The Russian Federation held its annual test event in mid-September and while many current stars were featured a few were missing due to injuries.
The official test event, which is open to the public and the press, is a smart move drawing attention to the sport at the beginning of each new season.
This year the trials were held over four days. Skaters performed at four different ice rinks; two in Moscow City and two in the Moscow region. Some skaters performed all four days.
Whenever Evgeni Plushenko takes to the ice it is news in Russia. The three-time Olympic medalist presented his new free program to three different pieces by Camille Saint-Saëns. For the first time in many years, the 29-year-old went for a quad Salchow in his routine set to “Rondo Capriccioso,” “The Swan” and “Danse Macabre.”
Even though he stepped out of the landing of the quad jump the message was clear: Plushenko means business. He landed seven triples including two triple Axels and is still by far the most consistent competitor among the Russian men. Obviously the program was still new and thus a little slow, but the potential is there.
Plushenko is going for a different look and style this season and it will be interesting to see how this program develops.
He was critical of his performance at this event. “It wasn't my best, obviously. The most important thing for me was to do the quad Salchow. I still have to work a lot on my program. What I showed today was just a draft of what it should be,” the seven-time European champion said. “I've worked a lot on dance elements with (Pasquale) Camerlengo, (Kenji) Miyamoto, David Avdysh and Sergei Petukhov.”
Plushenko will not compete in the Grand Prix Series this season as his main goal is the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
His wife, Jana, who is pregnant, attended the test skate.
The other Russian men have a lot to learn a lot from the veteran. Artur Gachinski presented his new short program to Spanish music with an oriental touch on two separate days. He tried the quad toe in vain, but looked polished overall. “Over the summer we've worked a lot on skating skills, spins and footwork,“ he said.
His free program is to “Symphony No. 5” by Ludwig van Beethoven, but he did not present it. The European silver medalist was bothered by boot problems at Worlds where he faded to 18th after two subpar performances. “I changed my boots just two weeks before and my preparation was affected by that,” he explained.
“We decided to have several pairs of skating boots ready for the season so that I won't have these problems again.”
Sergei Voronov skated on all four days, presenting his short program to the “Russian Sailor Dance” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
The short program really suits him and the lyrical long is a good contrast. “I always liked how Alexander Abt skated to ‘Yablochko.’” the two-time Russian champion said. (In Russia, this piece of music is usually referred to as “Yablochko”).
It is obvious that Voronov worked hard during the off-season. “I want to do two quad toes and two triple Axels in my program,” he said. The Axels are high and beautiful but the quad is not yet consistent. The Muscovite is still bothered by a foot injury that hinders him from executing the Lutz jump.
Konstantin Menshov is one of the most overlooked Russian men, but he deserves attention. He looked ready and landed his quad toe jumps. His short program is to “Pina,” music previously used by four-time World Champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.
For the long program he chose three pieces by René Aubry, which, as always, has a story to tell. “I am someone who wants to speak out about something but can't do it for some reason. Something or someone is stopping me, and it is up to the spectator to decide whether this is political or not. Only at the end do I succeed in speaking my mind,” the 29-year-old explained.
Ivan Bariev shone on the first day with a clean short program to “Variations on a Theme by Paganini” by Andrew Lloyd Webber. He is a very expressive and musical skater and on the comeback trail after missing most of the last three seasons due to injury.
Unfortunately Bariev caught a cold and struggled with the triple Axel on the other three days of the test event.
Maxim Kovtun switched coaches this summer and went from Nikolai Morozov to Elena Vodorezova. As usual, he had ups and downs, but landed the quad toe.
Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov debuted two very different programs. The World silver medalists have gone for a laid-back, sexy look in the short program to an unusual, jazzy version of “The Godfather.”
Volosozhar looked gorgeous in a burgundy dress with sparkling pearl necklaces and Maxim perfectly portrayed the role of a gangster. They have made some changes to their program content and are now doing a side-by-side triple Salchow (instead of the toe) and they abandoned the throw triple flip, returning to the more solid throw triple loop.
For the free program, Volosozhar and Trankov have chosen a difficult piece of music, “Violin Muse,” which is based on “Two Chaconnes” (“Partita No. 2 for Violin”) by Johann Sebastian Bach and “Chaconne” by Tomaso Vitali, arranged and performed by Ikuko Kawai. This music is demanding, but Volosozhar and Trankov had no trouble interpreting it.
The program is dedicated to the victims of the 2011 Japanese tsunami and earthquake. Volosozhar and Trankov were in Japan preparing for the World Championships when this catastrophe occurred.
“We had a very busy summer,” Volosozhar explained. “We almost spent three months in the U.S. and worked a lot with Nikolai Morozov and an American choreographer.”
Trankov said the duo then went to Italy for another training camp to up the ante technically.
“We have learned two new lifts and moved the triple toe into the second half of the program,” Volosozhar added.
Last season was not a good one for Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov who missed the European Championships while Smirnov recovered from appendix surgery. Then a freak fall on a lift in the short program at Worlds destroyed their medal hopes.
Some people have written them off, but this is premature.
Kavaguti and Smirnov were in good shape at this event and are ready to attack again. After undergoing meniscus surgery on his right knee this summer, Smirnov now can do the triple toe-triple toe sequence. “We were pretty happy with the test skates. I think we dealt well with the short program especially since we finished it only three days ago,” he said. “The free skate was okay as well, considering that I was a little bothered by an injury and missed a lift. Hopefully we can build on this and will be at 99 percent at our first Grand Prix.”
