Evgeni Plushenko won his tenth title at the 2013 Russian National Figure Skating Championships in Sochi. Sergei Voronov came in second, 12 points behind Plushenko, while Konstantin Menshov pulled up from sixth place to win the bronze.
In Sochi, Plushenko’s rendition of Saint-Saens’ Rondo Capriccioso and The Swan was more coherent than the first draft of the routine presented at the National team test skates in September. However, the performance was an uphill battle for the skater, who won his fist national title back in 1999.
“I am very happy with my performance, but I had to fight for it,” admitted the 2006 Olympic Champion. “Yesterday, I said that the long program would be much harder and the prediction turned out to be true. My back ached and I had to skate through this pain.”
The protocol of his performance is another testament to his skills as a competitor: even in pain and under duress, he was able to produce a slightly flawed quad toe loop (he two-footed the landing), two triple Axels, and four more triples. Most of his spins were rated level two, however, and therefore he only earned the second highest technical sum of the night.
Nevertheless, his program components scores, including three 10.00s, put him into a comfortable first place with 174.26 (79.74/94.52) for the free and 265.94 points in total.
“This long program exists in two versions,” he told the press. “Today’s was the simplified one. The other one features two quads and more jumps in the second half of the routine. However, because of injuries, I had to settle for the easier one. I will try to get some mileage out of the more difficult one now.”
The 2012 European Champion said that he had even entertained the thought of withdrawing.
“The preparation period was very difficult,” said the 30-year-old. “I started very late and things were hard for me, even basic triples presented a challenge.”
“Overall I am happy, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Plushenko summed up. “Obviously, I know that such a performance is unlikely to be competitive at the European Championships, so I need a miracle now. I need to recover, to heal my injuries. The most important thing is to be healthy. Healthy, I can go on for a long time.”
Even through an earthquake, his thoughts were on skating.
“I was not able to fall asleep, so I know that there was an earthquake at 2:30 am,” he revealed. “I only fell asleep at about 3:30am. For roughly a minute and a half all hangers in the wardrobe were rattling. I thought I had a guest. My first thought, though, was ‘what if you are skating at the time, if you are setting up for a jump?’ Imagine, suddenly everything shakes. Or you are doing a spin. You can travel a very long distance. So I hope that at future events here, there will be no earthquakes during the competition.”
His first experience of an earthquake is also from Sochi while visiting friends.
“I was in a swimming pool,” he shared. “There was a metal fence surrounding the territory, and it started to shake vigorously. At first, I though that there must have been an eighteen-wheeler passing nearby, after all, there are construction sites all around, and that it dropped something heavy and now this load is rolling towards us and it going to crush us. It was my first experience of such a strong earthquake. In Japan, I was once at a 36th floor when the building suddenly started to wave, but in Sochi it was more pronounced.”
Voronov laid down one of the best performances of the season, but it was not good enough to challenge Plushenko. His only mistakes were turning a planned quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination into a triple-triple and an edge call on his triple flip. His interpretation of Nino Rota’s Romeo and Juliet was not particularly nuanced, though. He picked up 166.37 (82.31/84.06) points and had 254.06 in total.
“I am quite happy with my performance, even though I had to fight for it,” said the 25-year-old. “It was a challenge. The rivalry is very strong in men’s single skating in Russia and it is only stronger internationally. So one has to prove that he deserves a place on the national team. One has to fight for each program, each part of the event, and each element.”
“I have done nearly everything I wanted,” Voronov claimed. “Unfortunately, I missed the second quad. Again. However, I hope I will be able to land it next time, that I will be able to overcome my nerves, which got the better of me today, and that I will be physically ready.”
“Had I been really serious about doing a quad, I would have rotated it at least,” he explained. “I popped it into a triple, so I cannot even claim that I truly attempted it. It is already the third event at which I make this mistake. First jump is going well, second one is ok, but then there is a drop at the third jumping pass.”
“I cannot claim that I am a ‘quad champion’ in practices’,” Voronov mused, “but I try to rotate both of them in practices. This is the plan.”
The two-time Russian champion thrives in competition.
“I think even the [Russian Figure Skating] Federation is aware that I … shall we say … am not stellar in practices,” he explained. “Quads, for example, and I mean it literally. I can do a clean quad like I do in competitions only once in a while. Naturally, I still try to work on all elements, but for me an atmosphere of a competition, nervous pressure, provided that I am in control, only adds adrenaline. It makes it interesting for me. Will I be able to pull through, or will I be too afraid? It is a challenge.”
Voronov did not expect to experience an earthquake during Russian Nationals.
“My second Grand Prix event was in Japan and one could have set up a clock by earthquakes there,” he told the press. “Every night at 5 o’clock your bed would shake. I did not know that it could also happen in Sochi, even though I knew the region is located next to the sea. However, in Japan it is commonplace. Here, it was a novelty.”
The student of Nikolai Morozov claims that good health is the main reason for his success this year.
