Makarova and Sotnikova a close 1-2 after Short Program

Ksenia Makarova performs to Flamenco by Didulia at the 2011 Russian Figure Skating Championships.

The Ladies Short Program competition turned out to be a battle between two Russian Champions. Defending champion Ksenia Makarova edged the 2009 Champion Adelina Sotnikova for the overnight lead, but the two are closely followed by the number of skaters including Alena Leonova, Julia Lipnitskaya, and Sofia Biryukova.

Makarova, who skated in the first warm up group, made a clean and obvious statement that, despite her struggles at home Grand Prix event in October, she is not giving up her title without a fight. The student of Viktor Petrenko nailed the opening triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination and proceeded to land an equally strong triple loop out of steps and a double Axel.

However, what truly set her performance to Flamenco by Didulia apart from the rest of the competitors was her sharp presentation, passion, and command over every move. She scored 64.16 (32.30/31.86), posting a well deserved highest program component score of the night.

“I love my short program,” she admitted. “It is Spanish. I love skating with such arms, making eyes at the audience. I also like black eyeliner a lot, but it is not something you could wear in everyday life. But it fits the program perfectly and I love it. I think Spanish music suits me very well. I am happy with my performance, but it is only the beginning. Everything will be decided tomorrow.”

The skater, who is scheduled to graduate from high school this year, said that she did not bring her school books with her to Saransk.

“It’s a holiday in school right now, so no, no books. Only print outs,” she joked.

After graduation she would like to apply to law school, but admits that she is not yet certain how to fit it into her schedule. She does not see skating as an obstacle, though.

“Actually, all the training and skating help me to focus,” she said.

When asked about the location of the Championships, she said, “We are here to skate. In terms of competition, everything is great here. The ice is very good and the competition is well organized.”

Sotnikova decided to upgrade her program for the Senior Championships. Instead of the triple Lutz – triple toe loop combination she did at the autumn events, she attempted a triple Lutz – triple loop, and she went for a triple flip out of steps – something Juniors are not allowed to do.

Despite the fact that statistically the Lutz – loop combination has been more consistent for her, luck was not on her side this time. The 2010-11 Grand Prix Final champion fell on the second jump which was also marked as underrotated. The flip out of steps was clean, but not as secure as usual. However, her superb level four spins and strong basic skating skills put her second with 63.79 (33.50/31.29) points and the highest technical store.

“Well, not everything went as planned, but I hope to skate better tomorrow”, said the student of Elena Vodorezova. “Two years ago I only came to Nationals to show what I can do, but now that I have won it once, I have to prove that it was not an accident. Which, of course, still means showing what I can do, my best, which is something I failed to do today.”

For the skater the preparations for the Nationals were cut short.

“After my return from China, I had a fever and I had been ill and off the ice for a few days,” she explained. “I only started training again on Friday and exactly one week later we left for Saransk.”

The 15-year old likes to compete in Saransk.

“It is already a third time for me,” she said, referring to the two past Junior Nationals, which were also held at the venue. “It is a comfortable place.”

Leonova, who also had skated poorly at her home Grand Prix event, seemed to be well recovered from the past mistakes as she landed a solid combination of two triple loops – an element she has had a lot of trouble with in the past.

Unfortunately, the student of Alla Piatova soon undermined that success by stepping out of a triple flip, normally a very reliable jump for her. She also stumbled in her final spin. While she fell a bit short of her usual standards of exuberance in her upbeat program to Alfred Schnitke’s music, the choreography of her routine was among the best of the night and she received a very warm response from the audience. She picked up 60.14 (29.34/30.80) points.

“At the end of the short program, I hit myself on my head because of the missed spin,” she explained. “I really do not know how it happened. A silly mistake hopefully I will never do again.
I also stepped out of the flip, but this is something I can understand and forgive myself for, but the spin… But the most important thing is that I have done a clean triple-triple. I even got some +2.00 for it. I am very happy!”

The skater also approved of the location for nationals.

“You know, I always skate my best abroad, so if it was up to me, I would have held Nationals outside Russia!” she joked. “But Saransk is an unfamiliar place, so mentally I am far from home, kind of abroad.”

Biryukova, who won the short program at last year’s national championships, is a close fourth after the first day of the competition. The student of Viktoria Volchkova stepped out of the second jump in the triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination, but got full credit for both jumps and landed a triple loop out of steps. However, unlike her sharp “Tango” last season, her new short program to Puccini’s Tosca seems to be too heavy for the skater at the moment as she, despite solid skating skills, often struggles to meet the momentum of the music. But with 59.49  (29.16/30.33) points, she is still in contest for a medal and a trip to the Europeans in Bern.

A Senior National Championships debutant, 12-year-old Julia Lipnitskaya, is a new age-uneligible star of the Russian ladies skating. She also landed a combination of two triple toe loops, as well as a triple flip out of steps, but the highlight of her Asian-style program were her superb spins and unique flexibility. Childish charm helped her to captivate the audience, who booed loudly when her program component scores were announced.

However, despite her charisma, the student of Eteri Tutberidze lacks power in her basic skating skills compared to elder competitors. She received 59.13 (33.10/26.03) points, picking up levels four for her spins.

Polina Agafonova, who skated poorly at the Junior Grand Prix events in the fall, landed a triple Lutz – triple toe loop combination, but the technical panel marked her triple loop out of steps as underrotated. She stunned the audience with her fast and well-centered spins (all three were level four) and excellent expression of the Russian folk music. She is sixth with 58.42 (32.01/26.41) points.

Last year’s silver medalist Elizaveta Tuktamysheva continued her ‘tradition’ of skating poorly in the short program of the national championships. This time the student of Alexei Mishin fell on her opening triple Lutz, which was also underrotated, but recovered to land a triple loop – double toe loop combination and a high double Axel with a hand above her head. She earned  56.30 (27.33/ 29.97) points.

“I do not understand why I failed to skate the short program as well as I am capable of,” she said. “I had good practices. I had a good warm up. This season so far as been pretty good for me, too. I am happy with both the training and the competitions, but I will fight tomorrow.”

Maria Artemyeva skated a clean but conservative routine, with only a triple toe loop – double toe loop combination (the landing of the first toe was not solid enough to attempt a triple after it). She is eighth with 54.63 (27.86/26.77) points.

Polina Shelepen, who missed a lot of the training time between events in Beijing and Saransk, was barely able to hold the balance of the landing of her opening triple Lutz. She is ninth with 53.89 points.

Alexandra Deeva attempted an ambitious content-filled routine, which including a triple Lutz – triple loop combination and a triple flip out of steps. While she managed to stand up on those jumps, the technical panel downgraded the loop to a double and marked the flip for the wrong take off edge. As a result, the debutant finished outside the top ten with 51.23 points, becoming the last skater to pass the 50-point barrier.

Polina Korobeinikova, who did not attempt any triple-triple jumps, is 10th with 53.62 points.

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