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2016 Rostelecom Cup

Moscow, Russia

by Tatjana Flade

Russia not as dominant as in past years

Rostelecom Cup in Moscow was the third event of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series for 2016 & 17 and thus some of the medalists qualified for the Final or at least have a very good chance. Russian skaters were not as dominant as in some previous years, however the host country still got five out of twelve medals: gold and silver in the Ladies, gold in Ice Dance, silver and bronze in the Pairs event. But the competition showed also that the Ladies are still Russia’s top discipline and the only one that almost guarantees medals and victories.

The event moved back to the modern Megasport ice rink, that had been closed the past three years for renovations as the construction of a new metro line led to structural problems of the building. The metro station right next to Megasport is supposed to open next year. Rostelecom Cup, which is formerly known and by many still referred to as “Cup of Russia,” was very well attended with overall 30,400 spectators on the three days. On Saturday alone 9,900 fans came to watch the free skating. Megasport is a much friendlier and more convenient building than the old Luzhniki Hall that served as the venue before Megasport was built and during its renovation.

Golden comeback for Russia’s Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev

Compared to their dominance in the past, Russian ice dance is in a crisis these days. Instead of having two teams that fight for gold and silver, they have been on the World podium only once since 2009 when Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev got the bronze in 2013. Oksana Domnina & Maxim Shabalin won Russia’s last World Ice Dance title back in 2009.

 Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov had huge potential and took Olympic bronze in Sochi, but then split up and so far have not been as successful with their new partners. Meanwhile, Bobrova &  Soloviev are seasoned competitors and usually very consistent, but they faced serious challenges in their career.

First they missed the entire 2014 & 15 season as Soloviev recovered from a knee injury, then they fought their way back into the top group of dance teams only to miss Worlds for the third consecutive time since 2013 when Bobrova tested positive at the European Championships 2016 for a banned substance. She was cleared later, but Worlds had taken place without them and the other two Russian couples had finished 9th (Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov) and 10th (Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin). As a result, Russia didn’t get a third dance spot back.

Now Bobrova & Soloviev nurture the hope that they are competitive with the World’s best teams by winning Rostelecom Cup. The Muscovites had not competed at their home Grand Prix since 2013, first because of Soloviev’s injury and then a year ago they were selected for two other Grand Prix events. “It feels so nice being back here, because at home the crowd support always helps a lot,” Bobrova said.

The 2013 European Champions turned in two strong performances and set new personal best scores in both short and free dance to accumulate 186.68 points. The couple picked up good levels, too, a level four for their lifts, twizzles and spin and a level three for their step sequences in the free dance to “Prelude No. 20” by Frederic Chopin and “Four Seasons” in an arrangement by Nigel Kennedy.

In the short dance to the Blues “Mercy on Me” and Swing “Sing Sing Sing,” Bobrova & Soloviev earned a level four for their lift, twizzles and Blues pattern. They trailed World bronze medalists Madison Chock & Evan Bates (USA) by just 0.12 points in the short dance and then overtook them in the free dance after Bates stumbled on the twizzles.

“But winning this event doesn’t yet mean anything. Right now, ice dance is extremely competitive and there are so many strong couples,” Bobrova said. “The programs make the difference.” This is very true. Bobrova & Soloviev had a little home advantage on their side, too. While their programs were really well skated, they are not as innovative as Chock & Bates’. But so far, the Americans weren’t really rewarded for that and the judges still seemed to prefer the more conservative styles other couples present. Plus, of course, at that level you cannot make such a big mistake as Bates did. In the short dance to the Blues “Bad to the Bone” and Hip Hop “Uptown Funk” the 2015 World silver medalists collected the same levels as did the Russians.

The free dance, to “Under Pressure,” choreographed by Christopher Dean, included four level-four elements, but the twizzles with the stumble merited only a level two. Chock & Bates were ranked third in the free dance and overall dropped to second at 182.13 points.

“Overall we have to take a lot of positives from this week and from the last two weeks having done our two Grand Prix in a row. Obviously I’m very disappointed to have made a such a big mistake in the twizzles in the free dance, which obviously cost us greatly in this competition,” Bates said. He added that they hopefully will make it to the Grand Prix Final with their two silver medals and that they want to look for redemption there.

Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje didn’t do any Challenger Series events as they used to, because they changed their short dance completely and also because they needed to adjust as they are now mostly working with Nikolai Morozov and switched training locations.

Their short dance to “The Way You Make Me Feel” (Blues) and “Dangerous” and “Jam” (Hip Hop) by Michael Jackson was an eye-catcher, especially the side by side footwork. But the 2015 World bronze medalists lost points for their twizzles that the technical panel rated a level two.

For the free dance, Weaver & Poje chose a style that suits them perfectly – passionate and romantic. Obviously, the music “Concierto de Aranjuez” has been heard many times, but the program looks fresh. This time, the Canadians had no trouble with levels and like the other top teams produced level-four lifts, twizzles and a level-four spin. They were second in the Free Dance, but overall remained in third place at 178.57 points.

“Andrew and I are feeling very satisfied with our performance today. This program really speaks to us, not only with the music, but with the theme and the story. We’re so happy to go into a story and a program that we feel is representative of our skating, our style. With our new location, new coach (Morozov), so many new things we feel very happy today that we could perform under pressure today,” Weaver said. The team stayed in Novogorsk near Moscow to train and wanted to go from Russia to China for their second Grand Prix directly.

Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri finished fourth like they had a Skate America (170.45 points). The Italians are strong technically and usually have no troubles with the levels. Both short dance (Blues “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” and Swing “Grease Lightning”) and free dance, “The Nutcracker,” were well executed. However, the classical ballet program is not such a good choice for Guignard & Fabbri as they are not tall and do not have the classical look of other teams. To put it short, this program does not play to their strengths.

Tiffany Zahorski & Jonathan Guerreiro of Russia came fifth at 156.95 points. Their short dance was solid, but the side by side footwork and the partial step sequence garnered only a level two.

In the free dance to “Bohemian Rhapsody” (last year’s program which they decided to keep as they felt it suits them better than the new program they first did) Zahorski had a few wobbles in the circular steps and the spin and so the British born dancer and her Russian-Portuguese-Australian partner remained almost ten points below their personal and seasons best.

Elliana Pogrebinsky & Alex Benoit (USA) left a good impression in their second senior Grand Prix event and finished sixth with 153.92 points.

“Golden boy” Javier Fernandez means trouble for Shoma Uno

Javier Fernandez of Spain once more proved what an excellent competitor he is. Sitting in second after the short, trailing leader Shoma Uno of Japan by seven points, he came out, skating last and nailed his program to win.

In the short program, Fernandez landed a quad-triple toe combo, but he tripled the Salchow and had a shaky landing, while Uno hit a quadruple flip (that appeared under-rotated, but was recognized by the technical panel) with a touch down and quad toe-triple toe with a step out on the triple. The triple Axel however was excellent.  “I think it is possible to win, it depends on what the other skaters are doing and obviously I need to skate really well,” the Spaniard said after the short program.

Skating to “Trouble,” “Fever” and “Jailhouse Rock” performed by Elvis Presley, the two-time World Champion indeed meant trouble for his competitors and hit three quads (two Salchows, one toe) plus two triple Axels as well as four more triples. He only gave away two levels on his combination spin and one level on the footwork. The four-time European Champion rackedup 292.98 points.

“My performance today was really, really good. There are not many bad things I have to say. There are a few levels missing that we have to practice. I’m glad I fought through the program. When you fight you always have a reward, so this was the reward today,” Fernandez commented.

His strong performance came a bit unexpected for him and now he has to reset his mind for the Trophee de France in Paris next week. “I thought if my long program is not going so well here, I know what to do to make it better in France. Now my program was so good and I don’t even know what to think. I hope to do a better short and a really good free again (in Paris),” Javier pointed out.

He is a true golden boy, with an easy, genuine smile and a lot of patience for his mostly female fans. And he has a lot of fans in Russia. “I don’t know how often I competed a Cup of Russia and I also lived here for a year. I have quite a big support group here and with every year they become more and more,” he shared.

