December 11, 2011
Russian skaters eyeing future
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
QUEBEC CITY - Just like the last Olympics, the Russians were left off the top of the senior podium at the Grand Prix final in Quebec City this week.
But make no mistake –- the great Bear is hardly in figure skating hibernation.
The Russian skating federation has put its embarassment from Vancouver, where their only medals came from a bitter Evgeni Plushenko and a dance team panned for its aboriginal-themed garb, far into the rear-view mirror.
Judging by what happened here, there's every possibility the 2014 Olympic hosts can match in Sochi the three golds achieved in Turin five years ago (or even four in the new-fangled team event), which would mark a stirring a comeback from the national sporting disaster nearly two years ago on Canada's West Coast.
The Russian are at their deepest in the women's ranks. Though Italy's leggy Carolina Kostner won the senior title, veteran Alena Leonova (third place) and 14-year-old Elizaveta Tuktamisheva (fourth) are clearly contenders.
A trio of their domestic rivals dominated the junior final.
“It is just great that we Russian girls swept the podium,” Russia's golden junior Julia Lipnitskaia said.
“It is a great step for our country,” junior bronze skater Polina Korobeynikova added.
It's a stark contrast to the current situation in Canada, where top women's skater Cynthia Phaneuf failed to qualify for the Grand Prix final in her home province. Perhaps a fresh start with legendary Brian Orser, who guided Spanish revelation Javier Fernandez to a historic bronze on Saturday, can turn things around.
Skate Canada did well in the same disciplines as last year. Patrick Chan repeated as men's champion and it doesn't look like the Canada-United States rivalry in ice dance is going to fizzle out any time soon.
The Russians, as it is, might be too young for a dance resurgence ahead for Sochi, but it's coming down the pipe one day. They swept that junior podium in dance here, too.
Many believe the biggest challenge to Chan's crown could come from Alexei Mishin-trained 18-year-old Russian Artur Gachinski, the world bronze medalist who didn't make the Grand Prix final this time.
If not him, there remains the spectre of Plushenko quad-jumping back into the mix.
It would certainly rachet up the men's event another level.
The Russians are, true to their history, once again a force in pairs. They boast two of the best three pair teams in the world at the moment.
Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy won in Quebec by the slightest of margins – 0.18 points – over Tatiana Volosozhar, previously best known for wearing a metallic blue body suit in Vancouver, and her new partner, the refreshing Maxim Trankov.
These days, it's hard to avoid figure skating's canned comment, where competitors declare the marks and judges of little concern and that it's all about feeling good personally about the performance.
Not Trankov. He often outrights questions the scoring in a clear effort to figure out what the judges demand from him and what he needs to do to improve.
“It is very difficult to skate in Canada,” he said, “because the audience has a very good understanding of figure skating and you want to be good for the audience.”
In Sochi, the Russians will be at home with all the advantages that go along with it.
They will be extremely tough to beat.
The 2014 Olympic hosts appear to be back on track in figure skating. Here's a comparison of Russia's medal count this week at the ISU Grand Prix final in Quebec City to last year in Beijing and other skating powers.
Russia (2011): 9 medals (3 senior, 6 junior)
Russia (2010): 6 (0 senior, 6 junior)
United States (2011): 4 (1 senior, 3 junior)
United States (2010): 3 (2 senior, 1 junior)
Canada (2011): 3 (2 senior, 1 junior)
Canada (2010): 3 (2 senior, 1 junior)
China (2011): 2 (0 senior, 2 junior)
China (2010): 5 (2 senior, 3 junior)
Japan (2011): 2 (2 senior, 0 junior)
Japan (2010): 4 (3 senior, 1 junior)