2014 Rostelecom Cup: Carmen looking for revenge – and tons of other stories

Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin skating to "Carmen" - a short dance to remember

Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin skating to “Carmen” – a short dance to remember

One of the most awaited moments of this season has already happened on November 14 in Moscow: a beautiful, confident Elena Ilinykh, alongside a determined Ruslan Zhiganshin, played the parts of their lives skating to “Carmen”, during a masterpiece of a short program choreographed by Antonio Najarro. It was a Carmen looking for revenge in Moscow, that’s for sure: this was Elena and Ruslan’s first encounter with their former partners, Nikita Katsalapov and Victoria Sinitsina, and we all know at this moment the conclusion of this particular meeting: silver medal for Elena and Ruslan in Moscow, fourth place for Nikita and Victoria – and an (almost) 13 points difference between the two teams.

Leaving aside this warlike episode, the 2014 Rostelecom Cup featured also some sure things: with their second gold in the Grand Prix circuit, the American dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates qualified for the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona; and so did the Spaniard Javier Fernandez (what a relief for himself and the organizers; GPF wouldn’t have been a Spanish fiesta without his presence…). And, though she produced what we may call an unpleasant surprise for the viewers in Luzhniki, winning the silver and not the expected gold, the firebird Anna Pogorilaya secured her place for the Grand Prix Final in December. On a more personal note, as last week in Shanghai, I was utterly amazed by Misha Ge: a wonderful set of programs for this season and loads of emotions for those watching him skate. Thank you, Misha.

by Florentina Tone

Elena Ilinykh: she’s not skating to Carmen, she is Carmen. Have you seen Elena’s face while taking the ice for the short program? Well, I’m sure you did. And, as me, you definitely saw a mixture of determination, trust, spiced with bits of revenge. This was clearly a battle of nerves on the ice of Luzhniki arena, eight months after Nikita Katsalapov’ decision to end the partnership with Elena and continue his skating career alongside Victoria Sinitsina. From this particular decision a second ice dance couple was born: the partners left behind, Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin, decided to join forces – and this year’s edition of Rostelecom Cup featured the first encounter of the two pairs; the first time they stepped onto the same surface of ice since the break-up.
Skating in the short program right after the pair training in Canton, Michigan, under Marina Zueva, I felt like Elena and Ruslan were obviously superior in terms of expression, chemistry and speed across the ice. They entered their roles with their personal experience in mind – and the intensity of the encounter, their willingness and desire to show their strengths were almost palpable during both short and long programs. They looked wonderfully polished for a pair skating together for only eight months – and won the silver in Moscow with an overall score of 160.43 points (64.12 for the short and 96.31 for the long).

Performing to "Carmen", Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin set a new personal best, earning 64.12 points for their short dance

Performing to “Carmen”, Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin set a new personal best, earning 64.12 points for their short dance

Surely, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov are both gorgeous skaters (and her dress for the short program, an absolute work of art) – but, at this point, you have this prominent feeling they are still separate entities; their unison is not there yet, their hands struggling to find one another. Nonetheless, their partnership will mature; I’m sure they’ll look different at their next assignment: NHK Trophy, in Osaka, November 28-30.

For their short dance, to “Toitas las Mares” by Manolo Caracol and “The Dance” by Michel Legrand, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov scored 57.96 points

For their short dance, to “Toitas las Mares” by Manolo Caracol and “The Dance” by Michel Legrand, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov scored 57.96 points

Rika Hongo: an enthusiastic skate and a first Grand Prix medal for the girl born in Nagoya. Of course, when you say Nagoya you say Mao Asada; and maybe this particular detail can explain for itself the joy of skating, the enthusiastic performances of the 18-year-old Rika Hongo. Skating to classical music (“Le Corsaire” in the short and “Carmen” in the free), Rika shined in Moscow – and I have to say I’m a fan of both her programs, choreographed by the innovative Kenji Miyamoto and loaded with difficult elements. I applaud Rika’s speed across the ice, her verve and confidence; I only wish she would correct her posture: she is a tall, beautiful girl, but she tends to bury her head between her shoulders… All in all, with a 5th place at Skate Canada and a gold medal in Moscow, we’re definitely aware of Rika’s presence on the international scene. Well done.

