The Ladies Long Program of the Russian National Championships turned out to be a test of nerves. Adelina Sotnikova and Alena Leonova passed the test with flying colors, capturing gold and silver respectively. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva rose from seventh place to win the bronze.
Sotnikova was the first to skate among the contenders for the title, and the 2010-11 Junior Grand Prix Champion put a lot of pressure on the following skaters by delivering a clean routine to Rondo Capriccioso. Her skate featured seven triple jumps, including a triple Lutz – triple loop combination and a double Axel – triple toe loop combination.
While still not on her artistic best, the student of Elena Vodorezova was more relaxed than in Beijing, especially in the second half of the program. The straightline step sequence in particular, was intense and, together with her secure landings and solid spins, was among the highlights of her performance. She earned 133.65 (68.00/65.65) points, and with 197.44, recaptured the title.
“I did what I wanted to do today, so I am very pleased with my performance,” said the champion. “It was harder for me to skate here than in Beijing [at the Junior Grand Prix Final], but both medals are equally precious to me.”
Looking back at her performances at Nationals she admitted that she was surprised that she was able to win back in 2009.
“I only came to show what I could do,” said the 14-year-old. “I did not expect to be able to win at such a young age. Then next year in St. Petersburg, I was ill and besides Elena Germanovna [Vodorezova], was often away at competitions with other skaters and I trained alone. This year, however, the Junior Grand Prix events gave me a good momentum and I hope I would be able to continue in the same manner.”
Sotnikova is usually accompanied to the events in Russia by her mother.
“We live in the same hotel room, but she is usually nowhere to be seen at the venue,” she said. “I am happy to skate that well here. My father had a birthday on the 22nd of December, so it is a belated present for him.”
The skater who attends school says that she does not inform the classmates about her skating career.
“Of course they know that I am going away for competitions,” she explained. “I have to present paperwork [to get a leave]. And when I won the Junior Grand Prix Final, they congratulated me. As for my studies I have to take extra lessons to keep up. The exams are coming up next year.”
Sotnikova, who will only become eligible for the Senior ISU Championships in 2012-2013 season, says that she has mixed feelings about age limits.
“On one hand, it would have been great to go and compete at the World Championships. But on the other, I am glad that I still have time to improve, to learn new elements. Besides, we have so many strong young girls now, like Yulia Lipnitskaya here or Elena Rodionova, that I sometimes feel like a veteran.”
Leonova was the only other contender to live up to the challenge put out by Sotnikova. Skating last, the student of Alla Piatova opened her intricate program to Witches of Eastwick with a solid triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination and triple Lutz (which got an edge call, causing the only negative grade of execution in the entire routine). With two of the most challenging elements out of the way, she was able to calm down and get into the spirit of her program.
The 2010 National Championships silver medalist was publicly criticized for her choice of music and style, but it turned out that the only thing she needed to make a convincing witch was a little bit of time and a confidence boost. In sheer entertaining value and the quality of the choreography – the program is literally packed with ‘in character’ moves – it was by far the best performance of the night and it successfully bewitched the audience which applauded the skater all the way through her straightline step sequence. She earned 127.54 (61.76/65.78) to win the silver (187.68).
“I am thrilled to skate that well, to show everyone, including Tatiana Anatolievna [Tarasova] that I can skate this program clean and that it is the right vehicle for me,” Leonova told the press. “I have not been able to talk to her after the skate, but I saw her showing me thumbs up, so I guess she thinks so too now.”
The skater said that she is no longer afraid of skating last.
“I used to dislike it very much,” the 20-year-old confessed, “but it has changed at Coup de Nice. I was in the lead in the short program and I thought that I would have a chance to draw a good starting order for the long, but they told me that we skate in reverse order. So I started to pray for someone to beat me in the short so that I would not have to skate last. But no one did and I skated well, so then I decided that it was going to be my lucky number from now on.”
The winner of 2010 Coup de Nice said that she was not aware of her competitors’ performances and had not heard the marks for Ksenia Makarova, who skated right before her.
“I just assumed that everyone did well,” said Leonova. “I turned myself ‘off’ then Ksenia’s scores were announced. I just found a magic button and did not hear them at all. I have heard that she was fourth overall, so I thought ‘something went wrong here’, but I told myself not to dwell on it and to focus on my own skating.”
