"He's really in a class of his own."
Those were the words used to describe PyeongChang 2018 team silver medallist and 2018 world bronze medallist Mikhail Kolyada's standout performance in the men's short program as the Russian figure skating championships got underway in the city of Chelyabinsk on Thursday (24 December).
The 25-year-old, a two-time Russian national champion wowed commentator Ted Barton (heard on the international YouTube broadcast) as he skated to a 102.48, securing first place heading into the free skate.
Kolyada was unflinching in his short, hitting a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination to open the program, then a triple Axel and triple Lutz in his skate set to a "Let's Get Loud" cover.
Kolyada missed the entire 2019-20 season due to sinusitis and subsequent surgery. In June of this year he joined forces with well-known coach Alexei Mishin. Last month he won at Rostelecom Cup, his first Grand Prix gold since 2017.
2019 Rostelecom bronze medallist Makar Ignatov is in second at 98.30, while 17-year-old Mark Kondratiuk is in third, scoring a 90.88.
In the pairs event, three-time world medallists and two-time Russian champs Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were near their vintage best, the duo soaring to first place in a loaded field, scoring 80.65.
And in the ice dance rhythm dance, it was four-time European medallists Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin who skated into first, posting an 87.28 for their emotive “Moulin Rouge” medley.
Kolyada's to win
Kolyada was the favourite coming into nationals and he delivered in full, appearing confident and skating in character, dressed in a deep green jacket and navy blue pants. He received 9s across the board for his program components - his artistry - and also positive grades of execution (GOEs) for each of his jumping passes.
"This young man makes it look so easy and it is not. Absolutely superb," Barton, a figure skating analyst, added in the commentary.
It was the best performance aside from Ignatov, who skated just second of 17 competitors and delivered his own stirring performance, notching a quad loop, quad toe-triple toe combination and triple Axel to finish. Ignatov, 20, was fourth at nationals a year ago and seventh at last month's Rostelecom Cup.
Kondratiuk was the surprise of the men's short, the teenager dressed in black pants and a colourful top and delivering an equally popping performance. He opened with a triple Axel, then hit a quad toe and triple Lutz-triple toe combination, pumping his fist at the end of the program in celebration. He's making his senior debut at nationals.
Some medal favourites struggled on Thursday, however, with Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games silver medallist and reigning world junior champ Andrei Mozalev in fourth with an 89.47, Alexander Samarin in fifth (87.45), and Petr Gumennik in eighth (84.93). Each had a fall in their respective programs.
The reigning Russian and European champion Dmitri Aliev withdrew from the event prior to the start of competition. He tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month, missing the final stage of the domestic Cup of Russia series.
Pairs: High-quality teams go head-to-head
The Russian strength in the pairs discipline was on full display in Chelyabinsk, with veterans Tarasova and Morozov rising above the crowd in what was a high-quality short program across the board.
A triple twist, triple toe loops in perfect unison and a strong throw triple loop put Tarasova and Morozov at 80.65, three points north of second place team Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, the recent Rostelecom Cup champions, who scored a 77.48. Boikova and Kozlovskii won this event a year ago, as well.
Boikova was ruing her two-footed landed on their throw triple Lutz, which cost the team on GOEs, receiving a negative 1.06 vs. the +1.86 that Tarasova/Morozov received on their throw.
They did, however, score just a half point ahead of Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin, who were close to their best in the short with a 77.01.
Reigning Lausanne 2020 and world junior champs Apollinariia Panfilova and Dmitry Rylov are in fourth and Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, the 2019 world junior winners, are in fifth, the latter team suffering from a popped triple Salchow by Galliamov in the side-by-side jumps.
Tarasova was especially pleased with the top team’s performance, as coach – and Sochi 2014 pairs and team gold medallist Maxim Trankov – watched from the boards. Tarasova and Morozov have spent a good portion of the last year in Florida training with Marina Zueva, and last season were beat out at nationals, finishing second to Boikova and Kozlovskii.
Ice dance: Stepanova/Bukin have first national title in sight
The last four years, the duo of Stepanova/Bukin, a team since 2013, has placed second at Russian nationals, but they are squarely in the lead following Thursday’s rhythm dance.
The very first team to skate, they opened their passionate rhythm dance with their twizzle sequence and never looked back, building as the program went and being awarded both technically and artistically. They did receive a one-point deduction for an extended lift.
Tiffany Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro were three points behind at 84.02, the team looking for its best-ever finish at nationals, while Anastasia Skoptcova and Kirill Aleshin, the 2018 world junior champions, sit in third at 80.19.
Two-time and reigning Russian champions Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov withdrew from the event, the duo having dealt with a myriad of injuries and health issues this year. They won gold at last month’s Rostelecom Cup, but Katsalapov revealed earlier this week that both he and Sinitsina had contracted COVID-19 recently and were not fully recovered to compete.