The Olympic figure skating season is nearing its halfway point.
The sixth and final Grand Prix Series event is set for this coming weekend (26 & 27 November) in Sochi, Russia, as the Rostelecom Cup brings the circuit to an end and finalizes the field for next month’s exclusive Grand Prix Final, where only the top six skaters or teams in each discipline will head to Osaka, Japan.
The Grand Prix has gone from Las Vegas to Vancouver to Torino to Tokyo and Grenoble before landing in Sochi, the competition to be held in the venue that hosted the sport during Sochi 2014, the Iceberg Skating Palace.
December brings national championship events around the globe, as the season turns its focus towards the coming Winter Olympic Games. Federations will start to name their teams for Beijing 2022 in late December and early/mid January, with each organizing committee operating independently.
But the focus this weekend is purely just the skating, and namely on the women, who will no doubt take center stage with 2020 world junior champion Kamila Valieva set to headline the event after her magnificent gold medal win at Skate Canada International.
The Russian is joined by compatriots Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (the 2015 world champ) and Maiia Khromykh in a women’s singles competition that appears set for a Russian sweep.
It could be a sweep, in fact, for the host nation – at least across gold medals – in each discipline: Mikhail Kolyada is favoured in the men’s; while Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov as well as Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, are the reigning world champs in pairs and ice dance, respectively.
Here, five things to know as we set out for one more weekend of Grand Prix skating as we finalise the field for the coming Grand Prix Final.
Women: Valieva leads podium-worthy Russian trio
It’s hard to see the women’s event shaking out in any other way than Valieva, Tuktamysheva and Khromykh ending up on the podium, with Valieva scoring the highest-ever totals in Vancouver across both the free skate (180.89) and overall total (265.08) last month.
No female has been within 25 points of that total score so far this year, with Tuktamysheva winning silver at Skate Canada with a 232.88. The 2015 world champ is 24 years old and in her 11th season on the Grand Prix – while still looking to qualify for her first Olympics.
Khromykh aims to continue to assert herself among the ROC favourites for the Beijing team, as well, the 15-year-old having placed second behind reigning world champion Anna Shcherbakova earlier this month in Torino.
Also to watch in Sochi: Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx is coming off her first Grand Prix medal (bronze) in Italy, while American Mariah Bell is attempting to build off a strong free skate in Grenoble last week. Seventeen-year-old Matsuike Rino of Japan could be one to keep an eye on, too.
Men: Kolyada looks for Olympic momentum
The 2018 world bronze medallist, Kolyada, 26, was left wondering what could have been in Torino three weeks ago, when the Japanese teen Kagiyama Yuma stormed back for gold as Kolyada put out an error-laden free skate.
He will no doubt be the favourite in Sochi, as he looks to build momentum with Russian nationals - set for late December - now just a month away. Kolyada is joined by teammate Evgeni Semenenko (bronze, Skate Canada), the Czech Republic’s Michal Brezina, and Matteo Rizzo of Italy, who has struggled with consistency.
Japan brings experienced skaters in Tanaka Keiji and Tomono Kazuki.
Pairs: Mishina/ Galliamov build on NHK Trophy gold
It’s been a confident start to the season for the surprise world champions from last year, as Mishina/Galliamov captured their ISU Challenger event at Finlandia Trophy, then looked in fine form in beating compatriots Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov at NHK Trophy.
They’ll look for another strong showing here to assure their spot at the Grand Prix Final, and are pitted against another domestic challenger in Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin. While Mishina/Galliamov are the 2019 junior world champions, Pavliuchenko/Khodykin won that title in 2018.
Those are the only two teams in Sochi that have won a medal on the Grand Prix this season, with Pavliuchenko/Khodykin capturing the silver at Skate Canada behind home Olympic favourites Sui Wenjing and Han Cong.
Ice dance: Sinitsina/ Katsalapov eye Final berth
While we will learn the fates of several skaters on the cusp of the Grand Prix Final, Sinitsina/Katsalapov only need to compete to their potential to punch their tickets for Osaka, where a long-awaited showdown with four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron awaits.
Sinitsina/Katsalapov won the world title in the French team’s absence last season, though the last time they met was at the European Championships in 2020, where Sinitsina/Katsalapov won. It marked the first silver medal Papadakis/Cizeron had received since PyeongChang 2018.
The dance event has plenty of depth, with Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri looking to build off of their silver from Skate Canada and Laurence Fournier-Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen taking bronze at Skate America.
Spain’s Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin will be ones to watch, while Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker of the U.S. make their season debut following a bad concussion for Hawayek during summer training.
Rostelecom Cup: Schedule, how to watch
Official practices kick off on Thursday morning (25 Nov.), with the men and dance set for Friday’s afternoon session and the pairs and women to be featured in the evening. See the full schedule here.
This is the sixth ISU Grand Prix event of the year, with all signs pointing towards the Grand Prix Final in December, as well as the Winter Games in Beijing come February.
The ISU Grand Prix events can also be key for Olympic team selections. These are made by each nation individually, based on quota spots earned for Beijing 2022. Most teams are named in late December or early January following national championship events prior to the Games.
Many governing bodies take into account a skater or team’s “body of work”, especially internationally, meaning each and every event leading up to Beijing carries its own importance.
Schedule of Rostelecom Cup
Friday, 26 November (local time in Sochi – Moscow Standard Time, which is GMT+3)
13:30 Men’s singles – short program
15:30 Ice dance – rhythm dance
18:00 Pair singles – short program
19:25 Women’s singles – short program
Saturday, 27 November
13:30 Men’s singles – free skate
15:40 Ice dance – free dance
17:30 Pair skating – free skate
19:10 Women’s singles – free skate
Sunday, 28 November
15:00 Exhibition gala
How to watch the Rostelecom Cup – Live:
The ISU’s list of international broadcasters can be found here.