Everywhere you look at this weekend’s Rostelecom Cup, the third stop of the ISU’s Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series this season, you’ll see world medal contenders on the ice.
Russia, with one of the most powerful line-ups presently in the sport, will stage the Grand Prix in Moscow after events in the U.S. and China earlier in the season. Due to coronavirus restrictions, Canada and France cancelled their Grand Prix stops, and Rostelecom is limited to Russian athletes and a host of others from nearby nations to help limit travel.
But that doesn’t mean the field is lacking. In fact, the opposite, as Alena Kostornaia, Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova – the trio that swept six gold medals at the Grand Prix last year – face off with a gold on the line, while a resurgent Mikhail Kolyada is back in the men’s event, and some of the best teams in the world in both pairs and ice dance set to compete.
Noticeably absent is reigning Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, as well as the silver medallist from PyeongChang 2018 Evgenia Medvedeva. Medvedeva, who switched back to coach Eteri Tutberidze earlier this season, has a nagging back injury, while Zagitova, who has not competed since December 2019, and has opted to pursue off-ice opportunities during the Grand Prix, currently hosting a skating TV series in Russia.
The skating starts on Friday (20th November) at 1:30pm local time in Moscow. Below, five things to watch out for this weekend on the ice.
Ladies: Kostornaia, Trusova, Shcherbakova to face off
With Kostornaia, Trusova and Shcherbakova each winning two Grand Prixs last year, it’s easily the most hotly contested ladies’ event of the season. Kostornaia, who – along with Trusova – has since gone from Tutberidze to working with Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko as coach, was champion at the Grand Prix Final as well as the European Championships last season, making her a favourite for the then-cancelled world championships.
There is no certainty who will emerge atop this coming weekend, however, as Trusova beat Kostornaia earlier this month at a national Cup of Russia event, hitting a staggering three quadruple jumps in her free skate to score a 171.21 in the free and 248.63 overall, 22 points above Kostornaia.
The difference could be quad jumps, which both Trusova and reigning Russian national champ Shcherbakova possess, while Kostornaia does not. Shcherbakova won a separate stage of the Cup of Russia in late October, scoring a 239.91.
Other names to watch include 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who posted a video doing a quad jump herself earlier this week (she also has a triple Axel) and 2019 European champion Sofia Samodurova.
Men: Kolyada brings renewed form to Moscow
It’s been a return to form the last two months for a resurgent Kolyada, the two-time Russian champion who won bronze at worlds in 2018. Kolyada, 25, sat out last season due to sinusitis (and subsequent nasal surgery) and used the off-season to switch to famed coach Alexei Mishin.
Compatriot Dmitri Aliev is the reigning Russian and European champion, while Georgia’s Morisi Kvitelashvili could factor in. The reigning world junior champion, 17-year-old Andrei Mozalev, is making his international senior debut, as well. Mozalev won the silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games earlier this year in Lausanne. Another 17-year-old, Evgeni Semenenko, is one to watch, too.
Kolyada, who won the third stage of the Cup of Russia last month, said there after his win: “We are on our way... There is always something to work on. (Mishin) looks at me with a fresh eye.”
Dance: Will Sinitsina/Katsalapov pick up where they left off?
The last time we saw Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov on international ice they edged out four-time world champs Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron for gold at Europeans and January, the first loss for the French team since the 2018 Olympic Games.
The two-time and reigning Russian champs will not face off against Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, who withdrew from Rostelecom Cup having contracted COVID-19 and saying that they did not feel fully ready to compete again in their recovery, according to Tass.ru.
Tiffani Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro will skate, however, Zagorski herself having had COVID earlier this year.
Pairs: Top teams eye podium
Just last weekend some of the best pairs teams gave us a preview of what’s to come in Moscow during the fourth stage of the Cup of Russia, with Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov emerging victorious over Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (2nd) and Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii (3rd) in a high-quality event.
Tarasova/Morozov will not compete in Moscow, but Mishina/Galliamov, the 2019 world junior champs, and Boikova/Kozlovskii, the reigning Russian and European champs, will, as well as the three pairs teams that swept the junior podium at worlds this past year, led by champions Apollinariia Panfilova and Dmitry Rylov, the same duo that won gold at Lausanne 2020.
Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin, another top Russian team, are out due to illness for Khodykin, which their coach said was not COVID-19.
Zagitova, Medvedeva and other notable absences
It’s no surprise that Zagitova, now 18, will not be attendance, after the reigning Olympic champion and 2019 winner at worlds said last month she would not skate again until at least 2021.
She said in an interview earlier this month that she was unsure of a return of any sort. “We’ll see,” she told Match TV. “Now the coronavirus (situation) is very difficult.”
Medvedeva had remained hopeful that she would be able to skate, but fans were aware she was struggling with a back issue, having pulled out of a Cup of Russia assignment.
While Tarasova/Morozov, Pavliuchenko/Khodykin and Stepanova/Bukin are all also out, there will be no Rostelecom Cup for Kamila Valieva, the reigning junior world champ. At 14, she’s still age ineligible for senior international competitions.