Hot Takes: Russian Nationals 2019

The hell with the Ladies event…I don’t even…WOW

Say hello to the new Russian Senior Ladies National Champion–14 year old Junior Grand Prix Finalist Anna Shcherbakova.

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The strangest thing about Russian Nationals is that it lumps Junior and Senior skaters together in the same competition across all disciplines. I’m convinced it’s because Russia is secretly miffed gladiator battles are no longer culturally acceptable and is staging the next best thing.

Under normal circumstances this level-blending wouldn’t be an issue. Junior skaters are still developing their technique and presentation, scoring lower on average than their senior competitors. At best, having them all compete together gives Juniors valuable experience and you a quirky fact to break the ice with at cocktail parties. But this is Russia, and when in Russia figure skating is a journey through the looking glass to a topsy-turvy world where Junior firecrackers arrive armed with quadruple lutzes.

Anna Shcherbakova’s quad lutz

Russian Ladies figure skating has long been a gonzo world of pint-sized jumping beans snatching up World and Olympic titles. Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova were proceeded by Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva, who replaced Adelina Sotnikova and Yulia Lipnitskaya in turn. This weekend, however, is the first time junior skaters swept the podium in the ladies event. Shcherbakova, Trusova, and Alena Kostornaia were all Junior Grand Prix Finalists, finished 1-2-3 at nationals, and none of them are age-eligible for Senior competition until the 2019-20 season. These Russian Juniors are time bombs primed to detonate in the Senior field next year with spectacular results.

Junior ladies with quad lutzes are the bleeding edge of figure skating. Remember, the first quad lutz wasn’t landed until 2011, and it’s only become a regular feature in the Senior men’s competition since 2016. Speaking of: Trusova’s free skate TES came in at 90.22 on the strength of her quad lutz, a scant 4.09 points behind the free skate TES of Maxim Kovtun, winner of the Senior men’s event (more on him later). Trusova’s TES was also 9.08 points ahead of Mikhail Kolyada’s. Nobody knows how the jumping prowess of Trusova and Shcherbakova will age as they grow up, but it doesn’t detract from the feat–or the scores.

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What does an all-Junior ladies podium mean for the Senior skaters? Placements at nationals traditionally influence the selection of European and World championship skaters, but that selection process looks a bit wacky when the reigning Olympic champion placed fifth. Given that Shcherbakova, Trusova, and Kostornaia aren’t age eligible for Europeans or Worlds, I don’t think this actually changes the conversation about who will be assigned to those events. The pool of qualified skaters is the same, and the decision will be contentious no matter what the Russian Federation does. Forced to bet, I would say Zagitova, Tuktamysheva, and Samodurova will be named to the Senior team, given their overall performance this season.

The real fallout from the Eteri Troika won’t be felt at the Zagitova/Tuktamysheva/Medvedeva senior elite level–at least, not right away. It’s the mid-tier Senior skaters–Maria Sotskova, Polina Tsurskaya, Stanislava Konstantinova–who will feel the pressure first. These are the skaters who have inconsistent seasons, middling results, or both. They don’t have Olympic and World medals to insulate their reputations. The mid-tier Russian ladies will see their international assignments farmed out to the Juniors who transition to the Senior ranks in 2019-20 as the Russian Federation dines out on the PR and placements of ladies landing quads.

While the ladies were the most dramatic discipline, they weren’t the only thing worth talking about in Saransk.

Highs

The Resurrection of Maxim Kovtun

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Nobody predicted Maxium Kovtun, 2019 Russian National Champion. This is Kovtun’s fourth national title and the first result of note since the 2016-17 season. Chronic back and knee injuries washed out Kovtun’s Olympic season and sidelined him for this year’s Grand Prix series. Without those Grand Prix assignments, Kovtun needed a miracle at nationals to make the Russian world team. Christmas came early for Kovtun!

Mikhail Kolyada

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Kolyada, Tsar of the Murderface and Our Lord of Perpetual Inconsistency, also needed a miracle this weekend in Saransk. Fresh off a second place finish to Jason Brown* at Golden Spin and a thoroughly underwhelming Grand Prix Series, Kolyada needed to get his head in the game or risk ending his season in December. It wasn’t easy: hampered by a horrific sinus infection, the Russian press hounding him for his inconsistency, and the knowledge that Kovtun had somehow found his way out of the wilderness, Kolyada scraped together enough points for a silver medal. I’m still waiting to see him skate his Carmen program at its Maxium Matador setting, but I will take a gritty podium finish for now.

*No disrespect to Jason Brown, but Kolyada should easily beat him on a good day.

Reaction Shots

Bless Tatiana Tarasova for never holding back how she feels about a skater. Here we see her sobbing with joy after Kovtun’s free skate. Bonus points for Alexei Yagudin Uncle Slow Clapping beside her:

The epitome of “You’re doing amazing, sweetie!”

Other, decidedly less joyful, moments brought out the classic “WTF are you DOING out there, kid?” face from Alexei Mishin. Credit to Mishin: he’s been doing this for so long that when a skater does something ridiculous (like Andrei Lazukin popping and flailing out of a triple axel like a drunk starfish) this counts as an Epic Reaction™:

I will end up using this gif for everything, I can feel it.

Meanwhile, Brian Orser went on a journey watching new pupil Evgenia Medvedeva skate this weekend–but didn’t we all?

Now, to head back to my bunker and buckle up for the rest of the weekend and Japan Nationals:

Header/feature image © International Skating Union (ISU)

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