Skating to the two Piazzolla Tangos “Buenos Aires Hora Cero” and “Barada para un loco,” Uno opened with a quad flip and followed up with a quad toe and six more triples including two Axels, but he crashed on the second quad toe loop. The program is ambitious for him and the music not easy to skate to and obviously not as entertaining as Fernandez’ Elvis Presley medley.

With a total score of 285.07, Uno slipped to second. “Like my short, my free skating wasn’t quite perfect. I am not completely satisfied with today’s program,” the Japanese skater noted.

Irael’s Alexei Bychenko proved, with a well deserved bronze medal, that his silver from Europeans in the past season was not a fluke. The Ukrainian-born skater put out two solid programs, showing his fun side in the short to “Chambermaid Swing” and his more dramatic side in “Pagliacchi” in the long.

Bychenko landed overall three quad toes, three triple Axels and made no major error. He collected 255.52 points. At age 28, Bychenko won his first Grand Prix medal 20 years after Michael Shmerkin had won the last one for an Israeli single skater, a silver at Skate Canada. “I am proud to have done something for Israeli figure skating and hopefully there will be more medals,” the 2016 European silver medalist said.

Mikhail Kolyada is currently Russia’s big hope in the Men’s category as he finished fourth at Worlds 2016 with great jumps, good spins and strong presentation skills. So he was a top contender for the podium in Moscow and he did stand in third following the short thanks to an excellent quad-triple toe and triple Lutz.

The skater from St. Petersburg started strongly into his free skating with a quad toe loop, but lost steam in the last minute, falling on a triple Lutz, doubling a loop and singling an Axel. That was not enough to keep Bychenko at bay and Kolyada dropped to fourth.

Max Aaron was only ranked eighth in the short after he fell on his quad Salchow and had low levels on his spins. In his free program to “The Lion King” the former U.S. Champion hit all his jumps including two quad Salchows and two triple Axels to pull up to fifth with 235.58 points.

Elladj Balde of Canada risked no quad in the short, but went for one quad toe loop in the long, which he under-rotated.  He also under-rotated a triple Axel, but overall the impression was positive. Balde, who was born in Moscow to a Russian mother and Guinean father and speaks fluent Russian, placed sixth with 225.45 points. Always popular in shows, he was invited to the exhibition gala.

Golden Grand Prix debut for Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot

Aliona Savchenko is one of the most accomplished pair skaters of our time and nevertheless, after five world titles and two Olympic bronze medals with previous partner Robin Szolkowy, she decided to continue her career to have one probably last shot at that elusive Olympic gold medal. The Ukrainian-born skater, who had moved to Germany in spring 2003, had two potential partners on her mind, Frenchman Bruno Massot and Russian Alexander Enbert, when Szolkowy decided to retire from competing.

Enbert did not receive her message or just did not respond, Massot did. The Frenchman joined Savchenko in Germany in spring 2014. Now, two and a half years later, the pair debuted at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Moscow, twelve years after Aljona had competed in her first Grand Prix in Moscow with Robin Szolkowy. “I do not know how often I’ve been at Cup of Russia, even back then in St. Petersburg with my previous partner Stanislav Morozov,” Savchenko said.

Savchenko & Massot already had won a silver at Europeans and bronze at Worlds in the past season, but since Massot did not receive his release from France until late fall last year, they had no chance to compete on the Grand Prix.

The ice in Moscow which was so often a lucky place for the diminutive pair skater with the iron will, did not look like that at the beginning as the team had a rough short program. They fell both on the side by side triple Salchow, something that never happened to them before, and stunned them, then they struggled with their lift as the material of Savchenko’s new costume turned out to be too slippery. The lift only got the base value and Savchenko also stumbled on the throw triple Axel.

The quality of their overall skating, the triple twist and the interpretation and choreography of their routine to “That Man” by Caro Emerald kept the German pair in second place, close behind Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert of Russia.

