Skating Highlights of the Week: Test Skate and Other Russian Events
Russian skaters show the world their programs at test skate, and at smaller events, while also winning medals in Lithuania.
Three weeks into the season, and it’s mostly been Russians, Russians, and more Russians. Since the season starts with the Junior Grand Prix, which the Russians have dominated in recent years, that’s typical enough. But at the first two JGP events they were especially forceful, winning both golds and both silvers in the ladies, both golds and four of the six medals in the ice dance as well, and all six pairs medals. They’d won a single bronze in the men, where they’ve been a little less dominant.
But this week, it was even more so Russians, Russians, and more Russians. First the country’s internal season began, with competitions in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. They were both very minor events, but fans kept their eyes on certain skaters participating in them. This led into the third JGP event in Lithuania, where once again the Russians collected-but not quite as much as they had the first two weeks.
That, however, was not the biggest skating event of this week. This was the week of the Russian test skates, where most of their top seniors gathered in Moscow to skate for federation officials, followed by an open skate, where they skated for the world.
Russian Test Skates
Last season, Russian officials actually made a big deal of the test skates, having two days of open skates, and taking measures to keep the world from seeing their skaters’ programs before then. They didn’t make that kind of effort this year. In fact, there was only one open skate today, for the free programs. Although videos of the singles skaters’ and the top pair’s shorts have managed to get out anyway.
While doing an interview after their arrival in Russia, Brian Orser claimed he and his team are the first coaches to treat Evgenia Medvedeva as an adult. She now looks it too, in a way she didn’t before, even before she skated a short program that displays the maturity of one, both in composition and expression, unlocking new abilities within her.
You see a bit of that in her tango free as well, but this is very much a work in progress; Orser even admitted as much. Hopefully she’s also working on growing into it emotionally. It’s not an easy ask, either, when so much of the program is slow tango, to the point it drags; they might want to change that.
Alina Zagitova’s got an easier time of it in her free. One of the big reasons Carmen is so popular is it’s easy to skate to. She won’t be the best Carmen ever, but she’ll do what she needs. And while the short she debuted in THE ICE squeezed too much Phantom of the Opera into too little time, this program’s much better with that.
Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov should just stop skating to recent pop/rock music. It never ends well. Although this program is relatively harmless, compared to last year’s mistake.
This melancholy free skate to Barmolhea’s “The Winter,” on the other hand, is one of the best programs they’ve ever had. The opening is especially daring, but they hold your attention until the music kicks in fully.
In theory, Muse and Mikhail Kolyada should be a good fit. But neither he nor this program seems to entirely know what they’re doing with each other.
He, too, is benefitting by a Carmen free. Here, he knows he’s portraying the bullfighter, and how to do that.
Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin know what they’re doing with the blues, a thing they’ve done in the short dance before. The challenge is keeping it from getting repetitive in their new free dance, but the program helps somewhat.
Maria Sotskova fought to do this Latin program, and you can see her enthusiasm for it, though it still doesn’t seem all that Latiny. Sometimes it’s not easy to take the classical out of the skater, even when she doesn’t want it.
It’s easier, however, to convert it to jazz. Sotskova says she wanted to do something different with her “Summertime” free as well, and this program harnesses her skills to that effect extremely well; it feels more like she’s always been doing this.
Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov at first seemed to be attempting to redo their Rachmaninoff free from last year, except that no Air on the G String free is ever going to top Marina Klimova & Sergei Ponomarenko’s. But then they take it in their own direction, and unlike many programs, this one still plays out as a coherent whole.
Sergei Voronov wanted to skate to Secret Garden’s “Appassionata,” but it wasn’t a good idea. He just can’t do much with this music.
Denis Ten choreographed Voronov’s long only just before his death, choosing Kaleo’s “Way Down We Go” after hearing it in the trailer for Logan; he compared Voronov’s longevity to that of the title character. His death gave it new meaning; now it carries thoughts of him, and fate, and Voronov speaks of the responsibility he feels displaying Ten’s creation. You can see the emotional weight of that in his skating, even when he bungles the jumps.
It was Dmtri Aliev who should all the other men how grace and beauty and artistry are done to a score to the film Modigliani-except for the parts where he also demonstrated his continual struggles with his jumps.
It was the same story in the free skate. Other skaters have debuted Ezio Basso programs since Aliev first announced his music choice, but none of them could do with the music what he did-when, again, he wasn’t missing way too many jumps even for the start of September.
Alexander Samarin, knowing he’s really good at expressing certain music, is sticking to what he knows for his short. He might just have more success with this program than he deserves.
He was also one of those skaters who was always likely to skate to The Greatest Showman. This program is surprisingly intense, except that’s also what Samarin often does. At least this is less scary than what he did last year.
Polina Tsurskaya’s short is to “And the Waltz Goes On,” and it’s a good dramatic one that suits her style well. She could do with rising up a little more at the end, but hopefully that’ll come with mileage.
