Skating Highlights of the Week: Rostelecom Cup and Inge Solar Memorial Alpen Trophy
Rostelecom Cup sees four repeat winners and an injury to Hanyu; Challenger series returns with Austrian event.
It’s the middle of November, and we are now pretty much in the back half of the skating’s fall season. We’re nearly done with the Grand Prix series; this week the big international event was the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, which is the penultimate event this year. Most of the skaters have now done both their events, and most of those who were contending for the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver know now whether they’re going or not, although even some who aren’t competing next week are waiting to see how the chips fall. Others are seeing that settled now; there were six new locks this week, including one skater, Sergei Voronov, who had finished competing already.
The Challenger Series, meanwhile, resumed this week with the first of its final three elements, the third of which will symbolically, if inconveniently, happen the same week of the Final. This week that event was the Inge Solar Memorial Alpen Trophy in Innsbruck, which may be in the process of replacing Austria’s older event, the Ice Challenge in Graz. They were actually supposed to both happen in consecutive weeks this fall, but then the latter got canceled, not for the first time.
And for much of America’s skaters, it was one of the biggest weeks of the year, with everyone who made it through Regionals and wasn’t byed to Nationals attempting to qualify at the three Sectional Championships. This year, most eyes were on the Pacific Coast Sectional, due to she who won the senior ladies event there.
The Rostelecom Cup kept some things consistent with expectations. All four events were won by the heavy favorites, who had all won their first events already, and so all qualified for the Grand Prix Final. But one of them might not go. The week also continued a much less pleasant theme: injuries and withdrawals. The ladies event, already down two entries when it started, finished down three when Gracie Gold withdrew, following a disastrous short program. The pairs event saw a post-short withdrawal as well, with Deanna Stellato & Nathan Bartholomay citing food poisoning.
There was also at least one injury during the event. Possibly two; we still don’t know exactly what happened when Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya fell on her hip early in her & Harley Windsor’s free. They finished the program, but skated it very badly, to the point an injury seems all too likely. Another injury that is confirmed as happening in practice, didn’t result in a withdrawal either, but may have consequences that go beyond this event.
Alina Zagitova was at her best in the short program, and, maybe better than she even had a right to be. She’s really taking to this music, even making the constant music changes slightly less jarring.
She’s settled pretty well into her free skate too, and it too is helping her to mature. Her final jumps still didn’t come off this week, but winning the ladies competition still wasn’t a problem.
Sofia Samodurova too is growing as a skater. She turned in one of the best short programs she’s ever done.
Nobody skated a completely clean free, but Samodurova was one of three skaters who came close, pulling off everything except her triple-triple combination. She added silver here to bronze from Skate America, and now has a real chance of qualifying for the Final.
A week after skating the best short program she’s ever done, but not holding things up in the free, Eunsoo Lim was the second, having only one underrotation. This is one of her most expressive free skate performances as well. Despite a costly fall in the short she was able to climb up to claim her first Grand Prix medal.
Samodurova wasn’t the only skater impressing with the Spanish rhythms. So did Alexia Paganini, who nailed her short to claim a very unexpected third.
She was even the third lady to come close to clean in the free, charming with her version of La La Land. She failed to do her harder combinations, without which she dropped to fourth, but even that’s a very good finish for her.
Pairs winners Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov had a better time in the short program than they’ve done yet this fall. Nailing everything helped.
They improved on their free skate from the last time around as well. It’s not flawless yet, but it really doesn’t have to be.
Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise, too, nailed their short program, and were very, very good in their free. They may have gotten the same medal at both of their events, but this silver was the one much better earned. They were also the only skaters here to lock themselves for the Final without winning.
Daria Pavliuchenko & Denis Khodykin weren’t quite as perfect in their short, but pulling everything off in it would ultimately narrowly win them their second bronze of the series. They, too, now have a chance at qualifying for the Final.
One wonders, however, if maybe Mariam Zielger & Severin Keifer, who came in fourth, should’ve won the bronze. Their third-place free was an excellent skate, smooth and strong through most of it.
Yuzuru Hanyu was in form in the short program, skating his heart out to stunning results-and being the first skater to break the 110 mark under the new system. Then in practice the next morning, he went down on a quadruple loop and left the ice, to much anxiety from fans, who feared a repeat of last year’s injury. Indeed, he had twisted his foot, but it wasn’t as bad this time. He was able to do his free skate, not up to his usual standards but well enough to win the day. But he was on crutches for the medal ceremony today, and he may have to sit out both the Final and Japanese Nationals.
Morisi Kvitelashvili is a man generally prone to inconsistency, especially lately, but he may be immune to Rostelecom Cup jinxes. For the second year in a row, he was one of the few men who skated well, even going clean in his short, and getting close enough in his free for a great showman performance. When almost everyone else was more subpar, that left him holding the silver, Georgia’s first ever medal on the senior circuit.
