Valieva, Semenenko shine: What we learned from Russian Cup Final

Kamila Valieva and Evgeni Semenenko moved into strong positions in the “what comes next” conversation within Russian skating with victories in Moscow.

By Nick McCarvel

The “next” is now for Russian figure skaters Kamila Valieva and Evgeni Semenenko.

Teenagers Valieva, 14, and Semenenko, 17, captured victories at the Russian Cup Final over the weekend (February 27 and 28) in Moscow, as skaters jockeyed for world championships team positions in the year ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.

READ MORE: Men's wrap-up | Ladies wrap-up

The Russian skating federation is expected to name its world team roster this coming week.

Valieva is still age ineligible for worlds, as are fellow top three finishers Maiia Khromykh (2nd) and Daria Usacheva (3rd). 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, 24, was fourth, a finish that could book her a ticket to Stockholm over Alena Kostornaia, who placed sixth.

Here, five things we learned from the skating weekend that was in Moscow.

Valieva ready for senior success

There will be no worlds in Stockholm for Valieva, but the 2020 junior world champion is building nicely to a senior debut next season, just in time for the coming Olympics.

PyeongChang 2018 gold medallist Alina Zagitova made her senior debut in the lead-up to her Olympic triumph, and Valieva, coached by Zagitova mentor Eteri Tutberidze, could be following the same blueprint.

She scored a 238.00 overall to seal her victory, landing one quadruple jump in her free skate while trying two others. She also hit a triple Axel in the program, set to the famed “Bolero.”

Valieva was second behind training mate Anna Shcherbakova at Russian nationals in December, and – armed with quads and a triple Axel – will look to make a splash similar to that of Shcherbakova, Kostornaia and Alexandra Trusova during the 2019-20 season.

Worlds: Will Tuktamysheva make a return?

While there was no podium at Russian Cup for Tuktamysheva, the skating veteran showed her patented resolve with a fourth-place finish after a disappointing seventh at Russian nationals in December.

While the worlds team is yet to be announced, it is seen to already include national medallists Shcherbakova and Trusova, meaning Tuktamysheva’s Russian Cup result – first among age-eligible skaters – could book her a first worlds appearance since her victory at the event in 2015.

“I'm calling it now, Tuktamysheva will be back at her first world championships since winning it in 2015 six years ago,” wrote figure skating analyst Jackie Wong on Twitter.

Wong also pointed to improved technical content from Tuktamysheva, who landed two triple Axels in her free (including one in combination), as well as a triple Lutz-triple toe combo.

Alena Kostornaia looks to rebound

So, what then for Kostornaia? Like Tuktamysheva, she battled Covid-19 in late 2020, the lingering physical impacts setting her out from Russian nationals.

She battled valiantly through the free skate to end up sixth (after struggling in the short program), but was far from the same skater who swept her Grand Prix appearances in 2019 and then won at the European championships.

“Alena today is just a fighter who went out and skated, taking into account the health situation,” said her coach, Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko, according to Russian outlet R-Sport. “She fought to the end and showed that she is ready to go further, that she is ready to fight and win. Now we have a difficult stage, but she is smart, she continues to work. She said that she has a desire to continue performing (after the Olympic season)... so, we will plough (forward)."

Semenenko makes his mark

While the women are always centre stage in skating, the men’s event offered plenty of intrigue, particularly with 17-year-old Semenenko, the reigning junior national champ, emerging as the victor ahead of a crowded male field.

Mikhail Kolyada, the reigning Russian and Rostelecom Cup champion, appears to be headed to worlds, so will Semenenko join him? His 265.13 was nearly 10 points ahead of Petr Gumennik (256.06) in second and Dmitri Aliev (254.79) in third.

Aliev, like a handful of other Russian skaters, continues to recover from Covid-19. Of the current Russian men, he’s the most experienced internationally alongside Kolyada, the 2018 Olympian having won at Euros in January of 2020 after capturing silver in 2018.

Other youngsters Andrei Mozalev, Mark Kondratiuk and Artem Kovalev finished fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.

The long game: Eyes on Beijing 2022

While figure skating will turn its attention to Stockholm for worlds later this month, the Beijing Games will become the focus over the coming months, as skaters prepare for the Olympic season and the pressures that come along with it.

Valieva will lead the youth charge among the women, aiming to challenge the likes of Shcherbakova, Trusova and Kostornaia – as well as Tuktamysheva – and making difficult any sort of comeback that Zagitova or Olympic silver medallist Evgenia Medvedeva would like to make.

Kolyada, following illness and a coaching change last year, is the clear frontrunner among the Russian men, and will look to bring the current total of two male singles skaters up to three for the Olympics, as is the case for the ladies, pairs and dance disciplines. Worlds is the final chance to confirm those totals, with placements there helping to determine how many skaters can represent each nation at the Games next year.

Speaking of dance, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov returned to form with a win at Russian Cup, scoring a 223.12.