Leonova cannot pinpoint the moment in the program when she was finally able to relax and enjoy the performance.
“Definitely not after the first combo,” she noted. “I mean of course I was thrilled to land it clean, but immediately afterwards I thought ‘but there are so many other things to do’. But then I did another element and then another… in the final step sequence I was 100% a witch.”
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva attacked her program to Asturias by Isaac Albeniz with a lot of energy, but did not attempt any triple – triple combinations. She did, however, land two triple Lutzes and two triple flips, as well as a triple loop and triple Salchow, but later singled the second double Axel in sequence. Her spins were not as strong today as they have been in the past, with the layback coming to almost a standstill in the end.
Tuktamysheva, who has won long programs at the two most recent national championships, was fast throughout the entire program. Overall, her presentation lacked the refinement of more mature skaters, as well as the intensity which was a highlight of her performance of the same program last season. Still, she scored 124.41 (62.93/61.48) points, and with 180.71 total, pulled up to third place to win her second bronze medal.
“I was quite nervous,” said the 14-year-old. “After the short program, I knew I could not afford any mistakes. But today I skated clean. There were only a couple of minor mistakes. Basically I am glad that it is over.”
The student of Alexei Mishin was at loss to explain her problems with the short programs.
“It is not just this season,” she admitted. “It seems to be ‘my thing’. Trust me, I am really tired of having poor short programs. I really want to enter the long program with confidence, not shaking with nerves after a poor short. But we are working on it.”
However, Tuktamysheva said that she was not nervous about the outcome.
“Svetlana Mikhailova [Veretennikova] told me that I am almost certain to win a medal. The question was of which color. So I came out to see the last flight and found myself rooting for them to do well.”
The skater nailed some triple Axels in practices in Saransk, but claims that the jump is still not consistent enough to put into the program.
“It is not a flip or Lutz or even a triple – triple combination,” Tuktamysheva elaborated. “Besides, the current programs are not choreographed to accommodated it. But now they have changed the rules, so it is better to try and fail on a triple Axel than to do a double. They want to reward the risk, so it is worth taking it.”
Yulia Lipnitskaya, the new star of the Championships, delivered an impressive jumping content in her routine: two double Axels – triple toe loop combinations and almost a full set of other triples. However, her flip received an edge call and she doubled the final Salchow. Another highlight of her program were her superb spins, but the skater barely paid attention to the very commanding music to Bizet’s Carmen – a hardly age-appropriate choice of 12-year-old. She scored 117.14
(63.16/53.98) points and finished fourth overall with 176.27.
Roza Sheveleva delivered a clean and charming performance to music from the Umbrellas of Cherbourg soundtrack. The 2010 Junior Grand Prix Courchevel bronze medalists landed six triple jumps. While she was not very expressive, her excellent posture and body awareness gave her pleasant lines and a subtly elegant style appropriate for the music. She earned 110.48 (59.06/51.42) points for the free program and moved up to eighth place overall (156.81).
Ksenia Makarova was not able to defend her title. The student of Victor Petrenko opened the program to Evita with a tight triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination, but fell out of a flip landing and slipped off the edge on the entrance to a Salchow later in the program. With only four lower-tier triples, even her more mature presentation was not good enough to place higher than sixth (109.75) in the long and fifth overall (173.91).
Polina Shelepen’s Russian folk program was an instant hit with the audience, but for the 15-year-old, it was a hit and miss performance. She began with a good double Axel – triple toe loop combination, but stumbled out of the second Axel later and was unable to complete another combination. She tried to recover some ground by going for a triple Lutz – triple toe loop, but popped a triple flip attempt to a single immediately afterwards. Still, her performance in Saransk was a noticeable improvement in power, attack, and character compared to her skating in Beijing. The student of Eteri Tutberidze, who has a good chance to win a trip to the World Junior Championships at the Junior Russian Nationals in February, scored 105.14 (55.41/49.73) and pulled up to seventh overall (159.03).
Sofia Biryukova also succumbed to pressure, and her routine to Danse Macabre did not feature any clean triple jumps. She once again stepped out of triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination, and things quickly went downhill from there for the student of Victoria Volchkova. She placed eighth in the long (99.65) and sixth overall (159.14).