In a highly-anticipated women’s singles event at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, reigning Grand Prix Final and European champion Alena Kostornaia skated into first place on Friday evening.
The 17-year-old had a near flawless short program, scoring 78.84, four points ahead of Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, the 2015 world champion, at 74.70.
Last year's Rostelecom Cup champion Alexandra Trusova was third after a fall on an attempted triple Axel, with 70.81 points.
The Rostelecom Cup is the third stop on the Grand Prix, being held with COVID-19 protocols in place and limited to only Russian athletes - or those that train in neighbouring countries - to limit athlete travel.
Prior to the ladies' short, it was Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov who took the lead in a well-skated pairs short program, edging out domestic rivals Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, 79.34 to 78.29.
Earlier on Friday (20 November), reigning Russian national champion Anna Shcherbakova pulled out of the event due to illness.
Shcherbakova, who won two Grand Prix events last season as well as silver at both the Grand Prix Final and European Championships, is the only one of the '3A' to stay with coach Eteri Tutberidze.
With her withdrawal, Shcherbakova joins Alina Zagitova on the sidelines with the Olympic gold medallist sitting out the series to host the figure skating reality TV show 'Ice Age'.
Ladies: Kostornaia excels; Tuktamysheva's triple Axel
There was little to critique of Kostornaia, who delivered a mature and modern program in a medley of pop star Billie Eilish's music.
She opened with a crisp double Axel, then hit a triple Lutz and a triple flip-triple toe combination, the latter which she fought for on the landing.
She received positive GOEs for each of her jumping passes, and scored over the nine-point mark in the program components.
Tuktamysheva, the elder stateswoman of Russian skating at 23, landed a massive opening triple Axel earning her north of 10 points on her score sheet.
But she was shaky on a triple flip and then did only a triple Lutz-double toe loop in combination.
In her 10th Grand Prix season, it's just the second time she's skated at her home Grand Prix. She was fourth in 2013... when Kostornaia was 10.
Both Kostornaia and Trusova, who won this event a year ago, switched from Tutberidze to Evgeni Plushenko earlier this year, but Trusova could not match her training mate's execution, falling on an attempted triple Axel before getting an edge call on her triple flip.
It was a stacked second group in the women's event, with the quality of the skating living up to the hype.
Former European champ Sofia Samodurova is down in sixth while 18-year-old Anastasiia Guliakova is fourth, less than a point behind Trusova.
Trusova will look to climb the leaderboard in the free skate with her array of quad jumps and Tuktamysheva could attempt a quad too in addition to repeating her triple Axel.
Pairs: Mishina/Galliamov lead Boikova/Kozlovskii
The pairs short program increased in quality as it went along with 2019 junior world champs Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov coming out on top with 79.34.
They delivered a stirring performance, earning positive GOEs for their triple twist and throw triple Lutz to start the program. They held strong on side-by-side triple Salchows, a jump that Mishina had struggled with in the warm-up for the second group.
Reigning Russian and European champions Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii produced a balletic routine to “Star of Captivating Happiness”, but received -1.06 GOEs for their throw triple flip and lost another point for a time violation as they scored 78.29 to leave them second but well in touch ahead of the free skate.
Polina Panfilova and Dmitry Rylov, the reigning junior world champs and Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games gold medallists, are third after scoring 73.84.
In their own words: skaters admit struggling on return to ice
Each of the top three ladies confirmed that it's been challenging finding their top form after stepping away from the ice due to quarantine protocols earlier in the year.
Kostornaia said she will not try a triple Axel in the free skate in Moscow and instead aim to get that jump into her competitive repertoire come Nationals which are set for 22-27 December in Chelyabinsk.
Both Kostornaia and Trusova spoke in glowing terms about new coach Plushenko having previously trained with Tutberidze.
Kostornaia said, "I really enjoy working with Evgeni. It’s a much different approach; it’s much calmer."
Trusova added, "It's a really friendly team... I'm the oldest in my training group."
Tuktamysheva, who is coached by Alexei Mishin, spoke in more detail about returning from the COVID-enforced layoff.
She said, "Mentally, it was hard to get back into the process. I had to force myself. During such a long break, your body is getting used to less of a workload. Now I’m working hard. Hopefully after Nationals it’ll be clear what will happen with the second half of the season."
Tuktamysehva made waves when she posted a video to Instagram showing her landing a quadruple Lutz earlier this week, but said the jump is not consistent just yet in practice. "Hopefully it will be ready for Russian Nationals," she said.