Olympic figure skating champion Adelina Sotnikova during the We Are The Champions figure skating gala performance at the Luzhniki Small Sports Arena in Moscow. Source: TASS
The first major figure skating event in Russia since February’s Winter Olympics, this weekend’s Rostelecom Cup could let some lesser-known stars shine.
Back in February, Adelina Sotnikova won a surprise gold for Russia, edging South Korean favorite Yuna Kim by five controversial points.
Fast-forward nine months and Kim has retired, while Sotnikova was due to skate in Moscow this weekend but has been sidelined with an ankle ligament tear.
With her leg in plaster, February’s gold medal heroine will have to watch on as fellow Russian Anna Pogorilaya gets the limelight in Friday and Saturday’s competition at Moscow’s Luzhniki Arena.
The figure skating Grand Prix calendar is structured to spread the world’s top skaters around six events, meaning next month’s Grand Prix Finals will be the new season’s first true clash of the titans, rather than the individual competitions themselves.
Sotnikova was the only individual Olympic medalist in the Rostelecom Cup field, so her withdrawal leaves the women’s competition wide open. The favorite to take advantage is the 16-year-old Pogorilaya, who was too young to be selected for the Russian team for the Sochi Olympics.
Pogorilaya announced her arrival on the scene with a win at the Cup of China last season and proved it was no fluke earlier this month when she took gold at Skate Canada in Kelowna, British Columbia, beating Ashley Wagner, the darling of U.S. skate fans.
Her main rival in Moscow is likely to be Mirai Nagasu of the U.S., another skater who missed the Olympics – though in Nagasu’s case as the result of a disputed selection decision. However, nothing in Nagasu’s record to date, a mix of second- and third-place finishes at Grand Prix events, suggests she is likely to win in Moscow unless Pogorilaya makes major errors.
In the men’s event, the big battle will be between Spain’s Javier Fernandez and Jason Brown of the United States, both of whom on their day are capable of great things, but can sometimes fall short of their true potential.
The pairs competition offers Russia’s skaters another good chance of winning in front of their home crowd, as Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fyodor Klimov compete against very mixed opposition.
There could, however, be some tensions in the Russian camp for the ice dancing. Two of the country’s top pairs broke up at the end of last season, only to team up with each other’s partners almost immediately. As a result, Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin will battle for the gold medal in Moscow against Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, with all four keenly aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
With the retirement of leading U.S. and Canadian contenders after the Olympics, both of these Russian ice dance pairs could have a good shot at world championship medals next year. However, before then they will need to put aside any lingering rivalries and focus on the crucial business of improving their chemistry as pairs.
So then, Russia’s first major post-Olympic figure skating competition may lack big names of the present, but with a little luck, it could be the perfect breeding ground for stars of the future.
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