Skating Highlights of the Week: Tallinn Trophy and Other Gap Week Events
Challenger series nears end with Tallinn Trophy; Britain first country to hold their Nationals this season.
Between the end of the Grand Prix series and the Final, there’s typically a gap week. That’s sensible enough a thing, especially for the sake of those who qualified for the Final by competing at the last event. It gives everyone a chance to catch their breath. This year, it also gave Yuzuru Hanyu a chance to have his medical examinations, face the result, and accordingly withdraw in time for first alternate Keegan Messing to arrange his transport to Vancouver. That was the biggest news of the week.
But it’s not an eventless week on the ice. Such a week will always attract officials looking to schedule the smaller events. This season, the gap week saw no less than four of them, and one of them was the penultimate Challenger event in Estonia. Plus there was the start of Nationals season, with British Nationals to kick off the spate of Nationals that happen across Europe in December-and they weren’t the only Nationals to have started by Sunday. Nationals was also on the mind of those Canadian skaters trying to qualify for it at the Skate Canada Challenge.
December is also the month of holiday shows, from tiny ones in small rinks to professionally run and recorded events. First up are often the performances given at Christmas tree lightings. In Providence, Rhode Island, for instance, they did their tree lighting last night, and got Mirai Nagasu to perform at it. She skated to a simple, balladic cover of Beyonce’s “Halo,” and shone as bright as any Christmas tree:
The Tallinn Trophy was first held in 2011, and has gone on every year since. In the early years it didn’t necessarily have senior competitions even in both singles disciplines, but it’s had all four since 2015, and has also been a Challenger event every year since.
It’s late enough an event it usually doesn’t get the biggest skaters, but there are occasional exceptions; it was one of Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot’s first events together. This year it included a pair of Russians who didn’t make the Grand Prix circuit, but got themselves wins here, plus some skaters who did compete on the Grand Prix, but mostly weren’t on top of it (though the ice dance winners had medaled on that circuit).
Serafima Sakhanovich’s season is now looking at an early close, unless Russian officials decide to invite her to Nationals. But she’s ending it on a good note, with her best pair of skates of it, and a gold medal.
Silver medalist Ting Cui also had a disappointing fall, but she too put out her best performance in Tallinn. She’s good enough a skater that even with a fall in each program she nearly won, and she finally got to show that in her free.
Viveca Lindfors also performed well, especially in her short, but also well enough in her free to take bronze.
The senior ice dance title was a close battle between the two teams that had spent last season battling each other on top of the junior level. Low levels on their opening tango initially left Christine Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko two points behind, but in the free dance, the top three all got the same technical tariff, at which point the strength of the Americans’ performance rose to prevail, and they won by a little less than half a point.
Anastasia Scoptcova & Kirill Aleshin almost got enough of a lead from their fierce rhythm dance to hold on, though. Despite the sheer bizarreness of their Michael Jackson free, they only lost because of an extended lift.
Maxim Kovtun was far from perfect in either program, but most of the other guys were far worse, plus he had his quad content and showman skills. It was a good win, especially considering that he hadn’t finished an international competition since the spring of 2017.
Although Anton Shulepov kept up with him in the short, hitting everything in less than traditional style. He fell a bit more behind in the free, ultimately ending up with bronze.
Also doing well with a more aggressive program was Slavik Hayrapetyan in his free skate, though he didn’t have the technical content for higher than fourth.
There were five senior pairs, three of whom did not skate well at all. The one clean program was Mariam Ziegler & Severin Keifer’s melancholy short, which they would ultimately win on the strength of.
Tarah Kayne & Danny O’Shea actually won the free skate, mostly by being the best skaters of the field. They’d had too much trouble in their short, but pulled up to claim silver.
View full results here.
Of the other three international events this week, the biggest was the Christmas Cup in Budapest. Budapest usually holds an event called the Santa Claus Cup in December, and crazily, they’re even doing that one next week. The Christmas Cup, however, is new this year. It gave local fans a chance to see the top lady and ice dance team Hungary currently has, as well as a few other skaters.
Ivett Toth had a very good week, especially since she’s both technically and artistically strong enough that decent skating gave her an easy win against the other senior ladies.
None of the others came within ten points of her. Sophia Schaller came close in the short; she has a good “Paint it Black” program and skated it clean. But her free skate mistakes left her fourth.
The senior men’s competition was the kind of disaster where Egor Murashov won by nearly 15 points, even when he fell twice in his still entertaining free skate.
There were only three senior ice dance teams, all Hungarian. But they were topped by Anna Yanovskaya & Adam Lukacs, who have now become the best Hungarian ice dance team in over half a decade.
Junior ladies winner Liana Vakhitova very nearly also scored higher than Toth did overall, and she had the higher free skate score. This young international debutante, who came in fifteenth at Russian Junior Nationals last season and didn’t make the top five at either of her qualifying Cups this fall, proved herself a solid if lesser Russian lady who dominated this field.
They also had a gala, in which Toth did her Michael Jackson short from a couple of years back.
View full results here.
December is the start of Nationals season, starting mostly with the smaller European nations. Most of them wait until after the Grand Prix Final, but Britain has been known to do it the week before (or even the week of is not unknown, though they try to avoid that). They were thus first out the gate, holding the British Figure Skating Championships this week in Sheffield.
The stars, of course, were the newly broken out ice dance team of Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson, who were actually looking to reclaim the title, having won it when Penny Coomes & Nicolas Buckland were out, then lost it when they came back. With them out again, Fear & Gibson were actually behind after a fall in the rhythm dance, but their disco free quickly set things to rights, and by a wide margin:
Graham Newberry too reclaimed the title he lost last year over two other competitors, and despite a bit of stumbling about skated far better than he did earlier in the season:
Unlike the other three senior competitions, the ladies was a close battle, with Natasha McKay claiming her third straight over Karly Robertson by less than a point. Like Newberry, she got better as her free skate went on:
Canadian Nationals isn’t until January, but they finished off the Nationals qualifying season with the Skate Canada Challenge in Edmonton. Here, all the skaters not byed into Nationals tried to qualify. This year, that included Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorenson. They’re in the processing of switching countries, and can’t even represent Canada internationally until the end of January. But they showed here they’ll be gunning for the top spots on the team then. They started with an elegant but heated tango:
They then more or less continued along that vein with their flamenco free:
On the other side of the world, the Australian Figure Skating Championships started in Sydney on Friday, but mostly happens next week. So far only the synchronized events have been held. Australia has never been the strongest country for skating, for obvious reasons, and their senior synchronized winners even had a fall in their free skate. That segment instead went to Ice Storm, though the scores in general were close between the two teams. Ice Storm had some pretty creative choreography as well:
Australia has the bad habit of commonly holding their Nationals the same week as the Final; last year their star pairs team couldn’t compete, because they were too busy winning the Junior Grand Prix Final. They’re there this year, but it remains to be seen how many people will be paying attention. All eyes next week will be on Vancouver, with maybe some people taking a glance over at the final Challenger event in Croatia.