Skating Highlights of the Week: Two More Challenger Events and a Russian Cup
Hanyu wins and Medvedeva doesn’t in Canada; Kihira skates through an opened door in Bratislava; Russian Cup series begins.
And the lesson for me this week was to always check the dates on the Junior Grand Prix, to make sure the series isn’t taking a week off, before declaring what’s coming up next week. The series is in the Czech Republic next, but that’s not for another week. This week there was just the two Challenger events, at least internationally.
Once again there was one in Europe and one in North America. Things moved northward on both continents: Canada hosted the Autumn Classic International in Oakville, Ontario, and Bratislava in Slovakia hosting its second international event of the fall: their regular event, the Ondrej Nepala Trophy. The second is by far the older event, and is one of the “core group” of events is automatically chosen as a Challenger Event every season. But the Autumn Classic tends to get more attention these days, because the big stars who train in Canada often start their seasons there. This year that included Evgenia Medvedeva. Those Russians still training in their own country, of course, find Slovakia more convenient to get to, and they often dominate the Ondrej Nepala Trophy. In fact, we were supposed to get both the top Russian ladies this week, as Alina Zagitova was supposed to compete there. Unfortunately, she had a paperwork mishap, and will now start her season at the Nebelhorn Trophy next week instead.
The Russian skaters also competed a couple of their own internal competitions, including the first Russian Cup. That ended early enough in the week that it and the Ondrej Nepala Trophy even had some entries in common.
Autumn Classic International
The Japanese fans have usually flocked to the Autumn Classic, thanks to Yuzuru Hanyu usually competing there. This year there was Wakaba Higuchi there too, but she didn’t skate very well. And, of course, there was Evgenia Medvedeva, who didn’t skate all that badly. But she wasn’t up to her best, which maybe wasn’t that surprising, and also, she lost, which was still a shock, especially since it wasn’t to someone anyone ever thought she’d lose to.
Hanyu is paying tribute to his inspirations this year; his “Otonal” short program is a tribute to Johnny Weir, with the step sequence even in the same place. He lends his own magic to it, though.
For his free, he’s broken out the Edvin Marton, in tribute to Evgeni Plushenko. But this free skate even more his own style, a bit less quick and a bit more deep, and worth watching even when, by his own admission, he wasn’t fully ready with it yet, and had quite a few jump errors, though he ultimately held on to gold.
The breakout of the competition, however, was the silver medalist. Jun-Hwan Cha was an excellent prince in his short program, where he nailed everything, including the quad.
In yet another Romeo + Juliet free, Cha had one rotated quad, two underrations, lots of moments where he and the music were an excellent combination, and a couple where he lost the thread of that. All in all it was good enough to win the segment and come within four points of Hanyu’s total.
The rest of the field was volatile enough for Roman Sadovsky to edge out bronze despite two fourth-place programs and three falls. The haunting quality of his free skate might have helped.
Jason Brown has not muted the final word in his short program. Presumably he’s hoping everyone will be too dazzled by his superior skating to care. They were enough for him to get third in the short, but too much trouble in his free caused him to slip off the podium.
But perhaps one of the most creative and memorable skates was Kevin Aymoz’s third place free, even when he fell in it. He’d had a disastrous short, and ultimately finished fifth.
To the naked eye, Bradie Tennell appeared perfect through both programs, which probably helped her pull off the shock win. She did in fact have some underrotations, including on all three of her free skate combinations. But here in the short, she successfully combined triple lutz-triple loop with a short that takes her to a new level in terms of expression.
Tennell’s portrayal of Juliet samples all three of Prokofiev, Rota, and Armstrong, but the musical pieces themselves work well together. More of a stretch is her characterization; she’s a little too sophisticated for Juliet. But her actual skating was still well done, and ultimately she did just enough.
Medvedeva has definitely abandoned her baby ballerina status with this year’s programs, and her short is developed enough for her to prove she can do flirtatious. Her free’s still a work in progress, though, and when she fell in it she just couldn’t quite hold on.
Bronze was another surprise, going to longtime fan favorite Mae Berenice Meite. Despite some underrotations, she had one of her best skates, pleasing fans with her bold style.
As well as the ladies bronze, France also won the pairs gold, but that was expected. Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres were at their dramatic best with Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited.”
Or so we thought, until they broke out the “Wicked Game” free. The quiet-until-it’s-not intensity of this program sets it apart from even all the excellent pop programs they’ve done already. The ending should be especially striking, once they skate it clean.
James & Cipres’ free was the only decent one. However, silver medalists Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro, who it turns out have been dealing with injury throughout their recent rise, had a much better short, reworked since they debuted it back in August.
Outside his failure to finish his spin, Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier were also impressive in their short, almost making you forget the weirdness of the version of “Billie Jean” Meryl Davis & Charlie White did us the disfavor of introducing to the skating world a number of years back.
