Kamila Valieva set for Olympic fairytale ending to spectacular season

The quad-jumping 15-year-old is rewriting the record books in the senior ranks and further underlined her dominance at the Russian nationals in St. Petersburg.

By Rory Jiwani
Picture by 2021 Olympic Channel

Two years is a long time in women's figure skating.

In December 2019, it was all about the '3A' with Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova sweeping the podium at the Grand Prix Final after winning all six series events between them in their first senior season.

Now, all three have been comprehensively eclipsed by training partner Kamila Valieva who won the junior event in Turin.

The 15-year-old has made an even greater impact than the 3A on her entry to the senior ranks, breaking world records almost every time she skates.

In her latest success at the Russian nationals, she was nearly 35 points clear of Trusova - a competition record victory margin - with Shcherbakova in third place.

Valieva is operating at a level far in excess of her rivals and will go to Beijing 2022 as the strong favourite for Olympic gold.

On Sunday (December 26), the three medallists from St. Petersburg were named to Russia's team for the European Championships in Tallinn, Estonia, leaving them in pole position for the three berths in Beijing.

Russia team for the European Figure Skating Championships (10-16 January):

Women: Kamila Valieva, Alexandra Trusova, Anna Shcherbakova.

Men: Mark Kondratiuk, Mikhail Kolyada, Evgeni Semenenko.

Pairs: Anastasia Mishina/Alexander Galliamov, Alexandra Boikova/Dmitrii Kozlovskii, Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov

Ice Dance: Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin, Diana Davis/Gleb Smolkin, Victoria Sinitsina/Nikolai Katsalapov.

Kamila Valieva rewrites the record books

Valieva is the latest star to emerge from Eteri Tutberidze's Crystal team at the Sambo-70 club in Moscow.

As is becoming almost commonplace in 'Team Tutberidze', she was landing quad jumps as a junior and has built on that on her ascent to the seniors.

On her senior debut at the Finlandia Trophy, Valieva was only third in the short program but then landed three quads in a world record free skate which saw her also surpass Kostornaia's combined total world best.

At Skate Canada, her first senior Grand Prix appearance, the youngster broke her own free skate mark to beat fellow Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva by over 32 points and become the first woman to smash the 250-point barrier.

Then all three records tumbled at the Rostelecom Cup as she surpassed Kostornaia's short program world record and added four points to her free skate best for a 43-point win over Tuktamysheva.

Those scores were 87.42 (short program) and 185.29 (free skate) for a total of 272.71.

What has been most striking about Valieva this season is her apparent ease in performing high-tariff jumping elements.

In her four competitions, including the Russian nationals, she has cleanly landed all 12 attempted quad jumps in her free skate to Ravel's Bolero and achieved consistently high grades of execution.

Meanwhile, there has been turbulence within the 3A with Trusova and Kostornaia both moving to work under Evgeni Plushenko before returning to the Crystal outfit for this season.

Shcherbakova has remained with Tutberidze throughout and won the world title in Stockholm in March although she has visibly struggled to recapture that form this term.

While pocket rocket Trusova continues to attack her jumps with her trademark exuberance, resulting in more than the odd fall, her two contemporaries appear to be in decline.

Kostornaia finished third and second in her two Grand Prix outings this season, and missed the Russian Championships with a fractured hand reportedly sustained while attempting a triple Axel in practice.

Her hopes of making Beijing are all but over, although she told her fans on Instagram that she intends to keep skating for another four years.

While Tuktamysheva still has an outside chance of making the cut, it looks very much like Valieva, Trusova and Shcherbakova will carry Team ROC's hopes in February.

Russian nationals women's singles podium (L-R): Alexandra Trusova, Kamila Valieva, Anna Shcherbakova
Picture by 2021 Olympic Channel

Figure skating: increasingly a young woman's sport

To compete in Beijing, and all ISU senior competitions this season, athletes must have turned 15 by 1 July 2021.

Valieva, born in April 2006 in Kazan, gets in by just three months and will almost certainly be the youngest figure skater at the Olympic Winter Games.

While quad jumps are essentially barred from the short program - in that they receive no extra credit - their difficulty quotients make them extremely valuable in the free skate, even if not landed cleanly.

The first real sign that the sport was changing radically came at December 2018's Russian nationals where the aforementioned 3A - while still juniors - swept the podium with their training partner, Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, only fifth.

Zagitova went on to become world champion in March 2019, but the tide had already turned and she has not competed since the 2019 Grand Prix Final in Turin.

Two years have also passed since Evgenia Medvedeva, who took silver behind Zagitova at PyeongChang, last skated competitively with the 22-year-old telling Olympics.com she was enjoying "trying so many new things" last month.

With the notable exception of 25-year-old Tuktamysheva, who remains as enthusiastic as ever under Alexei Mishin, all of the top Russian female skaters are teenage members of Team Tutberidze.

When asked why she has been able to keep going for so much longer than her younger opponents, the 2015 world champion said, "I think they quit because they get tired, mentally and physically. When you have constant self-restraint in some aspects of your life, it's very difficult."

Coaching supremo Tutberidze, who remains something of divisive figure among figure skating fans, attracted anger by insisting that Kostornaia should have skated in St. Petersburg with her broken hand.

Speaking to Russia's Channel 1RT, she said that Medvedeva had competed at her first Russian nationals (as a junior in December 2011) with a plaster cast on her wrist and "skated perfectly well".

She said of Kostornaia, "Maybe having missed all her opportunities in sport, she will become super-famous and popular. I do not know. I am upset because I think this was a missed opportunity. I believe that it was possible to skate with such an injury."

While her relationship with her former star appears beyond repair, Tutberidze still has a wealth of talent on her hands with Valieva shining brightest of all ahead of the Olympic Winter Games.

Four years ago at PyeongChang, Zagitova and Medvedeva finished one and two with Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond taking bronze.

In Beijing, there is every chance of a Tutberidze podium sweep.

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