It's that time of the year again – the Russian national senior test skates, a chance for the country's top skaters to present their planned programs for the year to a panel of judges and refine them ahead of an important Olympic season.
The 2021 world champions Anna Shcherbakova in ladies singles, Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov in pairs, and Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov in ice dance will all be in action at the Ice Arena Traktor in the central city of Chelyabinsk on 11 and 12 September alongside a host of other top names.
In addition to being able to present their short/rhythm and free programs to judges, the annual test skates will also give the skaters an indication of where they stand among their national peers ahead of a fierce competitive season to be selected as one of the athletes representing ROC at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
Here's a guide to who is taking part and what key developments to watch out for.
Ladies: "3A" resume rivalry under Eteri Tutberidze, juniors stepping up
The "3A" of Anna Shcherbakova, Alexandra Trusova, and Alena Kostornaia are – after a season coached by Evgeni Plushenko for the latter two – back for another season under the tutelage of Eteri Tutberidze.
Kostornaia begins this new season in the weakest position of the three, having been set back last year when she missed out on selection for the Figure Skating Federation of Russia (FSR) team at the World Championships in Stockholm after a troubled season which included her catching the coronavirus.
She has been challenged to regain her triple Axel this season, especially considering that unlike her rivals she does not jump quads; her first skates of the season will go some way to showing how close she is to being able to challenge for one of three Olympic spots the ROC will have in Beijing.
Shcherbakova, Trusova, and world silver medallist Elizaveta Tuktamysheva were the three representatives in Sweden, but there's a new show in town led by the impressive Kamila Valieva and Maiia Khromykh.
Valieva, Khromykh, and Daria Usacheva – who all also train under Tutberidze – are making the step up to the senior ranks this season and with Valieva and Khromykh both packing quads in their repertoires, could make a serious push for selection.
Men's: Warm-up for Dmitri Aliev with Olympic qualification on the line this month
Last season showed that the level of men's competition in Russia is on the up, with notable breakthrough years for Mark Kondratiuk and Evgeni Semenenko, the latter of whom took part at the World Championships in Stockholm.
With national champion Mikhail Kolyada still the strongest of the men, attention in Chelyabinsk will be on Dmitri Aliev, a 2018 Olympian, to see exactly what form he is in ahead of an important Olympic qualifier.
Aliev will represent his country at the Nebelhorn Trophy ISU Challenger Series event from 22–25 September, where he has the opportunity to confirm a third men's Olympic quota for ROC.
The tussle for the second (and third, if Aliev achieves it) selection behind Kolyada will be a big storyline this season. Aside from Semenenko and Aliev, the 2019 European silver medallist Alexander Samarin and 2020 world junior champion Andrei Mozalev will hope to rebound from relatively quieter seasons.
And just how far ahead of the rest is Kolyada after the summer?
Pairs: Top teams appear set, but who takes Olympic spots?
The top of the pairs depth in the FSR/ROC system seems fairly set, and the real question would appear to be in what order will the top four teams find themselves when the time comes for one of the pairs to be cut for the Olympic Games.
World champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov were somewhat of a surprise package in Stockholm, having finished fourth at the Russian National Championships last December on the same ice in Chelyabinsk.
They were selected for the worlds alongside national champions Evgenia Tarasova / Vladimir Morozov and Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitrii Kozlovskii over Daria Pavliuchenko / Denis Khodykin, but went on to justify that nomination by clinching gold in Sweden.
Fellow first-timers Boikova and Kozlovskii won bronze with Tarasova and Morozov finishing off the podium, and it is the veteran pairing – now training (at least partially) under Tutberidze – who would appear to have their position most under threat right now.
The test skates in Chelyabinsk should reveal a clearer picture of what the pecking order is, especially if the ROC representatives are to hold off the Chinese host threats of Sui Wenjing / Han Cong and Peng Cheng / Jin Yang at Beijing 2022.
Dance: How close are dance teams to world champs Sinitsina and Katsalapov?
The ROC will have three ice dance spots to fill in Beijing, with world champions Victoria Sinitsina / Nikita Katsalapov all but likely to be selected.
However, nothing is guaranteed when it comes to Olympic selection, with Anastasia Skoptsova / Kirill Aleshin, who took bronze at the last Russian nationals in the absence of Sinitsina and Katsalapov, the closest to challenging the established duos.
Internationally, whoever ends up representing ROC in Beijing will have to contend with the unknown factor of the return of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, who will have only their Grand Prix events to compete in prior to Beijing after returning to international skating for the first time since January 2020.
2021 Russian senior national test skates schedule
Times are local to Chelyabinsk (5 hours ahead of UTC, 2 hours ahead of Moscow)
Saturday 11 September
11:55am Ice dance, rhythm dance
1:20pm Men's singles, short program
2:40pm Pairs, short program
3:45pm Ladies' singles, short program
Sunday 12 September
11:55am Ice dance, free dance
1:25pm Men's singles, free program
3:00pm Pairs, free program
4:10pm Ladies' singles, free program
How to watch 2021 Russian test skates
The 2021 Russian test skates, as with a number of other Russian domestic competitions, is available to watch on Channel One within Russia.
An international feed is expected to be provided for global fans on the Channel One youtube page.