Her free uses three different musical pieces, but is largely along the same lines. Except being longer, it requires and has a bit more ebb and flow, and the middle part will probably work better when she doesn’t miss the jumps in it.
Elizaveta Tukramysheva’s short program made be just one of many “Assassin’s Tango” shorts out there, but from as she’s already said, she’s less tangoing then just being dramatic.
Her free skate is a fun one, of the type she notes she’s never had before. Between what she does here, and the amount of fun she’s currently having on social media, this is one young lady who is making for herself a new image, turning herself into a skater worth following even when she’s no longer at the top.
It’s Elena Radionova who achieves the complete change from her usual style in her short program. She who had tended towards classical/pretty programs is now skating a short to Amy Winehouse and hip hop-and attuning herself to the movement and attitude of it no problem.
Her Cinema Paradiso free is more in line with what she usually does. But even here, Radionova achieves a depth of emotion we’ve never quite seen from her before. The vocals are a bit gratuitous, but she makes some use even of them.
Daria Pavliuchenko & Denis Khodykin described their free as being to The Great Gatsby soundtrack, but it more mixes it with music of the time. But they remained true to the important part which makes this program stand out: they also wanted to tell the actual story. This program actually gets into that dark tale in a way most glitzy Gatsby programs don’t.
Stanislava Konstantinova, as she did last year, is combining a Latin SP with her Anna Karenina free. The transitions in this program are a bit jarring, though, and it feels like too much of the choreography is packed in at the end.
What we really want to know about Daria Panenkova is who’s now coaching her-she says she’ll finally tell everyone right after this. Her “Skyfall” short mostly gets the job done-one questions how much it would be appropriate for a still 15-year-old skater to do with it anyway.
She does a lot more with her Lara Fabian free, displayer a fuller and more productive connection with the music, as does the program. This after skating to Celine Dion last year, but the French-Canadian singers are good to her.
It’s the lower-ranking Sofia Samodurova who’s taking on the flamenco style-even if it’s just to “Nyah”-and dancing with her arms throughout her program. And her boldness and command manages to carry it throughout.
She takes a pretty similar approach to her Burlesque free. However, in this case, there is the question as to whether she should be skating this program at only 16!
Betina Popova & Sergei Mozgov are getting to skate to The Master and Margarita, which they’ve both wanted since before they teamed up. This free dance has a bit of dark drama they express well, and good buildup to the end; this was the right way to use it.
Anastasia Shpilevaya & Grigory Smirnov missed most of last season due to injury, and now it’s unclear whether they’ll even get the opportunity to break back in. Which is a real pity, because even if it’s a touch disjointed, this is one of the most creative free dances we’ve seen so far this season, and it would be nice to see it at the bigger events.
We don’t have footage of Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert’s short, and we didn’t get their full free from today either. But we actually got videos of both of their programs earlier in the week, with a report coming out about their free. Their short music may be a little more dramatic than they’ve quite figured out what to do with.
Their free is a bit more special, with Igor Krutoy creating a version of his composition Toi et Moi for them, and recording in the voice of recently deceased opera singer Dmitri Hvorostovsky. The result is a piece that brings out the best of this team, though the choreography could have more to it.
JGP Amber Cup
Lithuania was a first-time Junior Grand Prix host this year, christening their event as the Amber Cup as they held it in Kaunas. It was a three-discipline event, with only singles and ice dance. As they did they first two weeks, Russia won both dance and ladies. But this week their second ladies medal was bronze instead of silver, and they didn’t win a second in the dance. They did win another men’s medal, though, and nearly took that gold too.
The ladies field was a little on the weak side. But even a stronger one probably couldn’t have touched Alexandra Trusova. She opened up with a stupendous skate and got the highest short program score a lady has ever gotten at an international junior competition.
And that was before she went for an insane three quads in the free skate, starting with a quad lutz. That she underrotated, and she fell on her second, but after she landed the third with a triple, the rest of the program was as good as could be asked for.
Yelim Kim couldn’t match Trusova’s technical content, and multiple issues in her short didn’t help. But when she nailed her free skate, she shot up from fourth to win silver.
Kseniia Sinitsyna, as a lesser Russian, was very happy just to get a JGP event, but any Russian who makes it to the circuit usually medals, especially when she matched Trusova’s technical difficulty in the short. A fall in her free cost her, dropping her to bronze.
Andrew Torgashev came in needing to win to remain in contention for the JGP Final. Things did not go well in either the short program or the start of the free, as he struggled with his hardest jumps, including both triple axels and his one quadruple jump attempt. But then, in the free, he pulled it together in time to win on sheer technical content.
But for a wayward spin, international debutante Kirill Iakolev might have won; he came within three points of doing so. He doesn’t even have the triple axel yet, but he was the guy who actually skated well.
Like Torgashev, Egor Murashov struggled with his axels in the free, but his Russian take on Stevie Wonder was one of the night’s better skates, and the second-highest scoring. But when he’d missed his jump combination in the short, he finished just short of the podium.
