Kamila Valieva in pole position at Russian Cup Final after short program

Tournament also acts as World Championships internal qualifier, but the 14-year-old is ineligible to be selected for the Russian Figure Skating Federation team

By ZK Goh

World junior champion Kamila Valieva relied on her technical ability and strong jumps to lead the ladies' singles at the domestic figure skating Russian Cup Final in Moscow after the short program on Saturday (27 February).

The 14-year-old was the only skater of 11 athletes to cleanly land a triple Axel, and she did so in almost effortless fashion with a high grade of execution score from the judges.

Skating to Storm, an original composition by Canadian pairs skater Eric Radford, she followed that up with a nice triple flip during which she held both arms above her head, and closed her jumping elements with a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination.

Coaches Eteri Tutberidze and Sergei Dudakov could be seen deep in conversation by the sidelines as Valieva completed her skate to raucous cheers from the limited spectators at the Megasport Arena.

Her score of 88.71 points was some nine-and-a-half points clear of training mate Daria Usacheva in second.

The Russian Cup Final acts as the last internal qualifier to determine the Russian Figure Skating Federation team for the World Championships in Stockholm at the end of March, but with both Valieva and Usacheva age-ineligible (both are still only 14), third-place Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, herself once a world champion, is well-placed to be selected.

Evgeni Plushenko-trained Alena Kostornaia, making her return after illness, only placed sixth in a disappointing skate that left her in tears.

Earlier, Anastasia Mishina and Alexander Galliamov won the pairs' short program, after Russian junior champion Semenenko took the lead in the men's.

Usacheva did little wrong during her own skate but simply lacked the technical prowess of Valieva.

Skating to One Day I'll Fly Away sung by Nicole Kidman, she put together three solid jumping passes, opening with a double Axel before adding a triple Lutz and triple flip-triple toe combination.

The Sambo-70 (Crystal) skater scored 79.12 points.

Tuktamysheva, meanwhile, seemed to be over the worst effects of Covid-19, which she contracted shortly after winning the Rostelecom Cup Grand Prix in Moscow in November and which affected her at both the Russian nationals and Channel One Cup.

Although she struggled slightly on her triple Axel attempt, turning out of it, and was also marked for landing on the quarter on the second part of her triple Lutz-triple toe combination, a well-executed triple flip plus solid artistry put her within touching distance of Usacheva, at 77.74 points.

The big disappointment of the day was perhaps Kostornaia, herself returning from a Covid-19 diagnosis.

Skating a new short program set to Antonio Vivaldi's Winter concerto from The Four Seasons, she began strongly on both her double Axel and triple Lutz jumps.

But her combination jump, a triple flip-double toe, let her down – she barely held on to the triple flip and that forced her to reset her position before the toe loop. It was not an easy, flowing combination that would be expected of Kostornaia, who was sobbing in disappointment as she came off the ice.

Her score of 70.14 points leaves her with some work to do to make up the gap in Sunday's free skate.

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