World champions in three disciplines look to secure Olympic spots for ROC team 

St. Petersburg hosts the Russian Championships 23-26 December, after which some of the ROC Olympic team members could be named. Kamila Valieva and Anna Shcherbakova headline a loaded women’s field.

By Nick McCarvel
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The Russian Figure Skating Championships, set for 23-26 December, in St. Petersburg, are no doubt the most competitive national figure skating events in the world ahead of February’s Winter Olympic Games.

Three disciplines – women’s singles, pair skating and ice dance – are headlined by reigning world champions, while the women’s event could likely showcase three of the top skaters on the globe who will compete for Olympic podium positions at Beijing 2022.

The ROC roster for the coming Games could be partially announced at the conclusion of the event, but January’s European Championships (10-16 January) are reserved by ROC officials for a final decision.

While 17-year-old Anna Shcherbakova (pictured above) is the reigning world champion, it’s 15-year-old Kamila Valieva who set world record scores last month on her way to a second of two Grand Prix triumphs in her debut season on the senior international circuit.

As many as three other skaters will look to secure a third spot for the ROC, though not even the top two are guaranteed their places.

Reigning world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov lead the pair skating discipline, while fellow world champs Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov spearhead the ice dance.

Read a full preview of the action below – and find the schedule of events for the weekend, too.

Women: Valieva, Shcherbakova, Trusova lead the charge

There is no single discipline in any skating country in the world as loaded with talent as the Russian women. Case in point: The three skaters who will represent the ROC at the Games will likely be viewed as the top three favourites for the Olympic podium.

For Valieva, she’s followed the Alina Zagitova playbook: Coached by Eteri Tutberidze and making her senior debut in the Olympic year, the 2020 junior world champion collected three wins at three stops so far this year, including her world record-grabbing skates at Rostelecom Cup late last month, which featured both a quadruple Salchow and toe-loop, as well as a triple Axel.

That technical content is what has helped to set Valieva apart, though another Tutberidze charge – Alexandra Trusova – will look to bring her big-jumping best, armed with multiple quads herself. A foot injury, however, halted her season after a gold medal at Skate America in October.

Injuries have also marred the Olympic hopes of two more skaters: 2020 European champion Alena Kostornaia; as well as Daria Usacheva, both who train under Tutberidze.

On third try, Tuktamysheva hopes this is it

It’s Shcherbakova who also (like Valieva and Trusova) has a quad in her planned elements, having hit a quad Salchow in both of her Grand Prix stops this year and had previously said she was hoping to add another for nationals.

She is the three-time and reigning national champion in Russia.

2015 world champion and reigning world silver medallist Elizaveta Tuktamysheva looks to make her third Olympic attempt the charm, having missed out on the team in both 2014 and 2018. While Tuktamysheva, 25 and the veteran of the group, does not possess a quad jump, she does do the triple Axel in both her short and long programs.

She nabbed two medals on the Grand Prix circuit this season, as well.

Maiia Khromykh, 15, rounds out the top contenders for the aforementioned three Olympic spots. Khromykh landed on the podium at her two Grand Prix events this season, too, as well as winning two ISU Challenger stops.

Men: Kolyada favoured in open men’s field

For the men there is a clear-cut favourite in 2018 Olympian Mikhail Kolyada, the 26-year-old being the most seasoned and consistent of the men looking to claim one of three spots on the ROC team.

Because of roller coaster results, it’s hard to pin just who might make the team with Kolyada, who is a three-time national champion, including a year ago. That list includes Evgeni Semenenko, Andrei Mozalev, Mark Kondratiuk, Alexander Samarin, Petr Gumennik, Dmitri Aliev and Makar Ignatov.

Semenenko, the reigning junior champ in Russia at 18, has a strong international CV: He was eighth at worlds in 2021, and is the only man other than Kolyada to win a Grand Prix medal this season, capturing bronze at Skate Canada International.

He is joined in the youth brigade, including the 2020 junior world champion and Youth Olympic Games silver medallist, Mozalev (also 18), as well as 19-year-old Gumennik and another 18-year-old in Kondratiuk.

Samarin, 23, Aliev, 22, and Ignatov, 21, are the more experienced skaters along with Kolyada. Samarin capturing silver at Europeans in 2019 and has five Grand Prix medals in six years as an international senior. 

Aliev, meanwhile, is the 2020 Europen champion, and was seventh at the Games four years ago, PyeongChang 2018. Kolyada was a spot behind, in eighth.

On the scoreboard, it is Ignatov who has the second-highest Grand Prix score of the season behind Kolyada, with a 257.20 at NHK Trophy, while Semenenko (256.01), Samarin (255.65), Aliev (253.56) and Mozalev (248.54) are not far behind.

Pairs: Three Olympic spots await in crowded competition

While as many as eight men could compete for three Olympic spots, only four pairs teams are likely to jockey for three tickets to Beijing.

Mishina and Galliamov have backed up what was a surprise win at worlds in April with impressive, mature skating this season, winning all three of their events and setting up what could be a showdown with two-time world champs and home hopes Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China for the coming Games.

Veterans Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov look primed to make their second Games, having won at Skate America in October and then finished second to Mishina/Galliamov at NHK Trophy. 

The three-time world medallists, who were fourth at the Games in 2018, have skated strongly - if not perfect.

Both Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii as well as Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin would like to factor into the Olympic conversation, as well, with Boikova/Kozlovskii’s 216.96 at Internationaux de France being the highest-scoring outing of either team on the Grand Prix. (Pavliuchenko/Khodykin's best was 212.59.)

Don’t overlook Yasmina Kadyrova and Ivan Balchenko or Iuliia Artemeva and Mihail Nazarychev, both teams winning Grand Prix medals this season. Though only Artemeva/Nazarychev broke the 200-point mark between those two teams.

Ice dance: Sinitsina/ Katsalapov want to keep momentum

Much like Mishina/Galliamov, reigning ice dance world champions Sinitsina/Katsalapov have gone from strength to strength this season, winning comfortably at both of their Grand Prix assignments.

Katsalapov had a back injury over the pre-season months in the summer, but none of those ill effects have materialized on competitive ice.

Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, four-time European medallists, are clearly second favourite, though the third dance spot is harder to foresee.

2018 Olympians Tiffany Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro are three-time Grand Prix medallists, but their preparation for the season was hampered by his contracting of Covid-19 before the competitive year started, then Zagorski was ill herself, forcing them to miss both their Grand prix assignments.

Schedule – Russian championships, 23-26 December

All times listed are local St. Petersburg time (GMT+3).

Thursday, 23 December
13:15 Men’s short program
16:05 Ice dance rhythm dance
19:05 Pairs short program

Friday, 24 December
12:45 Ice dance free dance
15:15 Men’s free program
18:20 Women’s short program

Saturday, 25 December 21, 2021
15:30 Pairs free program
18:00 Women’s free program

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