Honestly, writing about Russian competitions this season has been exhausting. First, because there have been approximately five hundred of them. Secondly, because watching them is like looking into an alternate dimension where coronavirus doesn’t exist, and not in a good, “everything is fine” way, more in a “I fear for everyone’s safety” kind of way.
But in any case, Russian Cup Final this week will be the last domestic competition of the season (please, it has to be, I can’t take any more). And as far as we know, some results from this competition will determine entries for Worlds, but the Russian Federation has not been very forthcoming about which spots are already set. We know that the gold medalists from the national championships are guaranteed (bolded in the table below), but there are rumors floating around that some other skaters have been told not to worry about their spot and to continue training for Worlds.
Alexandra Trusova finished third at Nationals, but her coach Evgeni Plushenko has said that she already qualified for Worlds at will be skipping the Russian Cup Final.
Interviewer: FFKKR announced that only the winners of the Russian Championship in Chelyabinsk have a guaranteed place in the national team at the 2021 World Cup. Trusova took third place on it…
Plushenko: She qualified for the World Championship, and is now preparing for it. We even decided to skip the Russian Cup.Translated from Russian
Incorporating the presumed entries with the confirmed national champions, here’s a quick guide to the Worlds lineup so far:
|Anna Shcherbakova||Mikhail Kolyada||Tarsova/Morozov||Stepanova/Bukin|
With Anna Shcherbakova guaranteed a spot and Alexandra Trusova apparently being told the same, this week’s event will be a showdown between Alena Kostornaia and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva for the final ticket to Worlds.
Kostornaia hasn’t had many appearances lately and Tuktamysheva has been inconsistent, both due to struggles with coronavirus, so it truly is anyone’s guess who comes out on top. Kostornaia probably has a slight advantage with the federation based on last season’s results and seemingly being a more likely option for the Olympics, but she still needs a strong showing to prove that she can keep it together at Worlds. Landing a triple Axel here would certainly make a good case, but we’ve yet to see her attempt one even in practice footage. She will also be debuting a much-anticipated new free skate at this event, choreographed virtually by notable Canadian choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne. (Edit 2/26: First footage of the new program can be seen on Instagram here.)
Tuktamysheva will likewise need good performances to make her case. She has been attempting the triple Axel all season and training a quad toe loop, but has said that she lost the quad toe after lockdown and COVID recovery so probably won’t be adding it this weekend.
Other notable entries: Kamila Valieva, Daria Usacheva, Sofia Samodurova, Maiia Khromykh
This year Russia only has two men’s entries to Worlds, with one already claimed by Mikhail Kolyada, so Russian Cup Final will be the decider for that second all important spot, and scrutiny will be high since RusFed will really want someone who can finish high enough to grab a third spot for the 2022 Olympics. With Alexander Samarin withdrawing and ending his season, the fight will be between Dmitri Aliev, Makar Ignatov, and an outside chance for Nationals bronze medalist Mark Kondratiuk.
Reigning European champion Aliev has the best international record but has the hallmark inconsistency of this generation’s Russian men. Ignatov has the tech content to be competitive but not the international results, and international judges will likely score him much harsher in PCS than domestic judges, so he would be a bit of a risk. Potentially even riskier, Mark Kondratiuk has never appeared at a major international competition, Grand Prix event, or even Challenger event, but has given back-to-back incredible performances at Nationals and the Channel One Trophy. The Achilles heel of Russian men isn’t talent, it’s consistency, so honestly, if Kondratiuk can do three clean competitions in a row (and assuming he can get the tech minimums through the ISU’s video submission process), I’d argue RusFed should send him to Worlds.
Other notable entries: Petr Gumennik, Andrei Mozalev
Pairs & Dance
And finally, the disciplines where the results almost certainly don’t matter.
In pairs, the three Worlds spots are going to go to Tarazova/Morozov, Boiikova/Kozlovski, and Mishina/Galiamov. Tarazova/Morozov are already guaranteed an entry, Boiikova/Kozlovski were silver medalists at nationals and won’t be competing this weekend, and Mishina/Galiamov clearly round out the top three in overall results, even if they finished fourth at nationals. Mishina/Galiamov will be competing this weekend for a shot at redemption, but even if they perform poorly it’s hard to imagine they’d be left off the Worlds team.
In dance, the lineup will be the same as usual: Sinitsina/Katsalapov, Stepanova/Bukin, and Zagorski/Guerreiro. In much the same story as dance, Stepanova/Bukin are already guaranteed, Zagorski/Guerreiro were second at nationals and won’t be competing at the Final (so have probably been guaranteed their spot), and Sinitsina/Katsapalov are the reigning European champions, so leaving them off the team would be madness. Sinitsina/Katsalapov haven’t had many outings this season due to injury and Sinitsina sustaining serious lung damage after having COVID, so it will be interesting to see their conditioning here, but also raises the question of alternates if they aren’t in shape for Worlds.
Another thing to watch out for (which will become apparent from the very beginning) is whether the event organizers make any effort at enforcing COVID protocols this time around. It’s not very likely, but with Worlds less than a month away with supposedly strict health and safety measures, and more Russian skaters reporting coronavirus complications by the day, it sure would be nice to see RusFed doing a fraction of what they should have been doing from the very beginning.
Then again, if Russian skaters and coaches suddenly started wearing masks and social distancing, I really would think we were in an alternate dimension.
Russian Cup Final will take place Saturday, February 27th and Sunday, February 28th. Schedule and streaming info can be found here.