Golden Spin of Zagreb Closes Out Challenger Series
Moris Kvitelashvili wins a volatile men’s competiton; Stanislava Konstantinova leads Russian ladies sweep; Zabiiako & Enbert beat rivals for Olympic berth ahead of Russian Nationals; Bobrova & Soloviev win ice dance while Spanish battle for berth yields surprise.
The Grand Prix wasn’t the only series that wrapped up this week. It’s now become traditional for the Challenger Series to do the same this weekend with the Golden Spin of Zagreb in Croatia. The event, one of the four “core group” events that are always in the series, celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, with competitions at both the senior and junior level. It, too, perhaps, was overshadowed a little by the fallout of the IOC decision, especially since it was dominated by Russians. They won half of the medals, all of the golds except the ones in the two men’s events. And in fact the senior men’s gold was won by a Russian guy who happens to represent Georgia instead! None of the Russian singles skaters here are likely to make it to the Olympics at this point, but the ice dancers and exactly one of the two senior pairs teams are almost certain to. A number of the skaters from other nations are expected to go, though. For skaters from at least two countries, competing here was even directly part of their attempts to qualify.
The biggest name by far in the senior men’s field was Denis Ten of Kazakhstan. And despite underrotating his quadruple salchow jump so badly it got downgraded to a triple, he won the short program, if barely. But his triple axels and quads all went wrong in a fifth place free, and he slipped off the podium by only a point. Ivan Righini of Italy and American Alexander Johnson had been right below him with the highest technical scores, despite a fall from the latter. But their leads had been very little, and neither managed enough technical content in their eighth and ninth place frees, with Johnson’s being especially messy. Righini finished fifth, Johnson ninth.
Right behind them had been Alexei Bychenko of Israel, Artur Dmitriev of Russia, and Moris Kvitelashvili of Georgia, who landed the short program’s only clean quads. The second two even did quad-triples, though their other quad attempts went far more wrong, as did Bychenko’s jump combination and Kvitelashvili’s axel. But while Kvitelashvili had major issues on both the axel and the quad toe loop combinations in the free, he got through the solo ones with only a turnout, and landed a clean quad salchow. A strong last section was then enough to win the free skate, and vault over those ahead of him to win.
Another Russian, Andrei Lazukin, had the second place and technically strongest free, landing a strong quad-triple and a shakier solo quad, and stumbling only on a triple axel. But he’d had a bad ninth-place short, and could only climb up to sixth. Bychenko & Dmitriev claimed silver and bronze with the third and fourth place free skates. Bychenko stumbled on both his quads, but landed everything else. Dmitriev’s jumps were rough in general, and included a double and an underrotation. But he managed one quad with a hand down, and a quad-double clean, which helped him nearly match Lazukin in the technical tariff.
The only other guy close to that tariff was a young Italian named Daniel Grassl, who was the one who made history by landing the quad lutz in the free. At fifteen, he’s the youngest man to ever land it in international competition. But at fifteen, he’s also still developing skating-wise, and is not yet impressing the judges enough to finish higher than tenth.
The junior men’s field started with five men, but it went down to four after short program winner Nika Egadze of Georgia withdrew. Second place Mark Gorodnitsky of Israel then skated by far the cleanest long program to win by a large margin.
The ladies proved a Russian sweep, mostly because Russia sent the strongest ladies, including top name Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. Like Ten she won the short, very narrowly over Stanislava Konstantinova and Alisa Fedichkina. She skated clean with her easier triple toe-triple toe. Konstantinova tried the triple lutz-triple toe, but underrotated it. Fedichkina skated clean with the triple flip-triple toe, but had the lowest presentation scores. In the free, Konstantinova landed the triple-triple, and despite a singled flip had the highest technical content of the field. Fedichkina struggled to rotate in her hard combinations and doubled a salchow. Elizaveta Tuktamysehva went for her triple axel, underrotated and fell on it, and from there made mistakes on most of her other jumps too. She dropped to third, Fedichkina moved up to second, and Konstantinova told gold by a wide margin.
In fact, Fedichkina and Tuktamysheva were fourth and fifth in the free skate, beaten by American Emma Ma and German Nicole Schott. Ma too struggled with her opening hard combinations in the free, underrotating the triples in them, but got more out of the rest of her program. Schott only held on to the triple toe-triple toe in both segments, but was clean in the free except for one troubled combination. Falling on an underrotated loop in the short had left her fifth, and she moved up to fourth, just holding off Ma, who had been in ninth after a short where’d she failed to rotate anything. The German more or less got what she needed this week; her results here leave her far enough in front in the race for Germany’s Olympic ladies berth it’ll be hard for her to lose it.