“Fortunately I did not sustain any injuries this year,” he said. “Well, I had a stress fracture at the last year Worlds, but it is almost a bit of a tradition by now. In the summer I recovered from it, even though doctors advised a surgery. I did not want to skate with screws in my feet and I was certain that I would be able to recover without it.”
“So I had plenty of time to prepare, to work on new programs, to get used to them,” he concluded. “By the time of the test skates, I had surprised many, including doctors, by being in a very good shape. Mostly it was thanks to the support of my parents and my girlfriend that I was able to recover so quickly. Their moral support was essential.”
Skating first in the last flight, Menshov was strong, but not flawless. He stumbled out of his opening quad toe loop and his final double Axel. He was otherwise solid in between most of his elements, including a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination, and finished third in the long program (155.00 (76.64/78.36)) and overall (228.88).
“It was difficult to skate today,” he said about his performance. “As I told you yesterday, I had some problems with my boots. Three days before the start of the event, my left feet started to hurt, and the boots put a lot of pressure on it.”
“Vlad Sezganov suggested a solution yesterday,” he explained. “I cut out a part of a plastic bottle and put it in my boot. It no longer pressed on the injury site, but the boot was very rigid. It made it hard to skate. Besides, I skated first and for some reason they did not allow ice to freeze properly, it was wet.”
“Overall I am very happy,” said the 29-year-old. “I fought for every jump and mostly succeeded, even though it took its toll.”
The former national champion jokingly proclaimed that there is a jinx on either him or the event. “For me, a Russian National Championships is a cursed event. Every year something happens. A couple of years ago I dislocated my shoulder, for example. There is always something.”
“This year I thought ‘well, there is only one week left, practices are going great, maybe this time…’ and then three days before the start, this silly issue with my boot,” he continued. “I though ‘ok’ and I put some sponge into it; it helped, so I continued to train. I arrived here and, well, let’s say my thoughts were not on my program. Yesterday I spent the entire program thinking of how to put the least possible pressure on it to avoid the pain.”
“So, I am a bit apprehensive about Nationals,” Menshov confessed, “because it seems like something bad is bound to happen. However, I overcome it this year. I am happy that I fought for every element and that I mainly succeeded. There were some minor issues, but overall it was good. Naturally, I am happy that I won the medal, but of course I wanted to challenge for a higher placement.”
“I arrived here to deliver two clean routines, which was a realistic goal since this season has been going pretty well for me so far,” said the student of Evgeni Rukavitsyn. “I have done several clean performances, but mostly I am happy that I was able to pull myself together here and even win a medal.”
“Right now all my thoughts are on looking for new boots once I come home,” asserted Menshov. “It had not yet registered that I won a medal, but this bronze medal might as well be more precious than the gold I won in 2011. Looking back at that victory, I did not skate well, but others skated even worse, so I won. But today the rivalry was not a joke.”
“We now have a lot of new young kids,” he observed. “I have never seen them before, I have only heard their names. I was in shock when I saw what they attempted in practices, and they skate well too.”
For the Voronov, an earthquake was a novel experience.
“It was my first earthquake,” he joked. “It’s a bit funny, the first earthquake was on Sunday. I was in my bed watching a movie on a laptop and suddenly everything started to shake. I thought there must have been a train passing by. It was the case in Sweden, during a summer camp. But it was getting stronger. Frankly, I panicked a bit. I ran to the balcony looked down and decided that if the things will start to collapse around me, I can jump down, after all it is only the second floor.”
The skater was told later that one should stand in the doorframe as it gives you a better chance of surviving and/or preventing injuries.
“Today I woke up, enjoyed it, and went back to sleep.”
Artur Gachinski pulled up to fourth place with a performance in which he had no falls for the first time this year, but also no clean quads. He tripled the first one and stepped out of the second. All other elements were well done, however. The 2012 European silver medalist picked up 152.88 (72.94/79.94) for the free and earned 227.46 points in total.
Maxim Kovtun slipped to fifth place overall. The 2012 ISU Junior Grand Prix Champion, who only truly mastered a quad this year, devised a very ambitious plan for the National Championships: he wanted to perform three quads in his long program – two toe loops and one Salchow. He popped the Salchow and tripled the first toe loop, but nailed the third jump, a solo quad toe loop. From this point on, he delivered a clean routine, but with only 5.80 points for the two opening jumping passes, his technical mark was too low. He earned 149.64 (68.36/81.28) and had 225.02 in total.
“I think it was the lack of experience,” the 17-year-old said afterwards. “I have done run-throughs with three quads in practices, but here I opened the Salchow in the air. I completed two and a half revolutions, but my blades got caught in each other, so I had to open the jump. Had I performed the Salchow, the rest would have been much better.”
Vladislav Sezganov pulled up to sixth place (209.78), while Mikhail Kolyada slipped to seventh (208.96).
Young Alexander Samarin finish eighth (205.35) ahead of Artur Dmitriev (204.24) and a fellow debutant Alexander Petrov (203.57). The remaining seven skaters scored below 200 points in total.
The Russian Figure Skating Federation selected Plushenko, Voronov, and Kovtunto to represent the men at the upcoming 2013 European Figure Skating Championships.