It seems appropriate, since we’re in Russia, that the Grand Prix Series’ fifth stop swerved between horror, drama, and a sense of creeping doom.
Full disclosure: I borrowed this recap’s title from the inimitable @marigolds from Twitter, because I really couldn’t come up with anything pithier.
SILENTLY SCREAMING #rostelecomcup2018— Heath Sledge (@marigolds) November 17, 2018
On the Bright Side…
Eunsoo Lim won a bronze medal!Embed from Getty Images
Lim is developing into one of the most interesting prospects in the ladies field at the start of this Olympic cycle, demonstrating a maturity in her skating that is rare in a skater so young (15!). Her age does make the use of the Chicago soundtrack a touch questionable, but I still think she is fantastic. Such pretty pointed toes in the jumps! Glorious, long lines! Best costume in the entire competition! I love Lim’s skating and the way she carries herself on the ice.
Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin danced to kill!Embed from Getty Images
Stepanova and Bukin handily won this event, not through any great feat of skill (although they’re not exactly slouches), but by turning their crazy sexy cool vibe up to 100. Ice dance is 90% mood, and Stepanova and Bukin are skating the kind of program at Hubbell and Donohue should be skating. Watch them run away with the title at the Grand Prix Final, even though Hubbell and Donohue are the superior dancers.
Alexei Yagudin shamelessly went Full Fanyu!Embed from Getty Images
Watching Yagudin (my original Favourite Skater Ever™) pull out his iPad to film the Pooh Bear circus after Hanyu’s skates was hilarious and touching. No one–not even an Olympic gold medalist with four world titles of his own–is immune to the Hanyu Fanyu Effect.
Bonus round: this isn’t the first time Yagudin has gone full fan…
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Gracie Gold Deserves More TimeEmbed from Getty Images
21 months after a fall to 6th place at US Nationals, treatment for disordered eating, anxiety, and depression, and a coaching switch made the return of Gracie Gold one of the biggest stories to follow this weekend. Given the length of time and the volume of encouraging press surrounding her comeback, Gold might have hoped for a breakthrough in Russia, however small. Her performance at Rostelecom, however, was heartbreaking. I have full confidence that, given enough time, training, and support, Gracie Gold can be a champion again. I just hope she’s given enough time to do that on her own schedule.
Alina Zagitova Deserves Better ProgramsEmbed from Getty Images
Zagitova handily won her second Grand Prix event with a gold medal at Rostelecom Cup. Neither of those victories were flawless and both outings demonstrated the foundational weakness in Zagitova’s skating: an unstable jump technique that threatens to desert her as time wears on.
Compounding that weakness are programs that do nothing to highlight Zagitova’s speed, line, or artistic potential. Phantom of the Opera and Carmen are tired music choices to begin with, but it’s possible to infuse them with some majesty. Mikhail Kolyada is also skating a free program to Carmen this year that manages to be compelling and dramatic (when he’s landing the jumps). Zagitova is an Olympic champion who deserves the chance to hold a charlotte spiral longer than .75 seconds.
Yuzuru Hanyu: The Legend ContinuesEmbed from Getty Images
The 24 hours between the men’s short and long programs saw Yuzuru Hanyu go from setting a world record score to swinging into a post-event press conference on crutches. Hanyu aggravated last year’s ankle injury with a bad fall on a quad loop attempt in practice prior to the free program. He skated anyway and won by nearly 30 points, despite blowing both triple axels and under rotating the quad toe triple salchow combination.
Most of that 30 point margin was earned from his gorgeous short program. It’s a performance that should surely rank as one of the best in the modern era of figure skating. It beggars belief that an skater could find ways to improve after winning everything there is to win–twice. Then again, this is just what Yuzuru Hanyu does.Embed from Getty Images
Flawless though the short program was, I think the long program is the more spectacular performance. I can’t think of any skater, past or present, who could rearrange his entire program layout hours before a competition, then skate it to win without a single run through on a landing foot numbed with painkillers. The man is an absolute legend.
The injury, of course, casts doubt on Hanyu’s participation in the Grand Prix Final and Japanese Nationals. I’m staying cautiously optimistic. He ultimately decided to skate the free program at Rostelecom, which, if the injury was too severe, wouldn’t have happened. I would argue his push to complete this competition also points to a desire to make it to the Final, or at least secure the option to do so. Hanyu is a ferocious competitor, and withdrawing from Cup of Russia would have disqualified him from the Final.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit I would love to see Hanyu at the Grand Prix Final. I am one of the lucky people with tickets. I would, however, much rather see a healthy Hanyu have a long career than push through the pain for a competition he’s already won four times. Hell, I bought the tickets in January when his participation in the Olympics was still in doubt, so you take what you can get. In the meantime, #CandlesforHanyu.Embed from Getty Images
Only one event remains in the Grand Prix Series! Will Nathan Chen’s new haircut disrupt his Drunken Uncle at an Eastern European Wedding short program flow? Will Evgenia Medvedeva make up for that Skate Canada bronze medal with a victory at Internationaux de France? Will Papadakis & Cizeron skate at all?
Stay tuned! See you next week!
Header/feature image ©International Skating Union (ISU)