Although they’re spending the rest of the fall touring Canada, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Pojé showed up to win the dance here. In an interview, they said that since they’ve done drama already, they wanted their tango to just be romantic, and the intimacy this routine contains is stunning.
They had decided to skate to “SOS, d’un terrien en detresse” after seeing Denis Ten after seeing him perform it at Denis Ten and Friends only weeks before his murder. After that their free dance became a tribute to him, with a story involving a guardian angel and letting go. There’s no one watching this that can’t see or feel the emotion that comes with it.
Most of the tangos seem to be showcasing the lady more, but in silver medalist Olivia Smart & Adria Diaz’s, he feels like the stronger presence.
Carolane Soucisse & Shane Firus won the bronze on the strength of their rhythm dance, which was set to the weirder kind of tango music-but they danced to the contours of that music very well.
Not that Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu’s fans were at all pleased that the Chinese team’s third place free dance wasn’t enough to make the podium, especially since it stands out in this era of lyrical FDs.
View full results here.
Ondrej Nepala Trophy
As always, the biggest presence at the Ondrej Nepala Trophy was the Russians. But the absence of Zagitova allowed another young lady to win gold in her senior debut.
If Rika Kihira hadn’t arrived before this competition, she has now. He short is a touch juniorish but also a touch delightful. It was even good enough to inch out a lead despite going down on her opening triple axel attempt.
In Kihira’s free skate, the vestiges of junior skating fell away, into a much more dramatic poetic program. Plus she skated it close to clean, landing both triple axels this time, including the first triple axel-triple toe combination landed by a senior lady. When everybody else had their issues in the free skate, she won by 25 points!
Elizabet Tursynbaeva was far better in her short program, though, where she was a close second, thanks to good musicality and a very good day. She would ultimately be second in both segments as well as overall, though like Medvedeva, she’s still having trouble expressing her tango free as well.
The odds of anyone else in the men’s field beating Mikhail Kolyada were never good, and despite a couple of mistakes late in his free, Kolyada skated well enough to make it impossible.
Sergei Voronov competed at both the first Russian Cup and the Ondrej Nepala Trophy, and he won silver at both events. He tried the quad loop at both events, and though it didn’t work out either time, it came closer in Bratislava. This was Saturday’s second tribute to Denis Ten, after Weaver & Pojé’s FD debut in Oaksville hours earlier, and was no less moving for it.
Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov also competed in both events, and they’ve had a very good start to the season; they won both. Their presentation in this free dance distanced the rest of the field.
Not that silver medalists Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter were any slouches there, especially with all the creative moves they had to make use of.
Days after losing their chance at a second home Grand Prix assignment to nepotism, Betina Popova & Sergei Mozgov showed the federation what they were snubbing, which happened to be good enough for bronze.
The pairs competition had only four teams in it, and saw Ashley Cain & Timothy LeDuc take their second gold in as many weeks. They did both programs better than they had in Salt Lake, though they still haven’t rotated everything in that three-jump.
View full results here.
The Cup of Russia – Rostelecom, Stage 1
Russia has now started holding its many internal competitions, including the fall’s biggest, the Cup of Russia series, usually referred to as the Russian Cups to avoid confusion. Skaters not qualified for Nationals will each skate at two events, but even those that are, usually through Grand Prix assignments, may use the events for mileage. Such was the case for the first event in Syzran, where skaters warming up for other events skating alongside qualifiers. As is now the norm for intranational Russian events, the ladies were the highlight, even though none of Russia’s very top ones were competing there. Instead there was a high profile casualty: Serafima Sakhanovich, who may yet get a Grand Prix invite as a replacement, but with her fifth place finish here will have trouble making Nationals otherwise.
Anastasia Gulyakova jazzed it up in the short, the turned just a little more graceful for the free to win the senior ladies.
Viktoria Vasilieva, another talented lady just trying to make Nationals, delivered in her free skate to take second.
Anastasia Gubanova once again skated well, and was one of the most beautiful there, but she underrotated in her triple-triple attempts, which kept her down to third.
Outside the ladies, the most impressive skating probably came from senior pairs winners Daria Pavliuchenko & Denis Khodykin, who even managed to land side by side triple flips.
Although he was second in the free skate to Voronov, when the latter had trouble in his short, Konstantin Milyukov kept more than close enough to win overall, offsetting some doubles with the event’s only quad-triple combination, and maybe more musicality than his foe.
The singles winners from the Moscow Open were both here to win again, with Kamila Valieva delivering two strong skates to take the junior ladies by 15 points.
View full results here.
Next week the Nebelhorn Trophy is the only Challenger event, but the Junior Grand Prix series resumes.