Savchenko & Massot improved a lot in their long program to “Lighthouse” by Patrick Watson, even though they still made some mistakes. The triple twist, side by side triple toe, the lift, spins and death spiral were excellent. Savchenko popped the throw triple Axel into a double, but there was a reason for it. “I got into a rut on the ice on the take off and I had such a lean in the air that I had to open the Axel. If I had done a triple, I would have fallen badly,” Savchenko explained.

The team from Oberstdorf also went for the throw quad Salchow for the first time in competition, as the last element, but Savchenko fell. Nevertheless it was a good attempt. “She landed on one foot and rotated, but she couldn’t hold the landing,” Massot analyzed.

Savchenko & Massot had no problem in overtaking Zabiiako & Enbert and won their first Grand Prix gold with 207.89 points. “Today was better than yesterday, we made a little progress. Not everything was a 100 percent yet, but we are improving step by step our result. We had prepared the throw quad Salchow at home and we decided to include it into the program here,” Savchenko noted. The huge potential of both programs was obvious in spite of the mistakes. If the German couple skates clean, they will be hard to beat – technically and also artistically.

Zabiiako & Enbert have been skating together since spring 2015 and were already fifth in their debut at 2016 Russian Nationals. In the off season, Natalia suffered a severe injury while practicing a throw triple Axel, but luckily she is recovered now. They are a promising team and train in Nina Mozer’s school under Mozer, Vladislav Zhovnirski and also Robin Szolkowy.

Their short program to “The Snowstorm” suits their classical, very “Russian” style of skating and they turned in a clean performance. Their long program to “Cry Me a River” went also very well, the only major mistake came when she missed the take-off for the triple Salchow while he executed the jump, but fell. The Estonian-born Zabiiako and her partner from St. Petersburg still achieved a new personal best score and claimed the silver, their first Grand Prix medal, with 197.77 points.

“There was serious error on the Salchow. We did a double Salchow before in competition, now we went for the triple, we did it in practice. It didn’t work in competition today, but we know we can do it,” Enbert said.

With their performances and result, Zabiiako & Enbert have established themselves as serious contenders for the Russian team at Europeans and Worlds and want to follow up with another strong performance at Trophee de France in Paris.

Russians Kristina Astakhova & Alexei Rogonov are known for expressive and original programs and did not disappoint again. In the short to music from “Paganini vs Garrett” she under-rotated the side by side triple Salchow and the duo stood in fourth place.

In their long, which is the continuation of last year’s program “The Doll,” the solo jumps again were difficult for the Muscovites. Their side by side triple loop was not clean, but at least fully rotated, and she doubled the Salchow. The throws were strong, but the last lift was shaky. It was still enough to overtake Valentina Marchei & Ondrej Hotarek of Italy and to secure the bronze with 188.74 points. “To skate at home helped us. Too bad for the errors on the jumps, we can do them in training,” Rogonov commented.

Marchei & Hotarek had struggled at Skate America, but looked stronger this time. Their short program to “Seven Nation Army” was clean with a triple Salchow, triple twist and a somewhat shaky throw triple Lutz.

“We came here a few days earlier and trained in Moscow. That gave us a big push. We’re happy that we were able to do what we can do in practice,” Hotarek commented.

They had a rough start into their long to “Skyfall” and “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” when Marchei fell on the exit of the triple twist and also on the triple toe. But the Italians recovered to complete all the other elements without further errors. Nevertheless they slipped to fourth place at 187.61 points.

Coming in, Skate America Champions Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau were expected to be the toughest competitors for Savchenko & Massot, but the Canadians disappointed and in the end finished fifth with 183.37 points.

In the short program, they fell on the side by side loop (which she doubled on top of that). Their “Cinema Paradiso” long program went better, with good lifts and spins, but he fell on the side by side triple Salchow and both throw triple flip (touch down) and throw triple loop (two-footed) were not completely clean.

Pogorilaya rises to the occasion to win gold

When Russia’s Anna Pogorilaya competed at the Rostelecom Cup two years ago, she was a top contender for the gold, but she struggled with the pressure and came second. This time it was different and the World bronze medalist put out two excellent, confident performances to claim the gold. Her triple-triple combinations were solid, she includes a triple Lutz-triple toe loop in both short and long and also a triple Lutz-single loop-triple Salchow in the long.

