High Drama at the Rostelecom Cup


Two home skaters surprise slightly for gold in ladies and dance; favorites win men and pairs.

If one wanted drama, the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow this weekend certainly provided. This event had everything: a good men’s event, a bad pairs event, an ice dance event where one team blew it, at least one instance of dodgy judging favoring the home skaters, and two cases where it was an achievement for the skaters just to finish their programs, one of which upended the ladies event hard. This last instance also cost the home country their expected podium sweep, but they still did well for themselves, perhaps better than they should have, except in the men’s event.


(Photo by Joosep Martinson – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

This may have been a good men’s event, but the reigning World Champion did not have a good start. In his short, Javier Fernandez stepped out of a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, and tripled his quad salchow attempt. This left him in second, seven points behind young Japanese star Shoma Uno. Uno got through a quad flip and a quad toe-triple toe combination with minor stumbling. Whatever points he lost on that stumbling he made up but not only nailing the rest of the program, but get straight level 4s on his non-jump elements. Fernandez was also only a point ahead of Mikhail Kolyada. Kolyada pulled off a clean quad toe-triple toe, though he had trouble on his triple axel, and rode the home crowd energy to a strong third.

But in the free, Fernandez put it together, landing everything no problem, including a solo quad toe and quad salchows both solo and in combination, although the latter wasn’t the prettiest. He also easily out-performed most of the rest of the field. Uno’s own expression is good and getting better, but his free was much less clean. He held on to a quad flip and landed a good quad toe, but he fell on his second, one of two places he neglected to do a jump combination. He dropped to second, and Fernandez won.

(Photo by Sergei Fadeichev\TASS via Getty Images)

Kolyada met with much worse in his free skate. He managed a quad toe with a turnout, but tripled an attempted quad salchow. Then he too had combo trouble, landing a clean triple axel-triple but barely, before falling on his second lutz and singling out the second jump in his double axel sequence. Sixth in the segment, he dropped to fourth, ceding bronze to Israel’s Alexei Bychenko. Bychenko won his first ever Grand Prix medal by combing technical consistency with sharpness, speed, and energy in both programs. His only quad was the quad toe, but he landed it once in the short and twice in the fee. He also landed every other jump he attempted, except his triple axel combination, and he made them all look beautiful.

Also suffering disappointment was American Max Aaron in fifth. He first skated an eighth-place short where he fell on his quad salchow, and the rest of the program was also rough. He came back with a fourth place free where he landed two quad salchows, one in combination, and most of his jumps clean, but the second one he didn’t quite keep his free leg up. In fact, the first group of skaters in the free did remarkably well for themselves. Perhaps most impressive was Swede Alexander Majorov. This was not because he skated a good free; in fact, he finished last. But he did so with such a monstrous nosebleed during his free his was the first case where it was impressive he finished at all.


(Photo by Joosep Martinson – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

From the time the roster for the ladies event first came out, a home sweep looked likely. It probably would’ve happened too, had all three Russian ladies gotten through the competition intact. As it was, the two that did had no trouble topping the podium. But even then only one of them performed up to expectations.

Fresh off her unexpected bronze medal at Worlds, Anna Pogorilaya demonstrated this week exactly how she got it. In the short she delivered on everything, from the triple lutz-triple toe to the strength and power with which she skated. She was exactly two points head of Elena Radionova, the pre-event favorite. Radionova landed the same, but her double axel was rough. A couple of points below them Julia Lipinitskaia also landed everything, but did only a triple toe-triple toe. The difference in quality would become even bigger in the free. Pogorilaya not only landed everything, including her triple-triple again, but, for an edge call on her flip, did her elements with good quality and good dramaticism. Radionova landed most of her jumps, including a triple flip-triple toe, but didn’t land them very well. A fall on an underrotated loop late in the program didn’t help. Pogorilaya won big.

Radionova might have even dropped to third in the ordinary course of events. Julia Lipnitskaia started her free skate with only a triple double, but she didn’t look too bad at first. Then she somehow aggravated the injury to her knee, started to struggle, then stopped skating the program. Initially it looked like she was going to withdraw. After the music stopped, she skated a couple of laps and conferred with her coach, limping all the while. It seemed impossible she would continue. Nonetheless, she then did. She’d already lost a large portion of her program, but she did the final thirty seconds of it, falling on her remaining jump, which one just hopes didn’t make things worse. Like Majorov, she finished last, but she finished. Whether that was brave or foolhardy of her is up to debate.

(Photo credit should read ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Bronze therefore fell into the hands of American Courtney Hicks, who edged out two bigger names for it. She’d been behind both LKazahstan’s Elizaveta Tursynbaeva and China’s Zijun Li after the short, but not by much. Tursynbaeva had done a love triple lutz-triple toe, though she had then fallen on her axel and struggled with a spin. Li did a triple toe-triple toe instead. But she did everything well, and with a confidence and strength she doesn’t always show these days. Hicks skated clean with a triple flip-triple toe, but got lower presentation scores.

There wasn’t much difference in the free skates either. Li once again had one of her better skates, taking on her elements with assurance. It even worked out for some of them. But she doubled a lutz, and also had a couple of underrotations, and her connection to her music was disappointingly limited. Nor did she have a triple-triple. Tursynbaeva, in fact, was the only one of the three to land one, doing her triple lutz-triple toe again. But she underrotated a second lutz, her elements in general were weaker, not all of them were clean, and she too didn’t always connect to her music. Hicks, using music it was easier for her to express, didn’t manage her opening triple-triple, but managed all of her other triples, if not one of her doubles, and then edged the other two out on the quality of her non-jump elements especially.

