Zagitova shouldn’t relax in the absence of Medvedeva: European Figure Skating Championships kick off in Minsk

Why the ladies’ podium will be Russian

Zagitova shouldn’t relax in the absence of Medvedeva: European Figure Skating Championships kick off in Minsk Photo: Yulia Komarova (fsrussia.ru)

After the ''Red'' and ''White'' roses of world ladies' singles in figure skating failed the December Russian Championships, Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva's fans expected their ''duel of the decade'' to continue in Minsk where European Figure Skating Championships are taking place from 23 to 27 January. These expectations had foundation – by regulations, all the three medallists of the country's championships (qualifier for the EC) can't so far take part in official international competitions. But, unfortunately, Medvedeva was prepared a humiliating role of substitute in the capital of Belarus. Nevertheless, the Olympic champion and favourite of the Tatars shouldn't try the gold on. Alina's teammates Stanislava Konstantinova and Sofia Samodurova can easily challenge the absolute European champion and shift her from the continental throne. Realnoe Vremya tells the details.

Podium will be Russian again. For the seventh time already

European championships traditionally bring Russian athletes a high yield of medals. Our country almost always has the biggest number of representatives at one of the oldest tournaments in Europe, which have been held since 1891. So officials of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia and fans have the most optimistic outlook on the Minsk tournament – medals loom above our both single skaters and pairs and ice dancers. But, of course, the greatest attention of our fans of as wonderful as scandalous sports will be drawn to the ladies' singles – the discipline the European Championships kicked off with on 23 January.

The hegemony of Russian figure skating in Europe didn't settle down immediately. Women competed in the singles for the first time in Vienna in 1930. The history remembered the name of the first European champion – Austrian-born Fritzi Burger.

Our athletes stepped onto the podium for the first time only 47 years later when Yelena Vodorezova won a bronze in 1978. She was the first person followed by medals of the analogous or higher calibre of Kira Ivanova, Anna Kondrashova and Natalia Lebedeva. But none of the Soviet single skaters managed to win the title.

Irina Slutskaya became a record holder of competitions of the Old World – she has seven first places under her belt. Photo: yugopolis.ru

The superiority of the Russian figure skating school over the rest of Europe began in the era of independent Russia or, more precisely, in 1996. Irina Slutskaya followed by Maria Butyrskaya didn't give gold medals to anybody for a decade (until 2006). Moreover, Slutskaya became a record holder of competitions of the Old World – she has seven (!) first places under her belt. In 1999, the whole podium was coloured in the Russian tricolour for the first time (Butyrskaya, Yulia Soldatova, Viktoria Volchkova). Russians have won the whole set of medals from the European Championships five times since then (in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2015 and 2016).

Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer of contemporary figure skating Evgenia Medvedeva with Alina Zagitova after her occupied the top position of the European podium 3 years ago. Medvedeva who reigned on the world stage during those years was first in Bratislava in 2016 and Ostrava in 2017. Due to her tender age, Zagitova didn't participate in those tournaments – she won the World Junior Championships in 2017. That she didn't participate means she didn't lose to the main rival. But at her first European Championships in Moscow in 2018, she immediately became a ''queen of the mountain'' and made Medvedeva look at herself from a lower position – the second place. A month later, she repeated the same trick in the Olympic PyeongChang.

In Minsk, the daughter of the legend of Izhstal hockey club and coach of Irbis Ilnaz Zagitov will be able to compete with the rival (with whom they nicely tweet and take photos in public keeping the only desire inside – to go ahead at any price) only in fantastic circumstances. The case is that apart from Zagitova, our country will be represented in the competition by Stanislava Konstantinova and Sofia Samodurova. Medvedeva and the most uninhibited figure skater of modernity, 2015 European champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva whose focuses with the bra are discussed by the Internet community arrived in the capital of Belarus as subs, and, consequently, the duel of Zagitova vs Medvedeva might take place only in case of force majeure of Konstantinova and Samodurova. In any case, the podium will become Russian again for the seventh time. And here is why.

Firstly, Aleksey Mishin's pupil Carolina Kostner decided to take a pause. She is the last representative of the ending era of real female figure skating when skating, flexibility and sense of music were evaluated more than mind-blowing jumps and cascades with crazy rotations. The Italian athlete whom Samodurova admits she has the best edge skating in the world who won a European bronze in 2017-2018 won't be in Minsk. As well as the most promising skater among young European stars Belgian Loena Hendrickx.

Aleksey Mishin's pupil Carolina Kostner decided to take a pause. She is the last representative of the ending era of real female figure skating. Photo: eurosport.ru

Other competitors are no match for ours: heir of the firm Finnish school Viveca Lindfors, Swiss with musical surname Alexia Paganini, Italian Lucrecia Gennaro who impressed the figure skating community with an interesting programme to the soundtrack of Dracula film with Gary Oldman, promising Spaniard Romero and Danish Sørensen aren't even in the top 30 world rating.

