With parts of the international figure skating season curtailed or adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans of the sport turned their attention to a Russian test skate event held in Moscow’s Megasport Sport Palace over the weekend.
Many of the biggest names in Russian skating – including 2018 Olympic silver medallist Evgenia Medvedeva, Olympic team silver medallist Mikhail Kolyada and last season’s breakout star, Alena Kostornaia – skated in at least part of the event, though Olympic champion Alina Zagitova opted out (more on that below).
Test skates are common for national skating bodies around the world, and with the strong representation of Russian skaters at the international level, the Moscow event was broadcast on live TV domestically, as well as live-streamed (with English commentary) on YouTube. Official scores were not part of the protocol.
Here’s five things we learned from the weekend in Moscow.
Zagitova trying out a ‘new role’
As mentioned, reigning Olympic and world champion Zagitova opted out of the event, citing a want to focus on her new role as a host of the Russian reality TV show, Ice Age.
“I am very interested at the moment to try myself in a new role,” the 18-year-old said via the Russian skating federation. “I ask to treat my request with understanding.”
Zagitova backed up her Olympic title at the 2019 world championships in Japan, winning her first world gold. This past season, however, she was sixth at the Grand Prix Final after finishing with a silver and bronze at her Grand Prix assignments. She swept golds in 2017 and 2018.
After the Final in December of 2019, Zagitova announced that she would take a break from skating to “learn some new elements.” Though with her TV role, some wonder if she might be done on the international circuit as a whole. Only time will tell.
Several other big-name skaters were absent, including ice dance teams Alexandra Stepanova (back inury) and Ivan Bukin, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov (back), singles skater Dmitri Aliev (hip) and pairs team Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who said their free skate was not prepared, therefore opting out of the event.
Russian women continue to go from strength to strength
Even without Zagitova in attendance, the Russian women again showed just how strong they are, with Medvedeva joined on the ice by Kostornaia, her training partner Alexandra Trusova, fellow teen Anna Shcherbakova, must-watch junior star Kamila Valieva and 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.
Medvedeva, with coach Brian Orser watching from Canada via a video call, unveiled both a new short program and free skate, each with innovative and intricate choreography. The short was choreographed by Jeffrey Buttle and free by Shae-Lynn Bourne, former skaters and highly sought-after choreographers.
Kostornaia, who had won gold at both her Grand Prix assignments as well as the Grand Prix Final and European Championships this past year, is also working with Bourne for her free skate, but chose not to skate it as it is not yet competition ready.
Trusova, who joined Kostornaia in switching from coach Eteri Tutberidze to now working with Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko, displayed her improved choreography and musicality.
The Russian women continue to push the sport technically: Both Trusova and Valieva (who is still too young for senior international competition at 14) performed quad toes in combination, while Tuktamysheva landed a triple Axel in her free skate.
Mikhail Kolyada on a comeback
While the women took centre stage, so too did the men, led by Mikhail Kolyada, the PyeongChang 2018 team silver medallist perhaps having the standout performance of the weekend after sitting out the majority of the 2019-20 season.
A sinus infection had hampered him through the 2018-19 season, then forced him out of the 2019 Grand Prix Series and eventually from nationals and Europeans. Under new coach Alexei Mishin, Kolyada appeared to be in mid-season form, skating a clean short program, then hitting a quad toe-triple toe combo in the free skate and two triple Axels in a program set to music from The White Crow.
Several Russian skating pundits spoke to national media after the event, pointing to Kolyada as the standout skater. “He gave the most vivid of skates,” said Ilya Averbukh, who choreographed Kolyada’s free skate, according to R-Sport. The 2002 Olympic silver medallist in ice dancing said he was happy to have helped play a hand in Kolyada’s comeback.
Having placed eighth at PyeongChang 2018, Kolyada won the bronze medal at the 2018 world championships and is still seen to be one of the top skaters in the world when he’s at his best.
Pavluchenko/Khodykin, Boikova/Kozlovskii shine
While three-time world medallists Tarasova/Morozov did not compete, Russian pairs Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin as well as Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii did, each displaying marked improvements in their technical and artistic abilities.
Boikova/Kozlovskii are the reigning Russian and European champions, and debuted their free skate set to a cover of Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” from the James Bond movie franchise choreographed by noted coach and choreographer Nikolai Morozov.
Both teams performed sound triple twists, in addition to a triple toe-double toe-double toe combination.
While reigning Olympic silver medallists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are still seen as the favourites in pairs internationally, the duos of Boikova (18) and Kozlovskii (20) and Pavliucheno (17) and Kohdykin (21) will look to continue to establish themselves on the international scene. The test skate was a strong preview to the season for them.
Sergei Voronov bids farewell
On the eve of the competition, two-time national champion Sergei Voronov, 32, announced his retirement in an Instagram post: “My long journey as an athlete (comes) to an end,” he said via translation. “Thank you for this unforgettable time! Time to move on.”
Though he did not make an Olympic appearance, Voronov won his first Russian title in 2008, repeating that feat the following year. He won 10 medals in 14 seasons on the Grand Prix Series circuit.
He qualified for the Grand Prix final three times, winning bronze in 2014, and won European medals in 2014 (silver) and 2015 (bronze). His best finish was at the 2008 world championships, where he finished 7th.
His post was filled with congratulations messages in the comments, including from countryman and Sochi 2014 pairs champion Maxim Trankov.