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Russian Outrage Over Fifth Ranked National Newcomer Maxim Kovtun Picked for Europeans over Older National Bronze Medalist Konstantin Menshov

by Alexandra Stevenson

After the Russian Championships, which took place at the very end of December, youngster Maxim Kovtun was named as the third, and final, member of the men's team for the European Championships which commence on January 21 in Zagreb, despite the 17-year-old finishing only fifth.

Supporters of Konstantin Menshov, 29, who earned the national bronze, behind Evgeni Plushenko and Sergei Voronov, circulated a petition decrying the decision. The fuss went right up to the Russian Sports Minister, Vitali Mutko, who insisted the Russian Association have another committee meeting to review the situation.

But the original decision was retained in by a clear majority. The magazine R-Sport reported that 1976 Olympic gold medalist, Alexander Gorshkov revealed that top coaches, Alexei Mishin and Viktor Gorshkov, were against Kovtun’s selection.

On paper this certainly appears to be an obvious act of age discrimination, although Artur Gachinski, 19, who finished fourth nationally, was also left off the team. Gachinski’s past credentials are impressive. He was runner-up to Plushenko, 30, in the last European Championships in Sheffield and was third in the 2011 Worlds in Moscow. But, Gachinski sullied his chances with an inexplicably poor showing in the 2012 World championships in Nice, where he finished 18th.

Kovtun’s selection for “Europeans” was made because the committee felt he demonstrated great potential earlier in December by winning the Junior Grand Prix Final, which was also held in Sochi, as a tryout event for the 2014 Olympic facilities.

Because of Gachinski’s low placing last season at Worlds in France, and that of Voronov, his teammate, who finished 17th despite having fractured an ankle, Russia is only allowed one man to compete in the upcoming world championships in London, Ontario, in March.

“Worlds” is even more important than normal because the number of slots Russia will be allowed for the 2014 Olympics (none, one, two or a maximum of three) will depend on that country’s representative’s finish in Canada. Plushenko has not definitely agreed to compete in Ontario. He has said he will see how things play out in Zagreb.

Russia and the former Soviet Union have always pushed promising youngsters. As the committee explained, the third slot on a team is often used to help the career of promising youngsters in a sport where experience can be a significant factor on the road to success.

Kovtun is now under the supervision of Tatiana Tarasova, who hopes to transform Kovtun from a jumping bean into an artist the way she did when she took over Alexei Yagudin after he had won his first world title.

Prior to that coaching change last year, Kovtun was taught by Nikolai Morozov, but the youngster explained at the Junior Grand Prix that they had a stormy split. Apparently the coach alluded to the teenager “drinking” which Kovtun denies. Kovtun claims he was badly treated and overlooked by Morozov.

Morozov told the magazine SovSport that he is furious over the decision to leave Menshov, who won the 2011 Russian championship, off the team for Zagreb. “I think they just ruined Menshov’s life. Over time we will forget what happened but I don’t know how he will be able to regroup. A similar setback happened to my pupil Sergei Voronov. He was replaced with Artem Borodulin. Voronov took that psychological setback so hard, it took him a couple of years to recover. Borodulin’s coach was Tarasova. She is obviously favored by the Association.”

Morozov said that it was “ridiculous” to think of Kovtun as a potential Olympic medalist. “At this stage, he should have been sent to the World Junior championships, and learn his competitive skills that way.” Top coaches, Alexei Mishin and Viktor Kudryavtsev were also reported as against the decision.

The Russian Association is in a difficult position. Youngsters need to be pushed into top level competition to gain experience. In a similar situation, the National Ice Skating Association of Great Britain (NISA) has assigned their national silver medalist over the title holder for their one spot for the European championship.

Harry Mattick, 19, the four-time British junior champion, who trains in Pittsburgh and was second in his first try in the Senior championship in November, will compete in Zagreb. That is despite his second place finish in the nationals in November. Left off the team is the 2009, 2010 & 2013 season national champion, Matt Parr, 22, who finished 4.56 points ahead of his younger rival.

NISA has a policy whereby their representative is picked on the basis of scores earned in international events are deemed twice as important as a result obtained on home ground.

In Russia no one is spared surprise decisions, not even Olympic champions. In 1981, the season after they had won Olympic gold in Lake Placid, the Soviet Union pulled Natalia Linichuk & Gennadi Karponosov off the Hartford world championship team, because they were eclipsed in the European championships by the up-starts, Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean.

That brought an abrupt end to Linichuk & Karponosov’s ISU’s career in which they had won two world championship golds, a silver and two bronzes. The married couple eventually moved to the U.S. and have made a successful career in the United States. They are currently teaching in Aston, PA.

The depth of talent in the Soviet Union at that time was so immense, Linichuk & Karponosov’s replacements in that Worlds, Olga Volozhinskaya & Alexander Svinin, finished fifth in Hartford, an astonishing debut at this level for a relatively unknown couple.

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