Kavaguti and Smirnov originally had a “Cats” short program, but abandoned it after the first internal test skates in late August as not all of the judges approved it. “Maybe it is good for an exhibition program but not so good for a competitive program,” Kavaguti said.
With little time to revamp, the Russians turned to a Waltz by Johann Strauss. This style suits them well, but they have used Waltzes before. It would have been nice to see them do something different. Their free program is to the romantic piece “February” by Leonid Levoshkevich, which is more innovative.
Vera Bazarova and Juri Larionov had a difficult summer. Bazarova is suffering from a recurring hip injury that prevented her from jumping for three weeks until just prior to the test skates. Unfortunately she aggravated the injury again at the Nebelhorn Trophy. “This injury is bothering her for a year already and it became worse during the summer,” Larionov explained.
Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov set themselves apart with interesting and unusual choreography. They chose music from “Interview with a Vampire” for the short and from the “Addams Family” for the free skate. The duo moved the solo jumps to the end of the short program and the throw is the very last element. “This is something we are used to and it is not a problem for us,” Stolbova said.
However, she still struggled at the test event with the solo jumps and the usually solid throws. The reigning European bronze medalists will include a triple twist in their programs this season.
World silver medalist Alena Leonova wants to continue her success from last season and to finally make the podium at Europeans. She has two new programs; a fun “Bollywood” short program and a Flamenco free to “Poeta,” the music made famous by Stéphane Lambiel.
“Both programs have more demanding choreography, more transitions and footwork than before,” Leonova said. “Therefore they are harder to skate, but they can get more points. I want to improve my results. I have come far, but it will be difficult to remain in this position.”
One of her strongest rivals is Adelina Sotnikova. The 16-year-old has overcome puberty and is regaining consistency. Most notably, she grew as a performer as she proved in her short program to “Capriccio Espagnol” by Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov and her bluesy free to “Burlesque” but Cristina Aguilera's voice is a little distracting in this program. “I have grown up,” Sotnikova announced.
Ksenia Makarova has gone from platinum blond to a brunette. “I was fed up with being blond,” she said with a laugh. After falling sick shortly before the test skates she only performed part of her free program. “I was well prepared, but then I caught a virus,” she explained. Makarova went for the triple Lutz, but this jump still is not consistent.
Polina Korobenikova only recently overcame a foot injury and was not in great shape. She doubled most of her jumps.
Sofia Biriukova still struggles with consistency. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Julia Lipnitskaia were missing. “Lisa is going through a difficult time right now. She has grown, put on weight and suffered a knee injury,” coach Alexei Mishin explained.
According to Russian skating officials Lipnitskaia had a minor injury and was resting.
Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev left long-time coaches Elena Kustarova and Svetlana Alexeeva this spring to work with Alexander Zhulin and his team. Following an unsuccessful World Championships, the duo knew they needed to make radical changes if they want to stay in contention.
Zhulin and his assistant coaches Oleg Volkov, Maxim Staviski and choreographer Sergei Petukhov have given the couple a new look and style this seaosn.
For the short dance, they chose an elegant and classical Polka and Waltz combination, dancing to Russian film music from “Put in a Good Word for the Poor Hussar” and “The Team.”
The free dance is dramatic and set to a new arrangement of “Man with a Harmonica” by Apollo 440 and “Tosca.” The program would be even stronger if they had stuck to just the “Man with the Harmonica,” but the skaters and coaches accepted Tatiana Tarasova's idea to add a modern version of “Tosca.”
“We wanted to do something new to be competitive,” said Soloviev who portrays a man deep in depression. “I am sick person, sitting in the hospital, totally absorbed by myself, not seeing the real world, nothing. Katia, as my companion in life, tries to bring me back. These are the first two minutes. In the second half, she does not realize that I am coming out of my state but gets lost herself,” he explained.
Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko have stayed true to their favorite style and are waltzing again in both programs. They have improved. Both programs to “My Fair Lady” (short dance) and the free to “The Godfather” are well done. If they had a different style in the free dance, the improvement could have been more emphasized.
Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin now train with Zhulin and his team, but their programs are not as original as those of Bobrova and Soloviev. The French Waltz for the short dance “Sous le ciel de Paris” is cute, but the Polka part appears to be tacked on and has no connection.
They are doing a Flamenco free dance, but the music is a little boring, as they have done Flamenco and Tango-style programs in previous seasons.
World Junior Champions Victoria Sinitsina and Ruslan Zhiganshin are skating to a Tango as well and want to prove that they belong in the senior ranks. Their fun Western Polka and Tennessee Waltz is a nice contrast. The young couple is technically strong but needs to work on presentation, although they have grown in that aspect.
Ekaterina Pushkash and Jonathan Guerreiro were impressive with their “Cirque du Soleil” short dance. This is a fun program where both parts complement each other. But the free dance to “Tristan and Isolde” is somewhat generic. This choreography and the music has been seen and done before. The music with its redundant noises such as running water is less than exciting.
Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov skipped the test skates. She was recovering from a dislocated left shoulder. Coach Nikolai Morozov praised them and stressed that the couple has grown a lot.
Russian Figure Skating Federation president Alexander Gorshkov, the 1976 Olympic ice dance champion was pleased with what the skaters showed at the test skates overall. “We are heading into the pre-Olympic season and the public test skates is very important. It is better that the athletes make mistakes now than later in the competitions,” he said.
“There was a lot of progress compared to the internal tests, but obviously a lot still has to be done. I liked 90 percent of the programs that we saw. Overall, everything is better than it was at the beginning of last season.”