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2017 Rostelcom Cup

Russia and USA take two gold medals each at Rostelecom Cup

by Tatjana Flade

(6 Nov 2017)  The field at Rostelecom Cup was deep with two reigning world champions and the current world standing leaders in each discipline.  For the first time since 2011, Yuzuru Hanyu competed at the Russian Grand Prix and attracted as usual myriads of fans so that the Russians for the first time sold tickets for practice. More than 10,000 spectators flocked to the Megasport Arena on each of the competition days and created a great atmosphere. They witnessed some great performances but also quite a lot of falls in the Men’s event.

Super Star Hanyu Loses to Chen

The Men are currently Russia’s weakest discipline with slim medal chances and probably therefore they had to open the competition on the two days while the ladies skated last. To practice quads at 7 am is not easy for sure. On the other hand it was a good preparation for the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang where the figure skating competitions are scheduled in the morning at 10.

Nathan Chen grabbed the gold in Moscow, thanks to more completed quads, although he popped a toe loop in the free skating. He did not attempt the quad loop as it didn’t work in practice. The short program to the rhythmic song "Nemesis“ by Benjamin Clementine is a smart choice for the 18-year-old. In the free, the Chinese-American skates to music from the movie "Mao’s Last Dancer“ that tells the story of a Chinese dancer who defected to the USA in the times of the cold war. Nathan was skeptical about both music choices at first.

“Shae-Lynn Bourne pitched the idea (for the short program) to me, and I thought it is too similar to a show at first. But it is a new style, with a little bit of hip hop, and now I really like it”, he explained. “The long program was Lori (Nichols’) idea and again I was not so sold on that idea at first. I thought the theme might be too political. But then I read about the book, the music and I thought if we leave politics aside and let art show through, it can work”, he added.

While Chen does try to interpret his programs, they are still very focused on the jumps and the program component score is too high compared to Hanyu.

Hanyu trailed Chen in the short program by about six points, because he under-rotated his quad loop and fell on the quad toe-triple toe combo. In his Japanese inspired “Seimei” free program the Olympic Champion landed a quad Lutz in competition for the first time, but the landing was tight and the +3 GOE by Israeli judge Anna Kantor was really too much and also the +2 given by some other judges was exaggerated. The more prominent a skater is the more the judges are ready to hand out positive GOEs.

Hanyu tripled his loop, one toe loop was only a double, but the quad-triple toe loop and the two triple Axels were excellent. “Seimei” is a great, innovative and interesting program (by the way choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne, like Chen’s short program). However, it is still a bit disappointing that the Olympic Champion went back to two old programs as if he was not able to find something new or better. Overall Hanyu would have deserved first place in Moscow. “Once again I realized how important it is to rotate each jump, each combination. I need to practice more”, he said.

Mikhail Kolyada won the first Grand Prix medal of his career, something he, his fans and many observers have been waiting for as the Russian skater has shown a lot of potential. Unfortunately, he fell on the quad Lutz, quad Salchow and even on a triple Lutz in the free skating. “At least I did the minimum and did not pop any jumps”, the 22-year-old said.  To skate to Elvis Presley was Mikhail’s own idea and the music suits him really well. The Russian Champion was not intimidated by skating together with Hanyu on one ice, but on the contrary, felt motivated.

Misha Ge shone with clean, expressive programs to “Ave Maria” in the short and “Meditation” from the opera “Thais” in the long. However, the Russian-born skater was 16 points off the podium as he has no quad in his arsenal and he lacks speed (4th).

Georgia’s Moris Kvitelashvili, who like Ge was born in Moscow where he lives until today, replaced Keiji Tanaka of Japan. For his standards, Moris was quite consistent especially in the free. He had competed for Russia before and now was able to overtake two former teammates (5th).

The talented Dmitri Aliev surprised in the short with third place. The World Junior silver medalist delivered a clean short program with quad-triple toe, but he tripled his planned quad Lutz. Aliev had struggled with an ankle injury and the lack of practice showed in the free skating where he fell three times in the second half of the program. This time he went for the quad Lutz, but under-rotated. Nam Nguyen is still adjusting after his growth spurt. The Canadian had problems with the quad Salchow in the free and crashed on the quad toe loop in the short. Overall he is too slow what was reflected in the component score.