Li squeaked ahead of Tursynbaeva for fourth, her best result in a while. That was especially heartening to see here when below her, Kanako Murakami’s downward spiral continued. She did have a better short here than at Skate America, but that’s not saying much, and her free was even worse. She finished eleventh, less than three points ahead of Lipnitskaia.


MOSCOW, RUSSIA – NOVEMBER 05: Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany compete during Pairs Free Skating on day two of the Rostelecom Cup ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating at Megasport Ice Palace on November 5, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Joosep Martinson – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

The pairs competition started with a short program result no one saw coming. In their second year skating together, Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert aren’t even considered to be in the top tier of Russian pairs. But none of the teams that are were here anyway. In their place, Zabiiako & Enbert skated a clean program of understated artistry. Their jump elements weren’t as hard as some of those attempted by other teams, but they benefitted when both the favored German and Canadian teams had short programs that included side by side falls.

Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot managed to at least rotate their salchows, and managed their throw triple axel with a stepout, which put them in second, only a fraction of a point behind Zabiiako & Enbert. But Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau went for triple loops only to have her double before they went down, and did only a throw triple flip with a hand down. They were left in fifth. The only team to land salchows in the short were Italians Valentina Marchei & Ondrej Hotarek. That got them third, along with a somewhat unstable throw triple lutz. In fourth, another Russian team, Kristina Astakhova & Alexei Rogonov landed the throw flip, but underrotated their salchows.

Savchenko & Massot came back in the free to right things. There they landed side by side toes and also did the salchows as part of their three-jump, though she then singled one of the double toes that followed it. They went for the throw triple axel again, and then a throw quad salchow in the final moments of the program! The former was doubled, and the latter she fell on, but they did get credit for the four rotations. It was more than enough to blow right past Zabiiako & Enbert for the gold. The Russians helped when she failed to even get their salchows up in in the air, while he fell on his. They also only did a throw double axel. A clean triple toe-double toe-double loop combination and general element quality helped them win the silver.

(Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

It was how the battle for bronze panned out that was more questionable. The three teams all skated in similar manners. All three landed an easier and harder through, though Seguin & Bilodeau had hands skirting the ice on both. None of them were clean on their solo side by sides, though when the other two teams had falls, Astakhova & Rogonov got through loops with only a stumble. They lost that technical advantage, however, when their combination went badly wrong, while the other two teams pulled off theirs. Machei & Hotarek’s triple salchow-double toe-double even managed to give them the highest technical score, even when they fell on their split twist. Nonetheless, that was less than a point over Seguin & Bilodeau’s tech score, and less than a point and half over Astakhova & Rogonov’s.

That perhaps was all fair enough. The presentation scores, however, were another matter. Seguin & Bilodeau, with their artistry and skating ability, really should’ve been above the other two teams, matching Zabiiako & Enbert, and beaten the other two teams in the segment at least. But in a display of home favoritism, Astakhova & Rogonov got the highest presentation scores instead. It helped secure them third in the segment and overall. With the lowest presentation scores, Marchei & Hotarek slipped to fourth. Seguin & Bilodeau beat them in the segment by a point, not enough to move up. Whether, in fact, they should’ve beaten either team by enough to move anyway isn’t as certain. But when this will likely cost them a trip to the Grand Prix Finale, it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Ice Dance

(Photo by Sergei Fadeichev\TASS via Getty Images)

After the short dance, there was only .12 between Madison Chock & Evan Bates and Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev. The Russians were a little sharper and a little more consistent in their speed, but a split second of unsteadiness in their step sequence from her left them in second. They took on the free in much the same way, except the monotony of their music and the one-notedness of their expression made this program much less of a good one. Chock & Bates showed a bit more feeling and variation in their free. Bobrova & Soloviev still got the higher presentation scores. Ultimately, however, that didn’t matter anyway, because Bates went wrong in the twizzles, an error that proved the difference, as Bobrova & Soloviev took gold without any dispute as to whether they should have over the Americans.

Coming into this event, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Pojé spoke of revamping themselves completely, to deal with their slow descent over the past two years. How much that approach paid off here is a mixed bag. In their short they had a distinct disadvantage in the technical tariff, and didn’t quite knock it out the way the two teams above them did. They came back stronger in their free dance, a dramatic piece more their style. They managed to match Bobrova & Soloviev’s tariff, and their expression was better than that of the Russians. But they still got lower presentation scores, and while they beat Chock & Bates in the segment, that was clearly only because of his twizzle error, and not by nearly enough to move up. Still, they remain more than good enough that bronze was not a problem here.

(Photo by Joosep Martinson – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

Fourth went to Italians Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri. They even kept it close in the short dance, where they matched Weaver & Pojé for energy and even beat them technically. They beat Chock & Bates technically in the free dance, although there it was a bit less close. If they aren’t yet at the level of the three teams above them in presentation, but they aren’t far off.

View full results here.

Series Standings

With gold plus another medal, Shoma Uno and Ekaterina Boborva & Dmitri Soloviev are the first locks for the Grand Prix Finale. With two silvers, Madison Chock & Evan Bates aren’t mathematically locked yet, but is it extremely like they’ll make it. As noted earlier, Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau are now facing down long odds, though they are not out of contention yet. Full series standings can be viewed here.

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Next week the Grand Prix moves to France, and returns to Paris after two years in Bordeaux. Last year, the second half of the event was cancelled after the terrorist attacks in France, and this may be an emotional return indeed.