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2021 World Championships, Ladies Short Program

by Liz Leamy and George Rossano

Shcherbakova Takes First in World Ladies Short Program Showdown with Stellar Skate

by Liz Leamy and George Rossano

Photo by Robin Ritoss

Anna Shcherbakova the three-time 16-year-old Russian National champion,  skated a stunning program in the first segment of the 2021 World Championship ladies event in Stockholm to take a solid lead among the formidable 37-entry field with an impressive 81.00 points.

Knocking out a triple Lutz-triple loop and triple flip that were easily more than 18-plus feet in rink length, among other exceptional things, Shcherbakova racked up a 43.86 technical score and a 37.14 for her components and catapulted to the top of the leader board.

Donned in a deep-sea blue long-sleeved dress, Shcherbakova skated to music by Jules Massenet (as interpreted by Joshua Bell) with tremendous power, flow and command and reeled off all of her required jumps and spins, along with her footwork with the expertise and confidence of a seasoned international champion.

Shcherbakova, who trains in Moscow with Eteri Tutberidze, Sergei Dudakov and Daniil Gleikhengauz, looked calm and assured throughout the entire of the program, which was also highlighted by a gorgeous Biellmann spin of which she entered from a lengthy one-footed (right foot) series of intricate steps and turns as well as a soaring double Axel taken from a nice spiral entry.

This program was described by Johnny Weir, the 2008 World bronze medalist and three-time U.S. champion on NBC, as “mature and brilliant and everything it was supposed to be,” indicating much of the reason why Shcherbakova has soared to the pinnacle of the sport at such lightning-fast speed. In 2019, she was the silver medalist at the World Junior Championships.

For Shcherbakova, who first captured worldwide attention back in 2019 with her memorable ‘Firebird’ short program on the International Skating Union Championship Grand Prix circuit in which she famously ‘transformed’ her dress from a blue to red color midway through, it’s all about just being able to have an opportunity to compete at such a big event like this one again during this challenging pandemic period.

“I’m very happy the World Championships were not cancelled,” said Shcherbakova. “We are here and can compete.”

Going into Friday’s free skate, Shcherbakova said she is looking forward to having a day to prepare for the next segment of competition.

“Tomorrow we’ll just have a training day to have rest and to think more about [the] free skate and get concentrated for [the] free program, she said.

Rika Kihira, the two-time Japanese titlist known for her incredible arsenal of jumps earned the second-highest scores in this showdown (79.08) for her compelling short program to ‘The Fire Within’ by Jennifer Thomas.

Racking up a 43.68 for her technical elements and 35.40 (8.85 average) for her components, Kihara did a huge triple Lutz during the second half of her program, as well as some lovely spins and a triple Axel, for which she was given a ‘q,’ meaning she landed the jump exactly with a quarter turn or missing rotation.  She also received the ‘q’ for the triple toe on the back end of her triple flip combination.  Solo triple Lutz was clean.

Dressed in a theatrical black dress with fire-engine red beadwork accents, Kihara’s program, designed by Benoit Richard, also featured a one-handed cartwheel, as well as high-octane skating throughout.  It was a strong and committed skate throughout.

This accomplished 18-year-old, who works with Stephane Lambiel, the 2006 Swiss Olympic silver medalist as well as Mie Hamada, also said she was delighted at the prospect of having the opportunity to compete at this World Championships.

“I tried to do my best and am very happy to have the opportunity [to be] here,” said Kihara. “It was a very long time since the last championships."

Elizaveta Tuktamsheva, the 2015 Russian World Champion, clinched third with the highest technical score of the segment (44.39) to generate a 78.86 segment total.

Wearing a striking black dress, Tuktamsheva opened this firecracker of a program to ‘Lovely’ by Billie Elish and Khalid with a rock-solid triple Axel and followed it up with a soaring triple Lutz-triple toe loop (for which she earned 10.10 total) and triple flip.

This high-energy 24 year-old, who trains with the iconic Alexei Mishin in St. Petersburg, skated the entire program with attack, confidence and power, which was especially moving to watch, considering there has been so much attention given to the Russian teenagers on the top-level international circuit over the past number of years.

For Tuktamesheva, it’s all about doing her job at this event.

“I had only one thing, to compete and do my program. When I landed the triple flip and my jumps were done, I was like ‘yeah,’” said Tuktamesheva. “I was so happy and was just enjoying the moment.”

Skating first in the penultimate warm-up group, she landed the first of two triple Axels in the segment, and the only clean one.  She also landed triple Lutz – triple toe loop and triple flip.  Her step sequence at level 3 was her only leveled element that did not reach level 4.

After her skate she said, “It's been long since I've been to Worlds and Europeans so it meant even more for me to do a clean skate. Raising my fist at the end of the program - it was my best skate this season and am thrilled it happened here at worlds. … The triple Axel right now is in a good working condition, I worked on it a lot, I knew there was still the whole program to come and I was only feeling relieved after the triple flip when all the jumps were behind me.  …  Considering the confidence and consistency guess am indeed better. I was rewatching my winning programs and I am thrilled you have seen not just the consistency and confidence, but I can see the difference in myself between 2015 and now and it's important for me to move on and not stagnate.”

Karen Chen, the 2017 U.S. titlist and three-time U.S. bronze medalist, secured the fourth position with a solid 74.40.

Skating in a gorgeous silver-colored dress, Chen skated with attack and energy, executing such memorable elements as a soaring triple Lutz-triple toe loop, triple loop and double Axel with visible confidence, acumen and strength.

The 21 year-old Fremont, California native earned high component scores as well for her poignant program to Katy Perry’s ‘Rise,’ choreographed by Drew Meekins.

Chen works with coach Tammy Gambill.

Karen Chen was the first U.S. skater to take the ice on Wednesday afternoon, earning a personal-best score of 74.40.  Chen, who is returning to the World Championships for the first time since finishing fourth at the 2017 Championships in Helsinki, skated a clean program, landing three jumps, including an opening triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. She received Level 4 calls with GoEs of three or better on the leveled elements.

“I’m really happy with how my performance went,” Chen said. “I gave it my all. I definitely felt like the opening combination could have been better since I’ve been nailing it in practice, so it’s a bit disappointing to not be perfect. Overall, though, I’m happy with the cohesive performance and what I was able to give today."

It was a solid skate with good speed and attack, though marked a bit lower in Transitions among the components.

Bradie Tennell placed seventh, earning a score of 69.87 points. Tennell doubled the toe loop on the end of a planned triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, but otherwise skated a solid program.

“I think my timing was just a bit off,” Tennell said of the combination. “It's very strange because my (triple) Lutz combo is one of my most solid jumps so I'm pretty disappointed with that skate. I've been skating a clean short program every single day since [U.S. Championships], so to come here and put out a program like that is very surprising to me and I'm pretty unhappy with it, actually. I think I really let myself down there.”

Tennell skated in the last warm-up among the top contenders.  She landed the triple Lutz short one-quarter rotation and the double Axel and triple flip cleanly.  The leveled elements were all called level 4 and received good GoEs.  Her components averaged 8.54 compared to 9.29 for the leader.