The Japanese Rika Hongo and her own version of "Carmen" in Moscow

The Japanese Rika Hongo and her own version of “Carmen” in Moscow

Anna Pogorilaya secured her place at the Grand Prix Final, but, my, oh my, she fought in Moscow. With a gold at Skate Canada, two weeks ago, and in the absence of Adelina Sotnikova (out of the Grand Prix events this season, because of an injury), Anna Pogorilaya seemed to be the heavy favorite of this year’s edition of Rostelecom Cup; and her road to Barcelona, free from obvious obstacles. Well, in Moscow, Anna had to fight her inner demons. Was she too relaxed? Or did she feel the pressure of skating in her hometown? We don’t know for sure. But what we know is that she stumbled on November 14th, during the short program, finishing the day on a third place, and had to carry that particular cross in the free.
Looking for redemption, Anna found a dead end a day after: legs were shaking, the jumps failed her and the uncertainty crept in; only her fighting spirit and components’ scores kept her on the second place after what we may call a disappointing performance. In Barcelona, in the middle of December, the firebird has this particular duty to show its true colors to its admirers.

Anna Pogorilaya skating to Stravinski's Firebird at 2014 Rostelecom Cup

Anna Pogorilaya skating to Stravinski’s Firebird at 2014 Rostelecom Cup

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov: they don’t cease to amaze me. This is me raising an imaginary hat to these wonderfully innovative pair skaters, Olympic and World silver medalist last season. Their short program, to music from the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, is already one of my favorites – and not only because I thoroughly enjoyed their elegant, out-of-the box costumes; but because the routine has class written all over it and because Ksenia is one of the most powerful and confident skater out there. She does fight for every element and, to me, she’s the motor of this particular pair.
As for the free program, I had my moments of doubts when seeing they’d skate to “Notre Dame de Paris”. When Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat used this particular piece, I was a fan. Now, due to its frequent use, my ears got tired. Luckily for me, Ksenia and Fedor chose for the biggest part of the program unfamiliar musical fragments – and, luckily for them, their theatrical skills are absolutely wonderful. It was, indeed, an imperial performance of these two in Moscow, one for which they received 142.88 points and 211.97 overall.
With this particular score, they are leading the ball after four Grand Prix events: prior to Rostelecom Cup, the biggest scores of the GP circuit had been awarded to Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford at Skate Canada: 210.74 points. The Canadians surely watched the pairs event in Moscow on tv, since Meagan wrote on her twitter account, as a response to a SkatingLesson remark (“Officially a three-horse race for pairs gold at Worlds? Duhamel/Radford, kavaguti/Smirnov, Stolbova/Klimov – exciting”): “I like Stolbova and Klimov! But when Eric and I hit a clean long… watch out World!”

"Notre Dame de Paris" starring Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov

“Notre Dame de Paris” starring Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov

Misha Ge: is this the best season of his career or what? The 23-year-old skater representing Uzbekistan was 3.18 points close to winning the bronze medal in Moscow, after skating the programs of his lifetime in Luzhniki arena. In fact, Misha was just being Misha and skated wonderfully at this year’s edition of Rostelecom Cup, as he did a week ago in Shanghai, at 2014 Cup of China. A 5th place for him in China, a 4th place in Moscow – and the future looks bright for this talented young man, skating his heart out and winning, with every second that passes, tens of fans.
To me, Misha’s winning card this season is his choice to skate to lyric, touching pieces of music: “Ave Maria” in the short and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” in the long. His strengths are more than obvious while skating, smoothly, easily, to this kind of music and Misha does look more mature; not to mention his joy and enthusiasm are totally genuine. As in Kiss and Cry, saying “Thank you” in all the languages he knows, Misha was ecstatic and grateful on twitter: “Thank You God today for the toughest battle and for the power to beat it”. But you know what I liked most? The reserved joy of his father (and coach): as in Shanghai a week ago, Jun Ge could hardly abstain from crying.