Though far from perfect, Kazuki Tomono was pretty good, all things considered, especially once he broke out the riverdancing. It was a bounceback from his bad Grand Prix debut in Canada that got him bronze.
In fact, the redeeming feature of the men’s event outside Hanyu were the crowd-pleasers who weren’t supposed to medal. Paul Fentz was one who couldn’t finish higher than sixth even when the top guys made mistakes; he just didn’t have the content. But skating one of the cleaner frees of the night to Game of Thrones meant he made everyone watching very happy.
A weak ice dance field meant Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin were completely unchallenged, even when their tango was a bit deficient in the rhythm dance. And they had no such deficiencies in their free dance, where they were technically brilliant as well as expressive, enough so to set a new world record.
That field also guaranteed two dance teams would medal on the Grand Prix for the first time. Silver medalists Sara Hurtado & Kirill Khavalian won Spain their first medal in the ice dance as well. They too had to bounce back from rhythm dance difficulties, which they did well with a strong and dramatic free dance.
Unlike their fellow medalists, Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko were at their best in their rhythm dance. This sharp and quick tango easily got them second in the segment.
They did very well with their poetic free dance as well. It was almost enough to hold on to their place; Hurtado & Khavalian beat them overall by less than a quarter of a point.
Sofia Evdokimova & Egor Bazin did a similarly impressive free dance that got them up from sixth to fourth.
For the gala, Della Monica & Guarise did their comic boxing number, now with a new intro.
The gala audience also really appreciated Tomono’s Pentatonix/Daft Punk robot dance.
Lim’s “Havana” show program is becoming another crowd favorite, maybe because of the enthusiasm with which she performs it.
Evdokimova & Bazin brought the Michael Jackson-although oddly, they only lost the jackets when they switched to Vitamin String Quartet.
Elizabet Tursynbaeva, who came in sixth in the ladies, was invited to perform a special program in memory of her countryman Denis Ten, who would have competed here.
Surprisingly, Ashley Cain & Timothy LeDuc, who came in sixth in the pairs, were invited to perform, meaning they got to perform their program about LGBT athletes, as well as body-shaming, in a country where doing so is an act of defiance.
When he came in last in the men, Julian Zhi Jie Yee originally wasn’t in the gala lineup, but then he got in when Hanyu couldn’t participate. They knew his janitor number would be an entertaining one.
View full results here.
Inge Solar Memorial Alpen Trophy
Challenger events during the Grand Prix are usually a different beast from Challenger events before it. Certainly less of the top senior skaters will be doing them, though some of them find it to their advantage to increase their mileage with a lower-pressure event. But with the Junior Grand Prix now long concluded, some of those who competed on it may show up to get their skates wet on senior ice. Two such skaters even won the senior events, all four of which were won by sizable margins (though there were only two senior pairs anyway).
Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri were the most dominant in the ice dance field, especially once they held on to their twizzles, and performed well enough for it to come through even through the poor stream quality.
The senior men’s competition was especially a victory for the young, with four of the top seven having competed on the Junior Grand Prix circuit this year. Daniel Grassl is actually the one of them not bound for Vancouver, but here, he was the only one to not only skate well, but to land both the triple axel and the quad in both programs, and in the short his successful quad was the lutz.
Though it was her senior debut, the ladies field was such that Anna Tarusina standing firmly above everyone else was always a pretty likely outcome. It helped that she skated well in both programs and especially nailed her short, though her free is currently unavailable.
The junior singles went much like the senior ones had. The ladies had another Russian JGP medalist, and Viktoria Vasilieva had a very good week to win.
It was also another men’s competition won by the Italian who skated well and pulled off the hardest jump, though in this case that was just the triple axel, and Gabriele Frangipani had not skated well in the short, and had to come back from third to do it.
Pacific Coast Sectional FS Championships
Although U.S. Sectionals always has plenty of notable ladies competing, the country’s top senior ladies usually are byed through, typically by finishing in the top five the previous year, making the JGP Final, or being assigned to competitions around the time they take place. But this year, Alysa Liu, who will likely contend for gold at Nationals, is new to the senior level, and not old enough to compete at any of the events that would’ve byed her. So after winning Central Pacific Regionals, she had to head to the Pacific Coast Sectionals in Salt Lake City to finish the job.
Liu had her best showing yet with the triple axels that have made her famous, finally landing one in the short program. In the free she rotated her combination and stood up on both, although right now, that seems to be only available in tweeted form.
The Pacific Coast Sectionals also included fan favorite Sean Rabbitt competing in the senior men. With his short program, he reminded everyone why they love him so much.
He kept it up in the free too, enough so to win by nearly twenty points.
View full results here.
Next week the Grand Prix series concludes in France. There are a couple more international events too, but they’re the smaller ones.