All the ice dancers and quite a few other skaters will do the tango this season, but few will do it with the ferocity of the clear feeling of love/hate that Arina Ushakova & Maxim Nekrasov make look effortless. It left their eventual gold feeling a touch inevitable.
Ushakova & Nekrasov don’t really go for the lyrical style that most ice dance couples do these days. Instead, their free dance wrings as much fun and games as possible out of the soundtrack to the Serbian black comedy film Black Cat, White Cat. It was good enough to break a hundred in the scores.
So it fell to silver medalists Avonley Nguyen & Vadym Kolesnik to be breathtakingly beautiful instead. Even in the short dance, which wasn’t quite flawless, they showed themselves to be impressively quick and light, and that worked perfectly with a free dance that scored close to the Russians, and deservingly so.
Also skating in the light and classical style were Darya Popova & Volodymer Byelikov, who won the bronze on the strength of this short dance.
Although it wasn’t as brilliant as Nguyen & Kolesnik, the free dance that helped them hold on to the medal was a lovely composition, and pretty well done.
Beating them in the free dance by about half a point were Yana Buga & Georgy Pokhilyuk, who showed a bit more strength with their “Polvetsian Dances” program.
View full results here.
1st Cup of St. Petersburg
The three Cups of St. Petersburg are the lower tier of Russian Nationals qualifying. Skaters use them to qualify for the Russian Cups, and then try to qualify to Nationals from there. It’s far from unknown for skaters pre-qualified due to their Grand Prix assignments to also show up at these events, but the biggest name here, Alexander Petrov, actually isn’t.
At this time last year, Petrov was debuting an overstuffed short in the test skates. But after injury derailed him, he’s now instead starting his season here, with a much better put together program which he nailed, quad and all. He won on the strength of it.
His free wasn’t as good. This Tosca program is typical for the most part, before getting interesting but kind of confusing at the end. But even with the mistakes, it’s still a relief to see Petrov have a decent skate.
Silver medalist Anton Shulepov won the free skate with the full length opera-ized version of Gladiator Dmitriev’s short samples.
Anastasia Gulyakova is one talented lady and JGP medalist who is nonetheless fighting for her footing in Russia’s crowded scene. In this field, at least, everything going well in her pretty Karl Jenkins free got her a decisive win.
Russian “old lady” Alena Leonova has not retired yet. And maybe that’s not a bad thing, when she can still skate a short as well as this, taking second in the segment. Even if the program’s a little boring by her high standards, and more trouble in the free dropped her to fifth.
There were three senior pairs. Sofia Buzaeva & Elisey Ivanov were the ones who held things together the most, more in the short than in the free.
View full results here. (In Russian)
Moscow Open Junior Championships
At the beginning of the week, as the seniors were still arriving in town, many of Moscow’s junior skaters gathered to compete in the Moscow Open, a competition mostly for them, though they have some lower level ice dancing as well. All four fields included skaters who’ve competed at the Junior Grand Prix Final, and eyes were especially anxiously turned to Anastasiia Gubanova, who stormed her way to the silver there two years ago, but suffered multiple stumbles last season.
Gold went to Kamila Valieva, another one from Eteri Tutberidze’s school, who won’t be old enough for junior international competition until next year, but has nonetheless been known to Russian fans for a while. She did it on the strength of a flawless short.
Her free skate was a pretty strong one too, although going down on the flip cost her the segment.
Instead, the highest free skate score went to another kid skating to “Skyfall.” But silver medalist Daria Usacheva, who is also too young for international competition, was mainly focused on nailing all her jumps anyway.
Gubanova was artistically everyone’s superior. And she even skated fairly well. But she made enough mistakes that she was fourth in both segments, although when the numbers all crunched together, she still edged out bronze.
Men’s winner Daniil Samsonov is also too young for the Junior Grand Prix, missing the age cutoff by only thirteen days. He could probably use a year’s development first anyway, but he showed he has a lot already with this free skate.
Ilia Skirda once made the JGP Final without a triple axel on his showman skills. He’s still a good performer, which helped get him the fifth place short. But he also still doesn’t have the axel, and without it, multiple mistakes in his free dropped him all the way down to eleventh.
The JGP veterans in the pairs and ice dance fields both won bronze there with previous partners. Alexander Vakhnov did only last season, and his new partner, Ksenia Konkina, medaled at both her events. They put their skills to good use winning this event. Their free dance is even interesting to watch despite being to the overused Spartacus.
Pairs winners Nadezha Labazina & Nikita Rakhmanin also had an interesting free skate, having gone abstract, and while they weren’t as sharp with it, they still stood high above the rest of the field. (Things are not going so well for 2015 JGP bronze medalist Ilia Spiridonov with new partner Lina Kudryavtseva; they missed most of their jumps and were lucky to finish second.)
Next week attention shifts to North America, with the fourth JGP event in Canada and the Challenger series resuming in Salt Lake City-though also in Italy.