A happy, grateful Misha, at the end of his long program, to music from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg"

A happy, grateful Misha, at the end of his long program, to music from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”

Sergei Voronov: the manly version of the Black Swan and a masterpiece of a short program. Sergei will surely remember this year’s edition of Rostelecom Cup: his program to “Danse Macabre” raised people in the arena on their feet – and I might have done just that in front of a TV, that convincing his short program was. The choice of music is fantastic, the velvet costume is a work of art – and so were Sergei’s text-book jumps, with a quad toe-triple toe to die for. The 27-year-old Russian skater shined in Moscow on November 14th and, a day later, skating a capturing, inviting routine to music by James Brown-Marcus Miller-Kenny G-Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Sergei won a silver medal at 2014 Rostelecom Cup, raising to five the number of medals he won in the Grand Prix circuit through the years.

Skating to "Danse Macabre", Sergei Vorovov was foot-perfect in Moscow

Skating to “Danse Macabre”, Sergei Vorovov was foot-perfect in Moscow

Javier Fernandez: a gold medal in Moscow and a sure place in the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona. I don’t even want to image how GP Final would look like in the absence of Mr. Fernandez; him, being one of the reasons – the most important one, actually – for which Spain received the organization of this event. Surely, this option was out-of-the question: Javier couldn’t have missed the final; that good he is. He proved it in Skate Canada, two weeks ago, when he won the silver medal behind Takahito Mura, and he more than proved in Moscow, a couple days ago, skating probably the most difficult set of program in the entire men’s event.
There were girls waving flags and shouting, “Vamos Javi!”, a happy, smiling Mr. Orser (he too felt the pressure of Javier’s qualifying for the final), and, all in all, there was Javier’s fight all throughout a program loaded with difficult elements; and, let me tell you, if Javier skates a clean free program in Barcelona, the title is definitely his; and this would be Spain’s first gold medal in the Grand Prix circuit. Now that’s what I call an amazing chance for Spain to enter the history of figure skating. Will Javier manage to live up to these expectations? We’ll see that in December.

Javier Fernandez: a joyful Barber of Seville

Javier Fernandez: a joyful Barber of Seville

Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland: their first Grand Prix medal and my genuine admiration. Rostelecom Cup in Moscow was their first appearance in the Grand Prix Circuit this season and the first time I saw their new set of programs: the short one, skated to “Malagdena&Poeta” and “Poeta en el Mar”, the free one, to songs by Muse (“Exogenesis part 1” and “Hurricane and Butterflies”). Why have I written all these details? Because I want you to remember them when Penny and Nick win their next medal; given the quality of these particular programs, the speed, the innovations, their insanely courageous elements, their bronze medal in Moscow will be surely followed by others. They do have NHK Trophy ahead, the Europeans in Stockholm and the Worlds in Shanghai… And I wouldn’t want you to be caught by surprise, so take my word for it: this is Penny and Nick’s season to shine.
Remember January? The British dancers won the bronze at the 2014 Europeans in Budapest, with an incredibly difficult dance skated to a Michael Jackson medley, and, since then, the figure skating world started to pay attention to them; and the skaters themselves paid attention to the world. It was as if everyone woke up from a profound sleep – and the bronze in Budapest definitely gave Penny and Nick a boost of confidence. Prior to Sochi, in an interview for Inside Skating, Nicholas Buckland said it loud and clear: “I think everybody will see a new couple skating out there at the Olympics!”.
This Autumn, Penny and Nicholas came back looking for more – and I have to say their programs are real masterpieces, both artistically and technically. She (the butterfly) and he (the hurricane) are owning the space and pushing the boundaries every time they step onto the ice. They are once again playing to their strengths (using their size difference in their advantage, to make their lifts as spectacular as possible) and I for one am amazed. Literally.

