Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev captured their sixth gold medal at the 2017 Russian National Championships. Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin won their first silver medal, while Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, last year’s silver medalists, had to settle for bronze.
Bobrova and Soloviev did not put a foot wrong in the two days of the competition. The students of Alexander Zhulin picked up 81.40 points for the short dance and 115.86 for the long to win the title by almost 10-point margin (197.26).
However, the 2016-2017 Grand Prix finalists refused to let the marks go into their heads.
“We are very grateful to the judges for their high assessment of our program,” said Soloviev after the record-breaking short dance score. “We appreciate that they want to encourage us and motivate us to move forward and improve. However, I have to say that our performance was very good, both technically and emotionally, and we are very happy about it because our first training in Chelyabinsk was not quite as good.”
“I was very nervous,” admitted Bobrova after the short dance, “but my partner told me that it must be fatigue. We had a lot of competitions this year with at most a two-week break between them.”
High marks notwithstanding, the 2013 World Championships bronze medalists were in a class of their own in Chelyabinsk. Both their programs were very well choreographed and the mileage they had out of them at various competitions in autumn showed in the execution of all elements and connecting moves, which made them true dances rather than a sum of elements.
“I think it is the best New Year present for us and for all people who supported us,” said Soloviev afterwards. “It’s very motivating to have such a strong competition at home.”
Now the team would like to challenge for medals at major international competitions.
“Our placement is not always up to us,” said Soloviev about their chances. “Different panels of judges look out for different things. The best thing you can do is to stay true to yourself, not to copy or follow others, but to do what suits you the best and present something new.”
Stepanova and Bukin also skated two clean programs in Chelyabinsk. Their short dance to hip-hop and blues, in particular, stood out among more traditional dances delivered by other teams.
“We always wanted to do a hip-hop,” said Bukin. “We really enjoy performing this program.”
Their free dance to a tango was equally expressive, but lacked refinement in places. They did manage to execute all their elements well, and picked up 113.07 points for the free and 189.54 points in total for a confident second-place finish.
“Honestly, I did not always remember that it was a qualifying event [for the European and World Championships],” said Stepanova afterwards. “We have such a strong competition at home, that it was more difficult for us than the Grand Prix events, but did not think of it in terms of placement.”
The team was asked if Bukin’s father, 1988 Olympic champion Andrei Bukin, is involved in their preparations.
“I am always asked about it,” he lamented. “The answer is ‘not really.’ Natasha [Bestemianova] worked with us sometimes in the past, but my father does not interfere with our training beyond occasional technical advice.”
Sinitsina and Katsalapov (178.45) edged out Elena Ilynikh and Ruslan Zhiganshin (178.28) for the bronze. Sinitsina and Katsalapov, who were 0.56 points ahead of their former partners after the short dance, lost the free dance to them by 0.35 points and will now travel to the European Championships in Ostrava.
The students of Marina Zueva, who had been forced to return to Russia before the start of the Grand Prix series, have recently added legendary coach Elena Tchaikovskaya to their team and give her a lot of credit for their success.
“I think we have improved a lot in the short time we have been working with her,” said Katsalapov, “and we have been able to show it in competition. We did not make any mistakes here. Overall, we are satisfied with our performance. We have done our best here.”
Their best included two highly sophisticated routines which might have been a little bit too ambitious for them at this point. Even though the 2016 Russian national silver medalists maintained effortless flow throughout and managed to avoid major mistakes they have been prone to committing in the past, they did not own either the blues or tango to the same extent as the top two teams. Also, both their step sequences in the free dance received only level two.
In contrast to Stepanova and Bukin, Sinitsina and Katsalapov were always conscious of what is at stake.
“Of course, the national championships is always a very important competition for us,” said Katsalapov. “We have been highly motivated to win a medal here because we would like to go to the major championships. We are happy that we have been able to qualify for the European championships.”
The team, who has been skating together for only three seasons, claimed that they no longer think of themselves as ‘new team.’
“We do not refer to yourselves this way anymore and we do not discuss things from this point of view,” said Katsalapov. “Of course there is always room for improvement and we work hard on skating as one, which is one of the goals for ice dance. But we have been at European and World championships together, so I think we are a true team.”
Ilynikh and Zhiganshin who also worked in the United States during the summer, but were forced to come back to their home team, delivered two expressive dances. However, both routines lacked the refinement displayed by the top three teams.
The 2015 Russian national champions managed to clean up their technical element, but picked up one-point deduction for costume failure in the free dance, purportedly for a part of a costume falling on the ice during the performance. It’s the second season in a row that the students of Elena Kustarova lost a bronze medal due to a deduction: last year in Yekaterinburg one of their lifts was deemed too long.
Despite a disappointing result, the skaters said they were happy with the way they performed in Chelyabinsk.
“I think it was by far the best performance of the season,” said Ilinykh after the free dance. “We have worked hard and made a lot of changes. I think we were in the best shape for the championships.”
The 2014-2015 Grand Prix finalists believe that they benefitted from returning to Russia.
“I think nobody loves us more than our team at home,” said Ilynikh. “In our case, it’s a phenomenal advantage to know that these people would move mountains for us. It’s the best thing that could have happened to us, even though we did not plan it this way.”
Tiffany Zahorski and Jonathan Guerreiro finished fifth with 169.46 points. The students of Alexander Zhulin delivered a strong and sensual blues in the short and a smooth and understated free dance to “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. Zahorski suffered from a sore throat throughout the championships and had a fever on the day of the free dance, but she was determined to compete.
“It was not our best,” said Zahorski, “but I did the best I could under the circumstances.”
Sofia Evdokimova and Egor Bazin rounded out the top six with 152.15 points.