With the world championships less than one month away, all eyes in figure skating are squarely fixed on Moscow this weekend.
It’s there that the final Russian Cup of the season will take place on Saturday and Sunday (26 and 27 February), with the likes of 2020 European singles champions Alena Kostornaia and Dimitri Aliev set to compete, among a host of other big-name Russian skaters.
The event is the last stop for some trying to secure spots at worlds, which are scheduled for 24-27 March 2021 in Stockholm. Russia has the maximum allotted three spots for ladies, pairs, and dance at worlds, while they will send two skaters in the men’s division.
Missing in action: Notable names opt out
Notably, it’s current Russian champ Mikhail Kolyada who will not compete at Russian Cup, nor will three-time reigning ladies champion Anna Shcherbakova or Alexandra Trusova, who won bronze at Russian nationals in December.
In fact, none of the reigning national champs will skate at the domestic stop, instead opting to rest up before their likely trip to worlds. Russian outlet R-Sport reported that Russian Cup would be the final competition considered for world team selections.
Ladies: Shcherbakova, Trusova skipping out
Kostornaia lands in Moscow as the expected favourite, but is far from assured a victory in a field that highlights the strength of the Russian ladies at present day. Kamila Valieva, the national silver medallist will compete, as will 2015 world champ Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.
Kostornaia was forced to miss nationals due to lingering symptoms from Covid-19, something that hampered Tuktamysheva at the same event.
Also to watch: Daria Usacheva (4th at nationals), Maiia Khromykh (5th), and Elizaveta Nugumanova (6th).
Each of Valieva, Usacheva, and Khromykh are ineligible for worlds because they – at 14 years old – are still too young.
Kostornaia’s coach, the Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko, recently told Olympic Channel that the team planned for the triple Axel to be back in her repertoire.
Shcherbakova and Trusova will not compete after podium finishes at Russian nationals two months ago.
Men: Loaded field lacks Kolyada
While the ladies go strength to strength, the men have a field loaded with talent, as well, though Kolyada has opted out, the 26-year-old having a resurgent season by winning at both Rostelecom Cup and Russian nationals for the first time in his career.
After missing the entire 2019-20 season due to illness, Kolyada switched coaches to Alexei Mishin in June.
Aliev, the 2020 Russian and Euro champ, will look to find his best form again, but is up against youngsters Petr Gumennik, Artem Kovalev, Mark Kondratiuk, 2020 world junior champ and Youth Olympic Games silver medallist Andrei Mozalev, and Evgeni Semenenko, each of whom are 18 years old.
Also to watch: National silver medallist Makar Ignatov, and Roman Savosin, the 2019 world junior silver medallist.
Pairs: Who earns third worlds spot?
Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov – like the other recent Russian champs – will sit the weekend out, as will Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, the runners-up to Tarasova/Morozov who had won at the Russian champs the year prior.
That sets up a showdown among three young teams: Daria Pavliuchenko and Maxim Khodykin; Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov; as well as Apollinariia Panfilova and Dmitry Rylov.
Each team is accomplished in its own right – and a similar question hangs over the pairs discipline as the rest of competition weekend: Who can perform their best with a spot – or spots – at worlds hanging in the balance?
Dance: Sinitsina/Katsalapov look to re-capture form
It’s been a frustrating season for all skaters, but notably for Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, the 2019 world silver medallists who have struggled through both injury and dual Covid-19 infections over the past few months.
Though they won at Rostelecom Cup, they were not at their best, and will look to showcase their best skating having been forced out of nationals.
Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin won their first Russian dance title in Sinitsina/Katsalapov’s absence. Tiffany Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro, who won silver in December, will also sit out the Russian Cup.
Worlds waiting in the wings
As mentioned, the results here will have an impact on the Russian team for worlds.
The Russian trio of Kostornaia, Shcherbakova, and Trusova were aiming for a podium sweep at worlds in 2020 before the pandemic cancelled the event, something the three Russian women sent next month will still be after, though Japan’s Kihira Rika and her counterparts, as well as U.S. champ Bradie Tennell will look to interrupt.
Kolyada would like to reclaim his spot among the elite men, as well, having won bronze at worlds in 2018.
Tarasova/Morozov and Sinitsina/Katsalapov are both former world medallists, too, as the Russian contingent look to capture as many as seven medals at worlds.
How to watch
The event will broadcast on Russia’s Channel One, which fans can watch internationally via their YouTube account. Short programs kick off with the men at 3pm local time on Saturday, and 2pm local on Sunday.