The short is an elegant Tango to “Scent of a Woman” while the long, set to “The Modigliani Suite” and “Memorial” is a “tragic love story,” as the skater said. She always stands out with beautiful costumes (and off the ice as well shows up in very tasteful outfits.

Anna remains a bit in the shadow of the much-talked about the “wondergirls” such as Julia Lipnitskaia, Elena Radionova and now Evgenia Medvedeva, but she has beaten most of them in competition at least once, and at Worlds she came out to take the silver medal behind Medvedeva. So she might not be the “eternal number three” on the Russian team anymore.

Radionova had a tough start into the season as she fell ill with a bad cold during the test skates in September and needed time to recover. Therefore the two-time European silver medalist did not compete in any Challenger Series events this season and straight went to her first Grand Prix. Last year it was similar, there she also had to overcome some health problems.

Radionova looked not completely ready yet in Moscow, but she is on a good path. In the short to “Porgy and Bess,” choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne, Elena stepped out of the double Axel, but the other elements were fine. In her long to “Turandot,” choreographed by Nadezhda Kanaeva, the 2015 World bronze medalist landed five clean triples including a triple flip-triple toe loop that she threw in when her opening triple Lutz, meant to be in combination, wasn’t ideal.

However, Radionova fell on an under-rotated triple loop and was quite upset about it. The reigning European silver medalist earned 95.60 points overall. “I can’t say that I’m satisfied with my program, there was that regretful fall and some other small errors. But this was my first Grand Prix. I hope I can prepare well for my next Grand Prix in China,” the 17-year-old said.

American Courtney Hicks, step by step, becomes more consistent, and the results come with it. The American turned in two clean performances. She landed six triple jumps in her long to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and picked up a new personal best score with 119.30 points. The Californian totaled 182.98 points to pull up from sixth to take the second Grand Prix medal of her career.

“I was very pleased with how I skated. I thought I stayed with the program through the whole thing and I was really happy to go out and do two solid programs in this competition. It’s really the first time I felt I was able to put the jumps and the skating together,” Hicks told the post-event press conference.

Zijun Li of China came fourth with 181.83 points and had less problems with under-rotated jumps than in the past. There was only one under-rotated triple Salchow and double toe loop in her long program.

Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva took an unfortunate fall on the double Axel in the short program, but stood in fourth place. She lost her chances for the podium with some wobbles on stumbles on jumps in the free skating and dropped to fifth with 181.32 points.

Yura Matsuda of Japan is an interesting young skater from Japan that goes for the unusual combination double Axel-triple toe-triple loop in the free skating. However, the triple toe was under-rotated as was a triple Salchow. The Japanese placed sixth in her Grand Prix debut at 177.65 points.

There was some drama around Julia Lipnitskaia. The Russian star looked very good in practices and started with a strong short program into the competition. She was third in the short. But disaster struck in the long program.

Already during the warm up, Lipnitskaia apparently felt discomfort in her left leg and coach Alexei Urmanov massaged it. Then Julia opened her program to “Kill Bill” with a solid triple Lutz-double toe loop and a triple loop followed by a double Axel and (under-rotated) triple flip.

But when going into her next planned double Axel, she did just a hop, seemed to hesitate, then continued her program, popped the Lutz and finally stopped, obviously having trouble with her leg. After a short conversation with her coach she went over to the referee Diana Barbacci-Levy (SUI) who told her that she has three minutes to resume her program.

Lipnitskaia eventually did continue to the cheers of the audience, and even tried a double Axel, but fell. However, the Russian skater received a five-point deduction for Interruption in Excess and also had left out three elements so that she dropped to 12th and last. She could have withdrawn, of course, that would have been the easier solution, but she decided to finish her program.

Coach Alexei Urmanov told the press that Julia had felt numbness in her leg, but that they didn’t think about withdrawing as the problem did not appear to be so serious. Julia now will stay in Moscow for the next days to undergo a medical check up to find out the source of the problem and the right treatment for her.