How the '3A' changed the face of ladies' figure skating

The 2019–20 season saw three young Russian skaters, led by Alena Kostornaia, sweep aside the 'old guard' to win every major competition they took part in.

By Rory Jiwani and ZK Goh

Ladies' figure skating in 2019–20 was dominated by three young Russian women making their first foray into the senior ranks.

Given what happened at the Russian nationals in December 2018, this came as no great surprise to those in the know.

In Saransk, three juniors coached by Eteri TutberidzeAnna Shcherbakova, Alexandra Trusova, and Alena Kostornaia – filled the podium, with Olympic champion Alina Zagitova only fifth.

Zagitova went on to take her first world crown in Saitama last March, but she was unable to keep pace with her younger training partners when they made the step up to the seniors.

Citing a lack of motivation, the 17-year-old reigning world and Olympic champion is on an indefinite break from competition after finishing sixth and last at December's ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final (GPF).

Like the rest of the world, she has had to watch the '3A' jump their way into the record books and redefine the boundaries of the sport.

Changing of the guard

None of the '3A' competed at the last World Championships in Japan. None of them were even in the senior ranks internationally.

It was Zagitova who triumphed then, while another Tutberidze protégée, Elizabet Tursynbaeva, became the first woman to successfully land a quadruple jump (a Salchow) in senior international competition. By that point, quads had already been landed by junior ladies, including by both Shcherbakova and Trusova.

But Tursynbaeva missed nearly all of this season due to recurring injuries, and both Zagitova and Olympic silver medallist Evgenia Medvedeva announced early ends to their campaigns – Zagitova after the GPF and Medvedeva barely two weeks later following the Russian championships.

In their absence, between them, the '3A' clinched every senior title available to them this season.

Each skater won two Grand Prix events, while Shcherbakova claimed the national title and Kostornaia triumphed at the Grand Prix Final and European Championships.

The three also swept the podium places at the Grand Prix Final, Russian nationals, and Europeans.

Of the '3A', Kostornaia is the only one without a quadruple jump in her arsenal. Yet, she has enjoyed greater success than her counterparts.

The challengers

It's hard to see anyone challenging the '3A' at the moment. Indeed, it feels like non-Russian ladies' figure skating at the moment is a fight for fourth.

The one major senior international title not claimed by a Russian this year was the Four Continents Championships. Russians aren't eligible to compete in that event, which acts as the continental championships for skaters from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania.

This year's competition, held in Seoul, was won by Japan's Kihira Rika.

The Japanese 17-year-old has landed triple Axels in competition and attempted a quadruple Salchow at Four Continents, although she fell on the jump.

Kihira also finished second (behind Trusova and Kostornaia) in her two Grand Prix assignments this year, and was the best-placed non-Russian at GPF.

Like Kihira last season, a breakthrough skater this year was You Young, on her senior debut.

She finished on the podium at the Lombardia Trophy Challenger Series, the U.S. Classic Challenger Series and Skate Canada, as well as finishing fourth at the Cup of China.

Then, going back to junior level for the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games, she blew away her competitors to win gold, before taking silver behind Kihira at Four Continents.

Together with the '3A', Kihira and You make up the top five on the ISU's ladies world ranking for 2019–20.

The juniors

Figure skating is a sport which does not always guarantee a long career at the top level.

Indeed, Zagitova and Medvedeva probably know the feeling all too well being upstaged by the '3A' barely two years after they won gold and silver at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.

So perhaps Shcherbakova, Trusova, and Kostornaia will already be looking over their shoulders at the junior ranks from which they only graduated at the end of last season.

Another two Tutberidze trainees, Kamila Valieva and Daria Usacheva, finished one-two at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships.

They both have another one or two years at the junior level, but Valieva is already jumping quads and also won the Junior GPF this year.

The world of figure skating moves quickly, and for now the '3A' reign supreme.

Come Beijing 2022, things may already be very different.


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