Free Dance to “La Terra Rossa” and ranked third in the segment, but overall they only pulled up from seventh to sixth at 182.86 points.
Russian Nationals confirmed the current state of Ice Dance in the country. Sinitsina & Katsalapov, who were missing, and Stepanova & Bukin are the two top teams and Zagorski & Guerreiro have established themselves as the third team, but they are catching up. The younger teams have potential but they are still not yet at the level of the top three.
World team selection and further competitions
The Figure Skating Federation of Russia decided on their meeting to name only the new champions to the World team. The remaining spots – two for Ladies, Pairs and Dance plus one for the Men – will be determined later at the Russian Cup Final end of February. Valieva, Usacheva and Khromykh are not age eligible for Worlds anyway.
The Federation also plans additional competitions in February and March to keep their skaters motivated. "Some might criticize us, but we are doing everything to help figure skating in these difficult times,“ said general secretary Alexander Kogan. "If you really want it and do it the right way, it is possible to hold competitions under these conditions.“
Videos of Russian Nationals are available on YouTube (English commentary with Ted Barton) and on the website of the Russian Channel One (Russian commentary):