Stéphane Lambiel‘s student Deniss Vasiljevs convinced with a clean short (without a quad attempt), but missed the quad toe (downgraded) and the triple Axel in the long. Denis Ten had sustained a severe ankle ligament injury in August and obviously was not back to top shape. The 2014 Olympic bronze medalist now wants to train most of the time in California with Frank Carroll again. Daniel Samohin of Israel was a distant 12th and last, because he popped several jumps and fell twice in the free.

Medvedeva Easily Skates Off With Gold

Right after Ondrej Nepela Trophy in September Evgenia Medvedeva decide to change her free program, because she didn’t feel comfortable with it. Now she is skating to “Anna Karenina” with music from the soundtrack by Dario Marianelli, which originally was an exhibition number. Telling the story of Leo Tolstoi’s tragic hero is closer to Evgenia than the rather abstract theme of the original program and she obviously loves to get into the role. The two-time World Champion said she had some problems to focus in the short program, but she skated well and led clearly.

In the long program, she fell unexpectedly on a double Axel, but she could laugh about it. Falling in competition hadn’t happened to her in a while. But even Medvedeva is not a robot and can make mistakes. But her victory was not in question and the skater knew that. “I think I did a good job. The mistake on the jump (double Axel) was a mental weakness, because I had let out my joy too early. It is a useful mistake from which I can learn,” Evgenia noted. “I wanted to skate to Anna Karenina for a long time. The new free program was already done when we mounted Anna Karenina as a show program, but from the very beginning I had on my mind that this program suits me very well and that it could be a competitive program. I did not feel the old program as much and I had no doubts that it was the right decision to switch. I like skating to something dramatic so I can express the maximum of emotions such as passion, thoughtfulness and suffering”, the Moscow teen explained.

Carolina Kostner impressed with two clean and beautiful performances. The 2012 World Champion reduced the degree of difficulty in her programs and went for a triple toe-triple toe loop in the short and did not risk a triple-triple in the long nor a triple Lutz, but everything she did was exquisite. The quality of her elements and the volatile style were one thing, the strong interpretation of the two very different programs was another thing.

In the short it is the desperation expressed in the French chanson "Ne me quitte pas“ (Don’t Leave Me) while she wants to show the pure joy of skating in the free to "Afternoon of a Faun“ by Claude Debussy. Kostner would have deserved at least equal component scores as Medvedeva. The Italian judge Paolo Pizzocari rewarded her with a perfect 10,00 for composition and music interpretation in the short program. In the free, Belorussian judge Alexander Gorojdanov gave a 10,00 for performance. He also awarded Medvedeva with three 10,00, but for Performance that was exaggerated given the fall.

"I am happy to be back in Moscow. Many years ago (in 2005) I won my first World medal here in Moscow and I beat my idol Michelle Kwan for the first time. Everything kind of started here. I can still improve a lot of things artistically and most of all technically. The way back to competitive high level skating has been a long and difficult process, but I can see that my way is open and I am excited to see how far I can get”, Carolina said.

Japanese "dynamo“ Wakaba Higuchi under-rotated her triple Lutz-triple toe in the short program. The only mistake in her James Bond long program was a doubled Salchow. At this time the skater from Tokyo does not plan to include the triple Axel that she showed in practice at the World Team Trophy in her programs. “At first I need to get all the other jumps consistent,” the 16-year-old said.

Elena Radionova missed the podium, because she made a few errors. Like in Bratislava she slipped on the entry into the triple loop in the free skating and fell. “This happened for the second time already and I don’t know why”, the Muscovite said. She also under-rotated her triple Lutz-triple toe in both programs (4th).

 World Junior bronze medalist Kaori Sakamoto debuted with solid performances on the Grand Prix circuit, but she crashed on a triple flip in the long. Mariah Bell was told to return to last year’s short to "Chicago“ at the Champs Camp. The fun program suits her really well. Mariah skated well in both programs, made only some minor errors (5th). Mirai Nagasu risked it all with her triple Axel in both programs, but it did not pay off. She landed, but under-rotated the Axel and then missed other jumps (9th).