''At the moment, the gap of our women's singles from the European isn't a step but several steps. It gives an impression that we have the right to count on the whole podium,'' 2002 Olympic silver medallist Ilya Averbukh claimed on the threshold of the 2019 European Championships. But it's a question the sequence these awards will be distributed in. Yes, Bestemyanov says ''Zagitova is the main candidate for the victory… if she skates without mistakes, she will win the competition.'' Great Tatiana Tarasova supports the great figure skaters too. But after what happened in Saransk, I think we shouldn't blindly believe these statements. Figure skating is anyway still a sport, not a show. And anything happens in sport.

Why Russian Championships winner didn't go to European Championships

The first thunder in the December Championships of Russia in Saransk crashed in short programme. Alina Zagitova won it with obvious supremacy having gone ahead of Aleksandra Trusova, who finished second, by almost 6 points. But Medvedeva who is changing her skating under Canadian coach and amazing ex-skater Brian Orser failed her performance and became only 14 th. In the free programme, Evgenia got a hold of herself and occupied the fourth place even after making a mistake in a cascade. But here her main opponent Zagitova screw it up like a pin in bowling who fell after her signature jumps. In the end, the new 'pea seeds' from Eteri Tutberidze's 'chocolate factory' occupied all places.

Champion Anna Scherbakova and silver medallist Aleksandra Trusova performed a quadruple Lutz each in their programme, while Junior Grand Prix winner Alyona Kostornaya made them company on the podium. Moreover, only 0,07 points divided the first and second places – Scherbakova had 229,78 and Trusova did 229,71 (in total).

In the end, Zagitova finished fifth (212,03 points), Medvedeva was seventh (205,90). As none of the medallists were 15 years as from 1 July 2018, the Rule No. 108 of the General Regulations of the International Skating Union (ISU) came into force, and the Executive Committee of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia and the coaching council had to choose participants of the most proximate international competitions among the athletes who were after the medallists.

It is what was done – it was decided to send the figure skaters from the 4 th to 6th places to Minsk. Besides Zagitova, Konstantinova, who was fourth in Saransk, and Samodurova, who was sixth, got the tickets. While Medvedeva and Tuktamysheva got a status of subs.

Aleksandra Trusova, Anna Scherbakova and Alyona Kostornaya (from left to right). Photo: Ksenia Nurtdinova (sport-express.ru)

Everything seems to be fair, though a feeling of absurdism doesn't leave. A simple and even stupid question arises: why put the schoolgirls who haven't reached puberty together with mature girls and make them participate in one tournament knowing that these juniors are participating out of competition?

However, we wouldn't like to raise this topic in the preview to the championships. We already lost once aesthetically (not only technically) beautiful sport like artistic gymnastics with American dumpy gymnasts full of ''hormones of happiness''. If our Federation (and its allies) lobbies the reduction in age for senior participants in official competitions, we will also lose figure skating. It can be easily substituted by cyberskating where in any case there will be less dirt than there is nowadays in the real figure skating world.

Scandal level in figure skating grows as much as participants' age reduces

In the meantime, the mud is running from all the sides as much as it's snowing now. We haven't managed to recover from Medvedeva's hysteria because of her departure from Tutberidze to Orser when it became simply nauseous because of two-time Olympic champion Maksim Trankov's ''real-man'' revelations: ''Of course, everybody supported Evgenia at the Olympics in PyeongChang. Nobody supported Alina.'' We've just survived this with Alina and her strong character, but a statement of a kid, 13-year-old figure skater Anastasia Shabotova has gone viral on the Internet. The winner of the Russian Junior Cup claimed on Instagram one should ''take correct doping'' to win and supposed Tutberidze's famous ''hotbed of talents'' also used prohibited substances.

The little kid whose words spread to the virtual space is already afraid of what she said claimed she didn't think and doesn't have proof, while her mother took her smartphone away. Officials of our figure skating chaired by Figure Skating Federation of Russia President Aleksandr Gorshkov dismissed this statement as ''complete rubbish''. But the bad taste still lingers, so to speak. And girls' mums started to speak out… And the cause of the next scandalous story is the inclusion of adults' intrigues of immature kids to the bloodbath of adults' fight.

Officials of our figure skating chaired by Figure Skating Federation of Russia President Aleksandr Gorshkov dismissed this statement as ''complete rubbish''. Photo: Valeria Kukalyova (nevasport.ru)

Will the queen's retinue rebel against her?

At first sight, all is clear with Alina. The athlete who heads the world rating, the general Grand Prix rating and the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver, which was before Saransk, where she went ahead of all the rivals including Japanese Rika Kihira and her two triple Axels, which are unavailable for Alina now, shouldn't have the second failure against. Our Olympic champion is a young girl. Even Averbukh who called Zagitova ''an absolute leader of the season and main candidate for victory in Minsk'' says if she ''performs as good as she did in Saransk, all is possible''.