Russia sent two ladies to the junior competition, including Junior Grand Prix medalist Anastasia Gulyakova, who beat international debutante Alina Solovyeva for the gold. The latter won the short program, though, despite her easier jumps content and triple-triple, largely on the presentation scores. But while neither skated clean in the short, Gulyakova was clean in the free, while Solovyeva wasn’t. The only other triple-triple attempt was German Ann-Christian Marold trying a triple toe-triple toe in the short and rotating neither toe. Being the only other skater in the field to pull off harder triples helped her win bronze.
The six-team pairs field was such that when Tarah Kayne & Danny O’Shea came here to get some competition in before U.S. Nationals, and skated terribly, they still won bronze through sheer lack of competition. But it also had Natalja Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert and Kristina Astakhova & Alexei Rogonov, which made the competition a dry run for their upcoming face-off to be the third pairs team from Russia at the Olympics.
In the short, Astakhova & Rogonov had the harder jump content, and while he had a turnout on their side by side salchows, Zabiiako & Enbert had the same error on their toes. But Zabiiako & Enbert were very smooth and solid on their other elements and performance, while Astakhova & Rogonov were less so, so Zabiiako & Enbert still narrowly won then segment. Then, in the free, Astakhova & Rogonov made it easy for them by failing to pull off either salchows or three jump, and their one clean jump element, the throw triple lutz, was rough. Zabiiako & Enbert fumbled the tail end of their own three-jump, but they landed their salchows and a better throw lutz, though their other throw had a hand down. They won by nearly fifteen points.
The junior pairs field was also mostly Russian, with three Russian teams and one Czech one, who stopped a sweep by narrowly winning bronze. But none of the other three teams could hope to come near Anastasia Mishina & Aleksandr Galiamov, making their international debut together. As one would expect from a team that includes a JGP Final winner, they did quite well for themselves, even if they didn’t pull off their side by side combination in the free.
The top skaters in Zagreb turned out to by Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev, who consoled themselves for narrowly missing the Grand Prix Final by winning here. They gave two strong skates, with their free dance having been changed around a bit to strengthen it, as they themselves increase their light and shade a little:
Being at their best, no one here could touch them. Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri gave all they had in the attempt, though. They were particularly close to them technically in the short dance, though they couldn’t hope to match their presentation scores. Certainly they were good enough to go unthreatened for the silver.
Third after the short dance was a surprise, with Sara Hurtado & Kirill Khavalian doing one of the best skates they’ve managed together. They even got a significant lead on Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker when they weren’t quite as strong, and she went bobbly on the twizzles. In the free dance, however it was Hurtado’s turn to go briefly awry in the twizzles, and then again in their circular step sequence. They pulled it together after that, but it also left their tariff a point below the rest of the top six. Meanwhile, Hawayek & Baker had a smooth skate and a program in which they shone. They were able to make the entire gap up, winning bronze by three tenths of a point.
Hurtado & Khavalian did, however, still beat the team they wanted to beat: Olivia Smart & Adria Diaz, who came in fifth. The other team had made themselves look good enough on the Grand Prix circuit they were favored to win Spain’s one Olympic berth. But Spain will fill its open men’s and dance berths based on the results of this competition and Spanish Nationals next week. And in the short dance, Hurtado & Khavalian firmly outskated their rivals, who also got a tariff a point and half lower than the top four. Even in the free dance, where Smart & Diaz were more solid technically, Hurtado & Khavalian got the higher score by a smidge, thanks to their presentation scores. The advantage is now unexpectedly theirs going into Nationals.
(That wasn’t the only surprise in the Spanish Olympic qualifying here in Zagreb. Javier Raya, Spain’s normal number two man, had a pair of very bad skates, and in fifteenth was four places and nearly thirty points behind Felipe Montoya, who is weaker technically, but made far fewer mistakes.)
Russia took gold in the junior competition too, courtesy Eva Kuts & Dmitri Mikhailov, and also bronze, which Ekaterina Andreeva & Ivan Desyatov came up from fourth to claim. Both were close results, especially with Georgian silver medalists Maria Kazakova & Georgy Reviya getting the highest technical tariff in the short dance, though all three medalists matched there in the free dance.
View full results here.
There won’t be much time for most of these skaters to rest. Russian Nationals is a little more than a week away, and most of Europe will hold Nationals this coming week.