Penny and Nick, the butterfly and the hurricane - and a gorgeous set of programs in Moscow

Penny and Nick, the butterfly and the hurricane – and a gorgeous set of programs in Moscow

Madison Chock and Evan Bates: flying to Barcelona with two gold medals in their pockets. The American dancers have already proved it in Chicago and, once again, this weekend, in Moscow: they are real contenders at the World gold medal in Shanghai, so, World, watch out! They started their season brilliantly at Skate America, winning a personal best score for the short dance, 68.96 points (and let me remind you that, after four GP events, this is the best score received by a dance team, any team), and did the same thing with the free dance in Moscow: 105.42 points for their program to music from “An American in Paris”, almost 3 point higher than the scores they received in Chicago. And if Worlds were tomorrow, with this set of scores, they’d definitely win the event.
Skated to music from “Don Quixote”, their short dance is a jewel, a sharp, confident, intriguing routine; while the free dance is playful, intricate, with tons of difficult elements and Madison completely abandoning herself in Evan’s arms, trusting him a hundred percent; and if this is not trust and confidence in your partner than I don’t know what trust is… At the end of the dance, Igor Shpilband was smiling; he knew he’d created a masterpiece.

Skating to "Don Quixote", Madison and Evan are exquisite in their short dance

Skating to “Don Quixote”, Madison and Evan are exquisite in their short dance

HATS OFF to Alaine Chartrand (her short program is a joy to watch; and the 18-year-old Canadian won in Moscow her first ever Grand Prix medal, a bronze one), the Russian pair Kristina Astakhova and Alexei Rogonov (I particularly liked their short program, skated to music from the movie “Nine”; I have never seen them before but I definitely want to see them again. And a question: can you believe this is their first season together? They’ve become a pair in June this year), Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (what a future these two have: after a bronze in Skate Canada, a silver in Moscow – and a wonderful start of their career as seniors), Robin Szolkowy (a great start of his coaching career too, with Evgenia and Vladimir as his students), Haven Denney and Brandon Frazer (at only 0.01 of a point from the bronze medal in Moscow, I would say these two were quite unlucky…), Jeremy Ten (the 25-year-old Canadian skater finished the event on the tenth place out of twelve but I thoroughly enjoyed his beautiful, expressive skating to “Hallelujah”; he does have a wonderful musicality…), Takahiko Kozuka (his skating skills are to die for – and he’s such an elegant, classy skater; why can’t he master his emotions, to deliver a flawless performance? After all, he is one of the most talented skaters of his generation…), Michal Brezina (leaving behind the not-so-happy experience of a 7th place at Skate Canada, the 24-year-old Czech skater redeemed himself in Moscow, winning the bronze medal with an inspiring performance, one of the biggest moments of this edition of Rostelecom Cup; he later wrote on his facebook page: “I want to thank you for all your messages and congrats!! I’m really happy that you all enjoyed my skating and I hope next time it will be even better”), Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker (well, the 2014 World Junior champions made quite an impression on me at their first senior Grand Prix; their free program, to music from “Romeo and Juliet”, is a gem: beautiful interpretation, wonderful flowing on the ice… Anjelika Krylova can be proud: this pair is golden), Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin (I’ve told you already: I’m a fan of their free dance, skated to the Beatles’ song, “Eleanor Rigby”, reinterpreted by Frankie Moreno and the violinist Joshua Bell; World junior champions in 2013, Alexandra and Ivan began their senior career with a bronze medal at Skate America, at the end of October, and a fifth place in Moscow, at this year’s edition of Rostelecom Cup). To all of them, congratulations!