2002 Cup of Russia: Highlights

Russian skaters dominated the medals at their home Grand Prix event, the Cup of Russia, held in Moscow from November 21-24. Russia took home six medals total, including three of the four gold medals in the competition.

World Champions Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh made their season debut in the dance event. Despite a free dance that wasn’t quite finished and included a few questionable moves, the duo earned marks of up to 5.9 for presentation in their free dance to Elvis Presley selections.

Lobacheva and Averbukh were followed by their countrymen, Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov, who won their second silver medal of the Grand Prix series by leapfrogging over two teams who had beaten them at the World Championships. Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski of Bulgaria, winners of Nations Cup and ranked fifth in the world, had to settle for third overall after Denkova fell in the original dance. They nevertheless edged out perennial German champions, Kati Winkler and René Lohse, whose fun “Energy” program lacked the kind of technical difficulty expected on the world stage.

Russia’s other World Champion in the event, Irina Slutskaya, did fare quite as well. After winning the short program with a clean skater, Slutskaya faltered in the free skate, doubling out of her three hardest triple jumps and failing to complete a combination. With only four triples total, Slutskaya dropped to third overall. Her first chance at redemption comes next week at the NHK Trophy.

Slutskaya’s teammate, Viktoria Volchkova, won the event in a stunning upset that had many talking more about the ISU’s new anonymous scoring system than about the actual skating. American Sasha Cohen had higher marks for both technical merit and presentation, yet Volchkova was the winner of the free skate according to the random draw of the computer. Both ladies completed six triple jumps. The results of the random selection process have as much potential for controversy as the now infamous Salt Lake City pairs fiasco.

One can’t mention the word fiasco without touching on the story of U.S. rising star Ann Patrice McDonough, who missed this competition and a chance at the Grand Prix Final by leaving the U.S. without a visa to enter Russia. McDonough was stuck in Germany and forced to withdraw from the competition. With a silver medal from Skate America, even fifth place would have likely qualified 18-year-old McDonough for the Grand Prix Final. Her withdrawal means that, barring a huge upset in Japan this week, Michelle Kwan will advance to the Final – held in St. Petersburg three weeks before Worlds – despite having only competed in one event.

The men’s event was dominated by Olympic silver medalist, Evgeny Plushenko, who won the short program despite a fall on his quad combination and earned a perfect mark of 6.0 for his free skate despite bailing out on two of his jumps. To his credit, Plushenko did complete the first ever quad toe-triple toe-triple loop combination in ISU in addition to five other triple jumps.

China’s Chengjiang Li took advantage of a messy field to finish second with his very consistent quadruple jumps. Russia’s Alexander Abt, ranked fourth in the world, landed his quadruple toe-triple toe combination in the short program only later to incur a huge deduction for reducing a planned triple lutz to a double. Abt stumbled through a messy free skate but held on to bronze in this weak field.

In the pairs event, China’s Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao , the daring pair who attempted – and nearly became – the first team to ever land a throw quadruple jump at the Olympics, earned a perfect 6.0 for presentation in their free skate. It was the first 6.0 for the pair, who has traditionally struggled on the second mark. Technically, Shen and Zhao had a few small errors but nevertheless turned in a rousing performance that brought the crowd to its feet in appreciation.

Russian pairs claimed the other two spots on the podium, with former World Champions Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov winning silver with a strong performance of their new free skate, and youngsters Yulia Obertas and Alexei Sokolov taking third by landing a rare throw triple flip move.

The final event in the Grand Prix, the NHK Trophy, takes place next week. It is the final qualification event for the Grand Prix Final, held in St. Petersburg this March.

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