Shibutani & Shibutani Win in the Lion’s Den

Maia and Alex Shibutani travelled into the lion’s den and danced off with the gold, thanks to excellent performances in both segments of the competition. Their short dance to Mambo, Cha Cha and Samba was characteristic and entertaining and the siblings picked up a level four for four elements.

For the free dance, the three-time World medalists chose the song "Paradise“ by Coldplay and regard this program as the last part of a trilogy that they started in the 2015 & 16 season with "Fix You“ by Coldplay and continued in the past season with their program named “Evolution.“ Again, the high-level elements were executed very well and the audience spontaneously applauded especially for the fast twizzles. “We have worked very hard to show progress. The short dance was the right choice. We wanted to give the traditional music mix a modern spin”, Alex said. “We are proud of how we debuted our two new programs in competition,” Maia shared and added that their goal is to be creative and think outside the box.

Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev had hoped for victory at home, but their elements did not all look as fluid and confident. All chances for gold died in the second that Soloviev put down his free foot during the spin. The element was rated only level 2 and got a negative GOE. With ice dance being as competitive as it is now, it did not matter that everything else was done well.

“It is a shame for the spin, a regrettable mistake that left a negative impression”, Soloviev said. Their charming free dance to the Tango "Oblivion“ and "Beethoven’s Five Secrets“ that tells the story of a blind girl that meets a boy and dreams that she can see, nevertheless was well received.

Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin improved especially in their “Liebestraum” free dance upon their performances at Finlandia Trophy where they had made several small errors. The Muscovites probably benefitted a bit from the home advantage in their duel for bronze against Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier. The Canadians also turned in strong performances and overall look more mature in their interpretation. However, their Rhumba pattern in the short dance merited only a level two, which cost points and they had to watch out for the technically solid Charlène Guignard & Marco Fabbri (4th).

The Italians in fifth are always getting close to the podium. Their program to Exogenesis Symphony by Muse is nice to watch, but compared to the very best teams they are lacking a bit in expression and elegance. Betina Popova &  Sergey Mozgov continue to improve technically and artistically (6th). Therefore they were able to beat this time the reigning World Junior Champions Rachel & Michael Parsons who struggled with the twizzles in their free dance in what was their debut at the senior Grand Prix (7th).

Russian Pairs Sweep Podium

Russia triumphed in the pairs event and swept the podium, but there were still a few mistakes.

Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov confirmed their leading position in the national team. In the short program, only the triple toe was wobbly. They produced a quad twist in their Boogie-Woogie free skating and did not make any major mistake but the program looks a bit silly. It does not look like an "Olympic program“ and definitely pales in comparison to some other pairs programs this year.  Other top teams could beat that program, but they need to skate clean.

Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov did not skate clean. Stolbova went down on the solo triple toe loop in the short and free, the triple twist (never their favorite element) was not great and the throws not clean either. That is a shame, as the 2014 Olympic silver medalists are an excellent couple artistically and their “Carmen” routine is expressive. “These mistakes happened by accident,” said Klimov. But that happens too often.

Kristina Astakhova & Alexei Rogonov put a lot of heart into their skating and are different from other teams. Their free to “La La Land” is very enjoyable. Except for a two-footed throw triple loop in the free skating, the team from Moscow made no errors and so were able to overtake Valentina Marchei &  Ondrej Hotarek. The Italians were fun to watch, but Marchei’s fall on an under-rotated triple toe loop in the free cost them valuable points (4th).

Canadians Julianne Séguin & Charlie Bilodeau did not really convince, they lacked speed and confidence in their performances, although they did not make major mistakes. Seguin is still affected from her concussion that she suffered several months ago and she did not feel at her best (6th). Miriam Ziegler & Severin Kiefer of Austria justified their invitation with solid performances. Not all their elements were perfect – especially the twist could be better – but they made only small errors. Therefore they were able to place ahead of Marissa Castelli & Mervin Tran (USA) and Sumire Suto & Francis Boudreau-Audet of Japan, who made numerous mistakes.