Khokhlova and Novitski lead at Russian Nationals

Jana Khokhlova (22) and Sergei Novitski (26) lead after the Compulsory Dance.

The 2008 Russian National Figure Skating Championships, which began today in St. Petersburg, marks the end of an era for Russian figure skating with last season’s retirement of Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, Elena Sokolova, Viktoria Volchkova, and Ilia Klimkin.

After retiring, these athletes left Russia without any skater who contributed to the glory of the sport after the late 1990s and early 2000s when Russia routinely swept all gold medals at European Championships and challenged for gold in all four events of the World Championships. The absence is especially noticeable in the single disciplines.

Of 52 participants (nine Pairs, 18 Men, 10 Dance couples and 15 Ladies) an overwhelming majority represents two capitals: Moscow and St. Petersburg. The only exception to this rule is in the Pairs event in which five participants represent Perm. How long this school will continue to survive, though, is unclear as the local authorities have plans to close the outdated “Orlyonok” ice rink for renovation for an unspecified period of time.

The competition began with the “Yankee Polka” Compulsory Dance (CD). In the absence of the 2007 Grand Prix Final Champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, who were forced to withdraw from the event as Shabalin recently underwent knee surgery, Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski easily outclassed other competitors and currently lead the field with a seven point advantage. The 2006 and 2007 Grand Prix Finalists were clearly the class of the field, delivering a strong performance which earned them 41.32 (21.30/20.02) points.

Last year’s bronze medalists, Ekaterina Rubleva (22) and Ivan Shefer (24), rebounded after poor showings at the Grand Prix events (they were 8th and 7th place in USA and Russia, respectively) and finished second. The students of Alexander Svinin and Irina Zhuk demonstrated good flow and edges and earned 34.68 (18.19/16.49) points.

Third place went unexpectedly to the team of Natalia Mikhailova (21) and Andrei Maximishin (23) who were awarded 32.86 (16.92/15.94) points. The dance couple, who only began training together in the second half of the last season, showed almost no tell-tale signs of a new partnership. They were smooth, expressive and had almost no unison breaks.

Currently in the fourth place are the 2007 World Junior Champions, Ekaterina Bobrova (17) and Dmitri Soloviev (18). For the students of Svetlana Alexeeva, this was the third performance of this CD this season, and each dance showed a marked improvement over the previous one. It appears that they finally got enough mileage of the dance, which was smooth and enchanting, but their second set was weaker than the first one. They earned 32.76 (16.88/15.88) points.

Anastasia Platonova (21) and Alexander Grachev (23) are currently fifth with 30.25 (15.72/14.53) points. The couple began training together last spring after Platonova’s previous partner, Andrei Maximishin, left her for Natalia Mikhailova. However, their lack of experience was virtually invisible during their performance as they showed confidence and good expression.

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