Kamila Valieva flawless in Russian nationals short program

Valieva takes clear lead in St. Petersburg from world champion Anna Shcherbakova and surprise package Sofia Muravieva, as Alexandra Trusova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva suffer Axel mishaps.

By Rory Jiwani

Kamila Valieva took a big step towards securing her place at Beijing 2022 with a clean short program at the Russian Figure Skating Championships on Friday (24 December).

The 15-year-old sensation, who has already rewritten the record books in her first senior season, landed a triple Axel, triple flip and triple Lutz-triple toe combination to score 90.38 and put daylight between her and her rivals.

The top three in this competition will almost certainly be selected for next month's European Championships in Tallinn, Estonia, with the Russian Skating Federation then deciding who will fill the three spots at the Olympic Winter Games.

And Valieva, who was the first skater on the ice, was delighted at laying down a marker.

She said afterwards, "I am very happy. The atmosphere at the rink was very warm. I am glad that I managed to gather myself in this moment."

There was initially a surprise in second place courtesy of another 15-year-old, Sofia Muravieva, who is coached by Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko.

A winner on the Junior Grand Prix series this season, Muravieva incorporated the same jumping elements as Valieva - and performed them almost as well - to earn a score of 81.87.

However, over an hour after the end of the action, it was announced that she had incurred a one-point deduction dropping her to third.

The youngster said, "It's so cool to compete here. I am grateful to everyone. I don't think about medals and places, but just about a clean skate. I really want to compete in seniors, and I think I am ready."

That late change saw reigning world champion Anna Shcherbakova, whose opening double Axel often leaves her playing catch-up, move up to second on 81.46.

Shcherbakova, who trains alongside Valieva under Eteri Tutberidze, Sergei Dudakov, and Daniil Gleikehngauz at Sambo-70 in Moscow, was just below her best in her jumping with low grades of execution for her closing triple flip-triple Lutz combination.

She said, "It's only my second competition with the current program and I wanted to perform better this time. In general, I am satisfied with how it went."

Reflecting on the pressure of the event, she added, "If, as an athlete, you come to a competition, thinking: 'I came here to qualify for the Olympics.' it will only result in nerves and nothing constructive will come from it. Before the skate, I am thinking about every detail of the program and only after, maybe when you sit in the 'Kiss and Cry' you can think of the scores. But you can only allow such thoughts after the skate."

Anna Shcherbakova during her short program at the Russian Figure Skating Championships
Picture by 2021 Olympic Channel

In fourth place is 14-year-old Sofia Samodelkina who opened with a triple Axel on her way to a 76.74.

It was a day to forget for Alexandra Trusova who fell on her opening triple Axel, a jump she has struggled with repeatedly for the last couple of years.

Her quad power in the free skate gives her a chance of making the top three, but she has work to do after her 74.21 left her in fifth place.

A similar fate befell Elizaveta Tuktamysheva whose triple Axel, so often her strength, let her down on this occasion.

That cost the 2015 world champion valuable points, and she will need something special to fulfil her Olympic dream after ending the day in seventh place with 71.28.

The 25-year-old insisted that there was nothing bothering her physically, saying, "I am happy that the first half of Russian Championships is over. It happens. The first words that Alexei (coach Mishin) told me are, 'This is life, nothing is guaranteed.' Tomorrow I'll keep fighting, let's see.

"I think it was nerves, because it's an important competition. I made an untypical mistake for myself, it didn't seem like me. Before the free skate, I just want to skate in a way that won't make me feel sorry for it later. My optimism? I don't think it can ever disappear."

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva during her short program at the Russian Figure Skating Championships
Picture by 2021 Olympic Channel

There was disappointment too for Maiia Khromykh who had a hand down on the first part of her intended closing triple Lutz-triple toe combination and could only double the second half.

Her score of 69.36 saw her end the day down in ninth place.

Alena Kostornaia, the world's best figure skater before the pandemic, is absent after suffering a hand fracture.

GO OLYMPIC. GET ALL THIS.

Free live sport events. Unlimited access to series. Unrivalled Olympic news & highlights.