In her 10th season on figure skating’s elite Grand Prix Series, 23-year-old Elizaveta Tuktamysehva is a champion once again.
Her win highlighted a weekend of intrigue at the third Grand Prix stop of the season, after Skate America and the Cup of China and cancellations in Canada and France. Japan will close out the series this coming weekend in Osaka.
The Rostelecom Cup event, held in Moscow, was limited to Russian skaters and those from nearby countries to help mitigate travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Skaters followed safety protocols, and only a small crowd was allowed into the Megasport Palace.
‘Queen Liza’ reigns; Trusova struggles
“I’m very pleased,” said Tuktamysheva after her victory, affably called “Queen Liza” by her fans.
She landed three triple Axels across her two programs and promised that she was working on her quadruple toe loop, which she hopes to perform competitively for the first time at next month's Russian nationals.
It was a show of force for Tuktamysheva who, at 23, was the oldest skater in the women’s event.
While all eyes have been on Kostornaia, Trusova, and fellow Russian teen Anna Shcherbakova – who pulled out on the morning of the event due to pneumonia – Tuktamysheva continues to keep herself in the conversation.
Kostornaia can take away reasons for optimism from the competition, but it will serve as a moment of pause for Trusova who fell on three of her four attempted quads in her free skate.
She and Kostornaia will return to their training hub with coach Evgeni Plushenko with Kostornaia scheduled to skate in the final stop of the Cup of Russia in a fortnight's time.
Fans will be interested to see how Shcherbakova recovers from her bout with illness, while Evgenia Medvedeva, the Olympic silver medallist and two-time world champ, is quarantining after testing positive for coronavirus.
Call it a 'komeback' for Kolyada
The men’s result may not have raised as many eyebrows as the women’s but it was a strong showing, too, for Mikhail Kolyada, the 2018 world bronze medallist who missed the entirety of last season due to illness.
While the 25-year-old singled a planned triple Axel in the free skate, the Russian showed a mix of grit and grace that he’s become known for, winning the men’s event by six points over a mostly-younger field.
He had little to say after his victory, but his skating spoke the loudest: “It feels good,” he said when asked how it felt to win his first Grand Prix in three years. “It gives me extra motivation.”
Work to be done for Sinitsina/Katsalapov
Before COVID-19 abruptly cut off the figure skating world championships in March, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov had just done what no other team had in nearly two years: They beat four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron to win the European Championships in January.
But since then, both skaters have dealt with injury, having to withdraw midway through a Cup of Russia event earlier this season.
While they won by some 10 points over the second-place finishers in Moscow, Katsalapov struggled to lift Sinitsina on a rotational lift near the end of their free dance, a clear sign they need more time and training underneath them to try and ready for nationals.
It’s there they could likely face top rivals Aleksandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, the four-time Euro medallists, who sat Rostelecom Cup out after Bukin tested positive for COVID-19, needing more time to get back to full strength.
The pairs arms race is in high gear
Who is the “it” team in Russian pairs skating? For the moment it’s Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, the European champions beating silver medallists Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov by seven points at Rostelecom.
While Boikova/Kozlovskii grew in strength through the weekend, excelling in particular in the free skate, Moscow was missing three-time world medalists Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov as well as Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin, two more teams which will no doubt factor into the conversation come nationals.
Russia will be allowed to send three teams to the European Championships in late January, meaning nationals will factor big into that decision – but isn’t the sole factor.
Last year Boikova/Kozlovskii, Pavliuchenko/Khodykin, and Tarasova/Morozov went 1-2-3 at Europeans.
And Mishina/Galliamov aren’t to be counted out, either: They’re the 2019 world junior champions and are only more motivated after a silver-medal finish.
“Even a bad experience is an experience,” said Mishina. “We really wanted to skate clean... we hope next time we’ll be able to.”
What next for the Russian women?
While Russian skating continues to go from strength to strength, the ladies’ race might be as intriguing as ever, with Kostornaia, Trusova, and Shcherbakova having been the breakout stars of last season and now Tuktamysheva with another win herself.
Medvedeva has been hindered by a bad back, and her COVID diagnosis means she is running out of time as far as this season is concerned.
The 18-year-old is currently hosting a skating show on Russian TV and remaining tight-lipped as to whether she’ll hit competitive ice again, though she certainly hasn’t ruled it out.
World junior champion Kamila Valieva also performed in the exhibition ahead of competing against Kostornaia and Tuktamysheva in the fifth stage of the Cup of Russia from 5-8 December.
Valieva, 14, will be eligible for senior competition next season enabling her to take part in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.