Trusova and Shcherbakova to fight for place under the sun

The European Figure Skating Championships

The European Figure Skating Championships kicked off in Tallinn on 11 January. If it almost has no intrigue when it comes to sport, there is enough regarding sport-related themes. Read more in Realnoe Vremya’s report.

Ambiguous championships

The European Figure Skating Championships in Tallinn seem to be paradoxically important and insignificant at the same time. It is important from a perspective of a specific situation when a number of competitions were cancelled, for instance, the Grand Prix final and the Universiade where figure skaters could compete, the IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship was suspended. From this angle, European figure skating would be at risk, but the federation had the courage to leave it on the agenda, while Estonia decided to host it. It is good that this country has never had such a strong team as Arlet Levandi and Eva-Lotta Kiibus. Clearly, they are strong only for Estonia, but believe me, even a spot in the top 10 will be accepted very positively in this country where, by the way, Natalia Zabiyako was born and started skating. Estonia could also qualify for the Olympic team event in Beijing but didn’t find the necessary number of competitors, though I will talk about this in detail later.

For the International Federation, it was important to host this tournament because it wasn’t held in 2021, and now some winners and medallists of the previous 2020 European Championships are seen as an anachronism. Champions Alyona Kostornaya and Dmitry Aliyev, runner-up Artur Daniyelyan are already out of the game, and the torrent of information threatens to erase them from their fans’ memory forever, while figure skating simply needs recognisable individuals. Otherwise, what’s the sense of this mayhem when the age limit is lifted for female skaters to compete internationally. By the way, Norway is the initiator of the change — it delegated one competitor Linnea Kilsand to the European Championships with titanic effort. Otherwise, the situation looked comic and catastrophic at the same time, the national federation exists only as the author of “legislative initiatives,” not a fully-fledged competitor.

How unlucky Estonia is

A series of refusals of competitors gives one foundation to sympathise with Estonian fans and not only fans. Some refusals are reasonable. Ice dancers from France Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron announced they would miss the European Championships for the sake of the Olympics a long time ago. Also, they fell at the national championships, which doesn’t add optimism. The refusal of the Italian pair Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise isn’t justified from a perspective of sport because they don’t have Olympic hopes, except for the team event. While in Europe, they finish in the top 4 and even dream of medals if some of the Russian pairs fail.

Potential competitors lack representatives of Israel (feel sorry for Alexey Bychenko), single skater from Italy Matteo Rizzo (could win a medal), English pair Zoe Jones and Christopher Boyadji (perhaps they decided to celebrate Zoe’s 41st birthday, on 14 January, at home). Mikhail Kolyada was injured, and Andrey Mozalyov, the Russian championships’ bronze medallist, will substitute him.

In terms of diseases and injuries, there can be questions, but the strategic layouts of other people who refused to compete don’t look nice. In the end, tickets to the tournament will be sold, their price won’t fall because almost every figure skating discipline has losses. For instance, few people will be happy to see a match between Barcelona and Real on the poster but U-23 players from Barça and Castilla on the pitch.

Thinking about China

Competitors and the schedule of the team event figure skating will start with at the Olympics were announced. This time the schedule is different from the competitions in Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018. Earlier, the schedule was the following: men started with their short programme, pairs were on the ice, then ladies, ice dance, but pairs started their free programme, then men, ladies competed, ice dancers finished the competition.

What changed now is that ice dancers were placed first both in the short and free programmes. Men, ice dancers and pairs will compete on 4 February, ladies will finish the short programme on 6 February, and pairs will start the free programme on the same day. The final day of the team event is on 7 February — men, ice dance and ladies. Fans of conspiracy theories assumed earlier that the changes were made because the Chinese hosts counted on their number one pair Sui Wenjing and Han Cong so that they would score some points in reserve for the team. But it feels like they won’t compete in the team event at all. Strategically, their task is to become Olympic champions in pairs focusing on it as much as possible. While team China will unlikely qualify to skate with five pairs in the free programme. However, forecasts are about to be made later.

For the first time without France

The team event in 2022 will be different from the previous ones with its entry. France isn’t on the list for the first time because the rules of the team competition say only a team with each discipline qualifies for it. Besides France, teams of South Korea and Estonia that are in the world’s top 10 suffered too, but they don’t have athletes in all disciplines.

However, this rule hasn’t always been followed. At the last Olympics, South Korea was given a free pass, Israel and Japan were allowed to compete too with three Olympians, while Spain with Javier Hernández and ice dancers suffered. The International Skating Federation does this so that countries develop all figure skating disciplines, and in this desire it is right. Now neither will South Koreans nor Estonians be able to compete because they scored a lot of points only thanks to the singles, at the same time, these countries don’t have pairs and ice dancers complying with Olympic requirements. This is why instead of these three teams, Ukraine (that has been competing since 2014) and Georgia with the Czech Republic will for the first time perform in the Olympic tournament. And such a layout makes one think about a bronze both for Georgia and Canada, Italy (then Della Monica and Guarise’s refusal from the European Championships will be justified). Seriously, the team event has just two favourites: Russia is an obvious candidate for the gold, and the USA — the obvious candidate for the silver. We have two trump cards — ladies and ice dance where we can hope for four first places. Ice dancers are weaker, men aren’t clear, but with almost guaranteed 40 in the pocket, we can afford to make a mistake. The USA won’t have such a margin even in the men’s singles, since Japan is the strongest opponent there. The land of the rising sun is the first candidate for the bronze, since it can rely on the first places for its men, second places for its ladies and a very good pair Rika Miura and Ryuichi Kihara. Only one weak link left — ice dance. However, there is a risk of chasing two birds in the bush and losing the gold in the men’s singles reigning champ Yuzur Hanyu is aiming at. But there is good support in the person of Shoma Uno and Yuma Kagiyama.

The administration of Russian figure skating will have its own issues: for instance, to field Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shchebakov for the ladies’ singles and give Kamila Valiyeva a chance to prepare to win an individual gold. Or add Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov to the team so that they will become Olympic champions at the end of their career “for their long service.” In any case, is it much more pleasant to think about whom to drop than argue on whom to field?

Jaudat Abdullin

The author’s opinion does not necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial board.