2021 Russian National Championships Preview

December 22, 2020
By Iana Saveleva
Photos © Maria Tairova, Iana Saveleva

This season has been very unusual for all the skaters due to the lack of practices and competitions. While some federations cancelled their events, Russian Figure Skating Federation decided to still host events in order to help skaters keep their shape and competitive spirit. As a result, Russia hosted the Open Test Skates, five stages of the Russian Cup, Rostelecom Cup Grand Prix event, and some local and regional competitions. Not everything went as planned though. While some events were held with spectators, other events did not allow them. Additionally, many skaters had to withdraw due to health reasons.

And now, Russian skaters are going into the most important national event of this season - 2021 Russian National Championships which will take place at the Traktor Ice Arena in Chelyabinsk, on December 24-27. This event will be held with an audience, albeit limited to 2300 spectators (which is only 35% of the venue capacity).

According to the qualification rules, in order to qualify for the National Championships skaters needed to compete in two stages of the Russian Cup. However, many top skaters missed one or even both stages as they sustained injuries, tested positive for COVID-19 or were in contact with those who were infected. This included Alena Kostornaia, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Mikhail Kolyada, Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitrii Kozlovskii, Evgenia Tarasova / Vladimir Morozov, Alexandra Stepanova / Ivan Bukin, and others. Consequently, the federation reconsidered its rules and allowed top skaters to compete at Nationals.

So, what should we expect from the 2021 Russian National Championships? Let us look closer at each discipline.

Men

Men's discipline is becoming more and more competitive this year. Despite numerous injuries and other health issues, Russian men have already been showing some impressive technical content and remarkable programs this season.

Without any doubts, the leader of this season is Mikhail Kolyada. After changing coaches and moving to Alexei Mishin's group Mikhail had a remarkable comeback by showing both technical consistency and outstanding presentation. His "White Crow" free program choreographed by Ilya Averbukh has even been called a masterpiece. The 2018 World Championships bronze medalist has won all the events he competed in so far this season and has a decent shot at bringing his national title back.

A reigning World Junior champion Andrei Mozalev competes in his first senior season and is already demonstrating great confidence both technically and artistically. Andrei is so far the only Russian skater challenging a quad flip which he landed successfully at the Open Test Skates and the 3rd stage of the Russian Cup. The combination of technical difficulty with unique choreography and transitions makes him one of the Russian National Championships headliners.

The World Junior Championships bronze medalist Petr Gumennik has successfully debuted as a senior by taking bronze at the 2nd stage of the Russian Cup and Rostelecom Cup and winning the 5th stage of the Russian Cup. Although suffering from under-rotation calls, Petr is gradually increasing his technical difficulty by bringing back a quad Lutz while showing great maturity and attention to details. Whether his jumps are on or off, watch him deliver performances full of expression, especially in his dramatic "Phantom of the Opera" long program.

This season Makar Ignatov has impressed spectators not only with his beautiful skating but technical difficulty as well. He now has a clean and fairly consistent quad loop, though he still suffers from stamina issues. If Makar puts two clean programs together, this might be his chance to get onto the Russian Nationals podium for the first time in his career.

This season has been quite difficult for the 2019 European Championships silver medalist Alexander Samarin. Whilst he impressed his fans with a remarkable Russian folk "Poliushko Polye" short program at the Open Test Skates, he suffered from an injury and had to miss the 2020 Rostelecom Cup and one of the Russian Cup stages. If he has fully recovered and is ready to produce solid performances, we might see him on the Russian Nationals podium for the 5th time in a row.

Besides, it is worth looking at senior newcomer Artem Kovalev who won the 1st stage of the Russian Cup and Evgeni Semenenko who took gold at the 4th stage of the Russian Cup and the Saint Petersburg Championships, and even attempted a quad loop.

The 2020 European and Russian National Champion Dmitri Aliev has withdrawn from the event citing not being fully recovered from illness.

Pairs

This season has been really successful for Anastasia Mishina / Alexander Galliamov. They have recently joined the FS Sport Club of Tamara Moskvina in St. Petersburg and are already showing significant improvements by winning two stages of the Russian Cup. Dynamic programs, interesting choreography and creative transitions - all this makes this couple stand out. If they put together clean performances, expect them to be on the podium - maybe even at the very top.

The reigning European champions Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitrii Kozlovskii have been going through ups and downs this season. While only getting bronze at the 4th stage of the Russian Cup, they won the 2020 Rostelecom Cup with a confident and clean free skating performance. Later they withdrew from the 5th stage of the Russian Cup due to illness. If the reigning Russian National champions get back into their best shape and deliver a clean performance, they have all the chances to defend their title.

The two-time European champions Evgenia Tarasova / Vladimir Morozov have been going through a tough season so far. Both partners suffered from illness. As a result, they only got to compete at the 4th stage of the Russian Cup where they placed second. Nevertheless, as the most experienced pair in this field Evgenia and Vladimir are expected to fight for the podium.

The European Championships bronze medalists Daria Pavliuchenko / Denis Khodykin impressed the public with their remarkable free program at the Open Test Skates and won both of their stages of the Russian Cup. However, they missed the Grand Prix event due to health issues. Although we have not seen this couple competing since October, they are real contenders for the podium.

