The Russian National Figure Skating Championships will be held in Ekaterinburg, Russia, from December 23-27. This date set often confuses fans in Western countries, but comes about because Russian Orthodox Christmas is not until January 7, though traditionally the kiss and cry and areas around the host rink for Nationals have Christmas decorations about.
Russian Nationals is often one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the National season, due almost entirely to its “bloodbath” status; picking a favourite to win in some divisions is nearly impossible, and the strength and depth of the Russian ladies, for example, makes for an incredible battle.
As with all National events, there is some level of “home scoring”, and as such, scores obtained at National Championships do not count towards ISU personal bests, seasons’ bests, or world records.
The men's event will almost certainly be the most unpredictable of the lot, with none of the men showing any kind of consistent form during the early part of the season. The skater who has impressed me the most, however, is Adian Pitkeev. The seventeen year old was sixth at Skate America, but skated superbly at the Rostelecom Cup to almost pull off an upset over the reigning World Champion. Pitkeev has a graceful, lyrical style and straight, tight jumps, and could just have what it takes to beat out Maxim Kovtun for the top prize.
Kovtun has had a difficult season so far, despite being arguably the best-packaged he's ever been. His jumps, which are his number one point-spinners, have not been working as well as he needs them to, and though he managed second largely thanks to the cancellation of Trophee Eric Bompard after the short program, he crashed to a disastrous tenth at the NHK Trophy in Japan. Though Kovtun has received favourable scoring on home soil in the past, it may not be enough for him this time unless he skates well.
Just behind these two cluster a whole slew of extremely talented men. At the top are the two "silver foxes" of Russian skating, Sergei Voronov and Konstantin Menshov, who both have considerable jumping prowess up their sleeves. Voronov has switched long programs back to the one that brought him so much success last year, while Menshov, who at 33 is the oldest skater in the field, will be lurking to play spoiler. Youngster Mikhail Kolyada will be keen to turn in a good result after missing Nationals last year with a broken leg, while Artur Dmitriev Jr and Gordei Gorshkov have been quietly turning in results in Senior B competitions. Dmitri Aliev had an excellent season on the Junior circuit and picked up a bronze at Tallinn to start his Senior career. It will be quite the battle.
Predictions: 1. Adian Pitkeev, 2. Maxim Kovtun, 3. Sergei Voronov
Oh, where to start. It is so impossible I hardly know where to begin. For years now, the Russian ladies' field has seen a glut of talent flood through it, so that even as some fall away, there are many more to take her place. Youth and age are skewed out of all proportion here; a lady is of age at fifteen and considered old at nineteen!
Fifteen is the age of Evgenia Medvedeva, and for me, she is the clear favourite heading into this event. The reigning Junior World Champion has been on fire all season and has capped that first part of the year with victory in the Senior Grand Prix Final. Her jumps are of good size and rotation and her spins are polished, but best yet is that her presentation is beyond what you would normally expect of a fresh-out-of-Juniors teen. She is a very exciting prospect and shaping up to have a strong second half of the year.
But of course, in this field also is reigning World Champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, and she will undoubtedly fight hard to win the crown that was the only major title to elude her last year. Tuktamysheva has struggled so far, though her memorable comeback at Skate Canada was proof that none of her considerable prowess has deserted her. She was one of the skaters hurt by the premature end to TEB and her resultant elimination from qualifying for the Final, but in some ways, that may have helped her. All eyes will be on her to see if she will land the triple Axel here.
Reigning Olympic Champion Adelina Sotnikova is also a massive threat. Though her start to the season was rusty after coming back from a bad tendon injury, her presentation skills are more polished and improved than ever thanks to her stint on Russia's Dancing with the Stars, and she has shown before on the biggest stage of all that she can handle pressure. And there are many other ladies who should not be left out of consideration. Elena Radionova is the reigning National Champion and showed improvement in form at the GPF, while Julia Lipnitskaya has made a coaching change that could make all the difference. And then there are skaters like Alena Leonova, Anna Pogorilaya, Maria Artimieva, Maria Sotskova, and newly-crowned Junior Grand Prix Final Champion Polina Tsurskaya...it is not unthinkable that a "big name" skater might even fail to make the top ten!
Predictions: 1. Evgenia Medvedeva, 2. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, 3. Adelina Sotnikova
Even as I started writing this I had to change it. Though I originally had predicted Grand Prix Final Champions Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov to take the fight to Olympic Champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, this morning we found out that Klimov is suffering from a rather painful-looking rash or inflammation in his back and so they will not be Nationals this year, thus depriving us of one aspect of the incredible pairs fight!
But it will be an incredible fight nonetheless. Volosozhar and Trankov may be the Olympic Champions and started their season strongly, but they were forced to miss NHK because of an injury to Volosozhar, and this will be their first competition back. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov also started their season strongly with a silver at Skate Canada but were among those affected adversely by the aborted TEB. They then proceeded to win Golden Spin and are in strong form heading into Nationals.
Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov have had an excellent season so far, winning Cup of China and coming second at Rostelecom to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, where they finished with a bronze medal in a tough field. And then there are the myriad of high-quality pairs still to come: Bazarova and Deputat, Astakhova and Rogonov, Gubanova and Sintsov, and of course, the newly-crowned Junior Grand Prix Final Champions, Ekaterina Borisova and Dmitry Sopot, keen to make an impression on the Senior ranks. Hold on tight - it could be a wild ride!
Predictions: 1. Volosozhar/Trankov, 2. Tarasova/Morozov, 3. Kavaguti/Smirnov
They may not be the most popular dance couple in the world, but there can be no doubting that Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov are the in-form Russian dance team of the moment. Second at Skate America and third at Rostelecom, they missed qualifying for the GPF by a whisker and are skating very well.
But the couple hot on their heels will create some drama in itself, with Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin being the dumped former partners of Sinitsina and Katsalapov. Though the start to their season was a little rocky - they took bronze at Cup of China but slipped to fifth at Rostelecom - their free dance at Rostelecom showed an upswing in form and a preparedness to fight that will surely serve them well. Both couples would be wise to attempt to forget the off-ice dramas that created their partnerships and focus on the dancing at this event.
Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev have had a reasonable season so far, with second at Skate Canada and bronze at NHK qualifying them for the Grand Prix Final, where they finished fifth, but they have lacked the fire and spark that made them the National champions last year and will face a hard fight to defend their crown. Also in the mix will be Stepanova and Bukin, Yanovskaya and Mozgov, and, competing for the first time at Russian Nationals as an eligible-for-selection couple, Tiffany Zahorski and Jonathon Guerreiro.
Predictions: 1. Sinitsina/Katsalapov, 2. Ilinykh/Zhiganshin, 3. Bobrova/Soliviev
All times AEDT.
Short program: Thursday 24th December - 8:00pm - 10:30pm
Long program: Friday 25th December - 10:45pm - 1:45am (26th)
Short program: Friday 25th December - 8:00pm - 10:30pm
Long program: Saturday 26th December - 11:30pm - 2:30pm (27th)
Short program: Friday 25th December - 12:15am - 2:15am
Long program: Saturday 26th December - 9:00pm - 11:15pm
Short dance: Friday 25th December - 2:30am - 4:00am
Free dance: Saturday 26th December - 2:00am - 3:45am