Yes, our girls can lose only to themselves. Can Alina lose to her teammates? Let's imagine. In the duo of Konstantinova and Samodurova, in my opinion, the latter looks more interesting. The athlete born in Krasnoyarsk is 16 years old. She trains in Saint Petersburg in the group of famous Aleksey Mishin at Star Ice Olympic Reserve Sports School. The beautiful girl with good manners and good English language skills made her debut in the Junior Grand Prix series in the 2016/17 season and was 4 th at the Japanese stage. Having booked seats at the end of the first and the beginning of the second top 10 of the 2017 and 2018 World Junior Championships, she is showing her best season this year. ''The girl has matured''. Lombardia Trophy was her first senior tournament – the second place immediately. Then there was bronze at Skate America stage of the Grand Prix with 198,70 points, a silver at Rostelecom Cup 2018 of the Grand Prix and steady performance in Saransk. At the Russian Championships, Sofia was sixth with 209,77 points in total, she is also sixth in the total standing of the 2018/19 Grand Prix.

Experts think Samodurova has big potential, but the federation ''presses'' her on the pretext of imagined instability and doesn't raise the sum of points above 210. She even got an unofficial nickname ''Cinderella'' or ''stepdaughter'' of Russian single's skating. Even so, why can't Minsk-Arena become the palace where Cinderella will become a princess?

Experts think Samodurova has big potential. Photo: news.ru

But Stanislava Konstantinova is obviously less stable. She is 2 years older than Samodurova. Unlike her, she lives in Petersburg not because of work but birthplace. Valentina Chebotaryova's pupil who is different because of her aristocratic posture and musicality started to conquer the international podium in the autumn 2016 – at the junior level first, then approached the senior one. The two-time winner of the Tallinn Cup and winner of the Golden Spin of Zagreb was a silver and bronze medallist of junior competitions in Russia. Moreover, in December 2017, in her native Petersburg, she failed the short programme in the senior championships of the country. Ups and downs are a characteristic of Stanislava this season too. Becoming second at Skate Helsinki, she was only fifth in the analogous competition in Grenoble and didn't get to the final of the series in the end. But in Saransk, the figure skater combining performances with great, often unexplainable mistakes competed confidently and became fourth with 212,92 points in total and was ahead of Alina Zagitova by one point.

Final chord by Javier Fernández

If the victory of Russian single skaters is almost a done deal, what can the national team of Russia count on in other programmes at the European Championships? After the competition in Saransk, Tatiana Tarasova claimed that ''Russian figure skating is at a very high level now. The 2019 Minsk is to either prove or refute the maestro's words.

Probably the performance of famous Spaniard, two-time world champion and six-time winner of the championships of the Old World Javier Fernándes will become the main event of the championships. After PyeongChang where he won a bronze, the best European single skater of the decade didn't compete, he participated in ice shows, including that of Tatiana Navka. And he decided to finish her amazing career in Minsk at the age of 27.

Probably the performance of famous Spaniard, two-time world champion and six-time winner of the championships of the Old World Javier Fernández will become the main event of the championships. Photo: 24smi.org

Unlike the Spanish athlete, the number four of the ISU rating, silver Olympic team medallist and world championships bronze medallist Mikhail Kolyada did compete in official competitions, but fell at Grand Prix series in Helsinki and Moscow. Let's see if Kolyada can compete with Fernández in the capital of Belarus if he performs quadruple Salchow and toe loop he is going to include to the programme without mistakes. Among other candidates for the awards, we will point out Czech Michal Březina and two-time silver European medallist and four-time champion of Russia Maksim Kovtun, who is back to the national team. Aleksandr Samarin who stopped a step from being in the Grand Prix Final is fielded as the third participant from our country.

Waiting for gold from Tarasova and Morozov

In the dying discipline 'pairs' (just 11 duos will perform in Minsk), we will support Kazan-born athlete of the year in Tatarstan in 2018 Evgenia Tarasova who will fight for a gold with Vladimir Morozov against the French couple Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès. Our figure skaters have more titles – they are both silver Olympic team medallists and two-time European champions. But this season, they have won two Grand Prix stages, while the French were first in the final in Vancouver, moreover, with a record in the free programme – 148,37. Aleksandra Boykova – Dmitry Kozlovsky and Daria Pavlyuchenkova – Denis Khodykin are the other two pairs from Russia.

There is another French pair, in ice dancing, is to win a gold with 80% certainty. Gabriella Papadakis together with Guillaume Cizeron is a runner-up of PyeongChang, three-time world and two-time European champions. They have competed little this season – they have won just the Grand Prix stage at home. And the possible lack of competition practice gives the remaining 20% for a victory to our silver 2018 Grand Prix Final medallists in Vancouver Viktoria Sinitsyna and Nikita Katsalapov. Aleksandra Stepanova – Ivan Bukin and Sofia Yevdokimova – Yegor Bazin will also represent Russia in ice dancing.

Aleksandr Zhulin forecasted our national team's success in three of four disciplines. Photo: instagram.com

Before the tournament in Minsk, Aleksandr Zhulin forecasted our national team's success in three of four disciplines: ''I think the Russians have good chances to fight for a victory in both ladies and men's singles. I'm sure the Russians will triumph in ice dancing.'' Let's see if this forecast is true.

By Aleksandr Norden