The Free Dance competition provided the perfect conclusion for the second day of the 2013 Russian National Figure Skating Championships. Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev won their third consecutive national title. Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov won the silver, while Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko pulled up to win a bronze and completed the repeat of the podium from last two national championships.
The level of performances in the final flight would not have been out of place even at a major international tournament. All five teams skated clean and even the international technical panel, brought to Sochi with an aim to provide a realistic and unbiased assessment of the Russian leading dancers, found it almost impossible to find any faults in those five dancers.
Performing to a medley of Man with a Harmonica and Tosca, Bobrova and Soloviev were the most evocative of the top five. Their routine tells the story of Bobrova’s character and her slow descent into madness as she tries to heal her partner from a mental illness; however, it is only achieved it at the expense of her own sanity. The routine has gained a lot of praise beginning with it’s debut at the national test skates in September. Since the, the dance has only become more poignant and clear.
Unencumbered by any mistakes, it truly shined in Sochi. The team earned a level four on all their elements and received no program components scores below 9.00, earning 106.47 (51.36/55.31) for the free dance. They won with a total score of 174.72 points.
“Overall, we are happy with our performance,” said Soloviev, 23. “I think it was a strong one, both technically and emotionally. I believe that a performance like that can be competitive on an international level.”
“It is a very positive way to end the year, on such a high note,” he continued. “It is an early New Year’s present for us. We would like to thank the audience for their support and all people who rooted for us.”
“We train every day to make our skating better,” said Bobrova, 22. “I think even in these two short weeks, between the Grand Prix Final and Nationals, both our dances improved a lot.”
“Everything here is set up to make the competition comfortable for skaters,” added her partner.
The 2012 European Championships silver medalists do not focus on the marks, but rather on their performance.
“The marks show that we got the job done,” explained Soloviev. “The marks do not always reflect our impression from a performance. Sometimes you feel that you skated so-so, but it looked different from the outside.”
The team will now enjoy a short break, but already has further training plans set up. “We will be back on ice on January 2,” said Bobrova. “Sasha [Zhulin] has a plan and we will follow it.”
Ilinykh and Katsalapov were also clean, however, the students of Nikolai Morozov only earned a level three for both their step sequences – a fatal flaw in such a tight event. The team has substantially toned down and smoothed all controversial aspects of their dance. The second dialogue in particular, is now heavily overlaid with music. The 2012 European silver medalists also improved all aspects of their performance, from the execution of the required elements, to the general flow of the routine.
Unsurprisingly, they also earned very high scores: 105.53 (50.07/55.46) points for the free dance and 171.67 in total.
“We are very happy with the performance,” said Ilinykh. “Everything went well, right from the beginning, exactly as we planned. All things came together and we are happy to conclude this year with such a performance. It was a success, we earned great marks. It is a small present for us and our close ones.”
“Some things did not work at the Grand Prix Final,” added Katsalapov, “but I think the fact that we can improve from one competition to the next over the course of the season is good. We had some time, but not much of it as we had no time to rest, but we spent the last two weeks very productively.”
“We worked on elements and on our relationship in the dance,” he elaborated. “Yesterday, we stepped on the ice of the Iceberg palace as different people, ready for everything. Ready to compete.”
“The ice here helps us a lot,” he continued. “The feeling of it was different this time. Things started to work right from the beginning, from the first practice. We were focused and in a good mood, and we were eager to perform and to compete. Everything was great. We are fully satisfied and I hope we will continue to progress.”
“I think in the beginning of the season, our emotions during the performance were too strong,” added Ilinykh. “We were not able to control them and it prevented us from doing the elements right. Now we hold back a little bit, control ourselves better. I guess it means that we are more experienced now.”
The team does not plan to seek outside help to help them figure out the reason for low levels in Yankee Polka pattern yesterday.
“There are rules, and I guess we failed to meet the requirements,” said Katsalapov. “In practices, everything is great, everything is on maximum and I guess it is true of everyone. We have to work on it more. Polka is the last element in our dance, so maybe we lack stamina or mileage to complete this part properly.”
“For us, it was definitely the best performances of the season,” he concluded. “Both yesterday and today. I think we deserved the marks we got. We liked them a lot. And we liked our performance a lot.”
Riazanova and Tkachenko posted the highest technical score of the night and pulled up to the third place overall. Their performance to Nino Rota’s The Godfather was smoother and more effortless than during the Grand Prix Series, and it lightened the overall impression quite a bit. They scored 103.99 (53.08/50.91) for the dance and got 163.87 in total.
“We are happy with the performance,” said Riazanova. “Frankly, we were nervous today, but we were able to cope with it and do everything we worked on as we had planned. We wanted to give 100 percent today and I hope we did it. Now we can feel free to celebrate Ilia’s birthday and New Year. Everything was great.”
The team was quite surprised to find themselves in fifth place yesterday.
“Well, it was a bit of a shock,” said Tkachenko about their placement. “It was unexpected, but it is a competition. One has to be ready for all kinds of situations. It is an essence of sports character to be able to overcome all hurdles, put one’s failures behind, and approach the next day with new thoughts and do their job well.”
The two-time national bronze medalists believe that they might benefit from a new pair of eyes, however.
“Maybe we will invite a technical specialist,” said Tkachenko about their game plan to improve the levels of Yankee Polka pattern, “and we will ask them to take another look. Maybe they will able to give us advice. In fact, we devoted a lot of attention to the pattern dance, but I guess we focused on the wrong things judging from the marks it earned us, but we will figure it out.”
The students of Alexei Gorshkov do not believe that the performance in Sochi was markedly different from previous events.
“I am very happy with the marks we got in the free dance,” said Tkachenko. “We skated well here, but we also skated well at all recent events. It was emotionally strong and I am happy with it.”
Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin slipped to fourth place overall after they finished fifth in the free dance with a smooth and confident performance of their flamenco medley. The students of Alexander Zhulin also improved the quality of their execution, and this change completely transformed their routine. They earned 93.73 for the free and 255.63 in total.
Viktoria Sinitsina and Ruslan Zhiganshin finished fourth in the free dance (93.94) and fifth overall (153.97) with a complex and sophisticated tango.
Ekaterina Pushkash and Jonathan Guerreiro round up the top six (143.11).
The top three teams will be representing Russian at the upcoming 2013 European Figure Skating Championships.