Mikhail Kolyada is Russian national champion once again.
The 2018 world bronze medallist in figure skating was near to his vintage best in two days of skating at the Russian national championships, finishing as the standout performer in a topsy turvy men's event. His 296.15 gave him a win by more than 30 points, for his third national title and first since the 2017-18 season.
Twenty-year-old Makar Ignatov won his first national medal by finishing second (265.37), while 17-year-old Mark Kondratiuk was the surprise of the competition, capturing bronze (260.31).
Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games silver medallist and reigning junior world champ Andrei Mozalev finished in fourth with a 252.92.
The win at nationals solidifies what's been a resurgent season for Kolyada, who missed 2019-20 entirely due to sinusitis and subsequent surgery. Last month he won Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, as well.
In ice dance, it was Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin who won their first national title, the duo having finished in second place the last four seasons. They won with a 220.16, 10 points clear of second-place finishers Tiffany Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro.
Kolyada rises to the challenge
With reigning national and European champion Dmitri Aliev withdrawing from the event prior to it starting, eyes were fixed on Kolyada, who earlier this year switched coaches to the longtime elite mentor Alexei Mishin. And Kolyada delivered.
After emerging first in the short program, Kolyada went from strength to strength in a beautifully skated free program, opening with a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, and then hitting a quad toe, followed by triple Axel.
Skating to balletic, soft music from The White Crow, Kolyada tied his program together with strong jumps, beautiful spins and a level four step sequence. Kolyada's program component (artistic) score of 96.86 was 10 points north of any other competitor.
The win assures Kolyada's place (unofficially) at the world championships in March, where he'll look to land back on the podium having done so in 2018 after he helped Russia to a team silver medal at the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang.
Kondratiuk surprises; Mozalev falls short
It's Kolyada and Aliev who are the "older" leaders in men's skating in Russia, but the crop of youngsters at nationals in Chelyabinsk was a virtual jockeying for who might contend for the team come Beijing 2022. Kolyada, Ignatov, and Kondratiuk are likely to get the nod for worlds in March, but that won't be made official just yet.
While Ignatov shone brightest in the short program, he had issues in the free, including a downgraded jumping pass and an unclear edge called on his flip.
It was Kondratiuk who excelled with Kolyada in the free skate, undeterred by a fall midway through the program and skating with passion and conviction, clad in all black. His only track record at nationals: 16th in the junior event back in 2016.
The 17-year-old could have a bright future, but will certainly have Mozalev to contend with, who's had a highly successful junior career. Mozalev fell twice in the free skate, visibly frustrated with his performance on the day.
Other up-and-comers to watch: Petr Gumennik, who finished seventh, Artem Kovalev (8th), and Evgeni Semenenko, who landed in 11th.
Ice dance: Stepanova and Bukin are champs for the first time
Stepanova and Bukin had six national medals to their names coming into this event: Two bronzes and four silvers, but they were finally able to break that streak with a victory in Chelyabinsk, skating to Moulin Rouge in the rhythm dance and a version of Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" in the free.
While their chief rivals, Alexandra Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov missed the event due to lingering symptoms of COVID-19, the duo was outright delighted, Bukin letting out a roar on the ice as they completed their free dance. Stepanova/Bukin received level fours for their opening twizzle sequence as well as three intricate lifts done in the program.
Those marks, coupled with nines and 10s in the program components secured them the win by a 10-point margin over Zagorski and Guerreiro, who claimed their first-ever silver at nationals.
Anastasia Skoptcova and Kirill Aleshin won the bronze, the 2018 Russian and world junior champs having issues on their twizzles, though they finished two full points ahead of the fourth-place team.