The reigning World Junior champions Apollinariia Panfilova / Dmitry Rylov have entered their first senior season and had to miss several competitions due to Dmitry's injury. Nonetheless, they came back strong at the 2020 Rostelecom Cup and claimed bronze. Struggling with triple jumps but technically strong and impressive otherwise, they are likely to challenge the top senior pairs.

Ice Dance

The dance event appears fairly unpredictable. While the top couples have been suffering from injuries and struggling to get into their best shape, newcomers have already gained sufficient recognition and confidence to challenge them in the fight for the medals.

This season has been pretty successful for Anastasia Skoptcova / Kirill Aleshin so far. By delivering solid performances they claimed a bronze medal at the 2020 Rostelecom Cup and handily won both the 3rd and 5th stages of Russian Cup. Placing 5th at the two previous Russian National Championships, they now aim at getting higher positions and appear confident in fighting for the podium.

The Russian National bronze medalists Tiffani Zagorski / Jonathan Guerreiro had a promising start of their season by winning gold at the 3rd stage of the Russian Cup and silver at the 2020 Rostelecom Cup. However, they withdrew from the 5th stage of the Russian Cup. But keeping both programs from the last season allowed them to master elements and choreography, while an optimistic set of mind should help them defend their place in the national team.

Another strong couple that has already gained some recognition from the federation, media, and fans is Annabelle Morozov / Andrei Bagin. They were only one step behind the podium last year and seem prepared to fight for the podium this time.

This season the 2019 World Junior champions Sofia Shevchenko / Igor Eremenko showed technically and artistically impressive programs with great maturity and high ambitions. Getting bronze and silver at the 1st and 5th stages of the Russian Cup respectively, they seem ready to challenge the top couples in the battle for the podium.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva / Egor Bazin successfully started their first season together by winning the first stage of the Russian Cup. This newly made couple has already gained recognition and became fan favourite. Elizaveta and Egor are going into their first National Championships, and despite the lack of experience they are the couple we should keep an eye on.

Undoubtedly, the couple that fans are looking forward to seeing the most is Alexandra Stepanova / Ivan Bukin. The 2020 European Championships bronze medalists have not competed this season yet due to health issues, but they seem ready to compete at the Russian Nationals.

The reigning European and Russian champions Victoria Sinitsina / Nikita Katsalapov have withdrawn as they have not fully recovered from illness.

Ladies

Ladies' event remains the most unpredictable, tense, and popular among the media and fans. Perhaps we are about to witness more quad jumps in the ladies' event than ever before.

And speaking of quads, we immediately think of Alexandra Trusova. This season Alexandra has been challenging herself in all ways. As she moved to the "Angels of Plushenko" figure skating academy, she has been adjusting to the new skating style and choreography while still maintaining and improving her technical ability. She even tried a triple Axel in her short program, although she has not succeeded yet. Two-time World Junior champion indeed has ambitions to finally become the first among the Russian ladies. If she puts together a triple Axel in her short program and several quads in her free skate, she has all the chances to achieve her goal.

The reigning Russian National champion Anna Shcherbakova made her fans worry about her physical condition when she struggled at the Open Test Skates. But she brought back her quad flip, polished her programs and delivered impressive performances at the 1st and 3rd stages of the Russian Cup, proving that she is still among the very top. This time she will need to be spot-on with both quad Lutz and quad flip in order to defend her title for the third time in a row.

The most mature and experienced among the Russian ladies, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva has been gradually growing in consistency and confidence this season. In November she claimed her first Rostelecom Cup title. Preparing a quad toe loop while challenging herself with an upbeat Japan-inspired free program "Chronicles of a Mischievous Bird", she plans to impress us with both technical difficulty and artistic presentation. Although Liza has been missing the Russian Nationals podium for the past few years, this year might be her chance to get back onto the national team.

One of the most popular ladies' skaters among the media and fans is Kamila Valieva. Thanks to the Russian qualification system, Kamila was able to compete as a senior in national events. Perhaps many of us even forgot that according to the ISU rules she is still a junior. During this season Kamila has been gradually increasing her programs' technical difficulty. Starting with a double Axel in her short program and two quads in her free skate, she then showed a clean triple Axel and a quad tano toe loop. Well-known for outstanding flexibility and musicality, Kamila is one of the main contenders for the gold.

It's also worth mentioning Anastasiia Guliakova who showed high-class programs and took the bronze at the 2020 Rostelecom Cup. Moreover, Daria Usacheva and Maiia Khromykh are the other two junior skaters who are not eligible for the ISU senior competitions yet but can possibly share the national podium with senior skaters. Daria has been showing good consistency throughout the season, while Maiia is attempting a quad Salchow.

The 2018 Olympic silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva and the reigning European Champion Alena Kostornaia are both having a rather tough season with coaching changes, injuries and COVID-19. They withdrew from the event citing not being fully recovered.

All in all, in these uncertain times we cannot even know the final entries until the very start of the event. Yet the Russian National Championships remain one of the most anticipated events of this season. We wish all the participants to stay safe and healthy! And good luck!


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