2019 Rostelecom Cup Pairs’ and Ladies’ Review: Rambling About Russians

Privet! Rostelecom Cup has been my favorite Grand Prix event since I started watching skating in 2014, so I am especially excited to write this review. Maybe it’s my secret desire to be Black Widow or all the 1980s spy shows I watched with my mom growing up, but I love Russian skaters and I love the competitive environment in Moscow’s Megasport arena. Someday when I’m out of school, have a real job, and am not completely broke, it’s my dream to fly to Russia and see a Rostelecom Cup. In the meantime, I’ll just continue watching via my friend’s NBC Sports Gold pass and writing long, opinionated reviews about everything I see.

Leo Tolstoy once wrote, “No hindrance hinders a Russian’s path”, and that was true for both the pairs and ladies here. I’ve also found that “no hindrance hinders a blogger’s mouth when she talks about Russian pairs” – this blog post ran much longer than I expected!

This really was the All-Stars tournament of Russian pairs. With Zabiiako/Enbert out of the Grand Prix, the story in Russian pairs has been a new rivalry between Tarasova/Morozov and Boikova/Kozlovskii. This event also marked the return of 2014 Olympic silver medalist Ksenia Stolbova, who debuted with her new partner Andrei Novoselov. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get started.

Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitri Kozlovskii:
Coming off an impressive win at Skate Canada where they beat Tarasova/Morozov by quite a large margin, Boikova/Kozlovskii had little to lose here. They were basically guaranteed a spot in the Grand Prix Final as long as they didn’t fall on all their jumps, abort all their lifts, and get tangled up in lederhosen (Cutting Edge reference there). At first, I was very apprehensive that they were skating to “My Way”. I thought, “What are you doing, sending a spirited, up-and-coming young pair out there skating to a song about an old man reflecting on his life choices?” But Tamara Moskvina knew what she was doing, and this piece of music really highlighted their strengths. They have a lovely lightness on the ice; this program reminds me a bit of Zabiiako/Enbert’s “Summer of ‘42” SP from the Olympic year, yet stamped with Boikova/Kozlovskii’s unique charm. I would’ve never guessed it was choreographed by Nikolai Morozov, but it’s a beautiful program so I have to begrudgingly give him some credit. While I appreciate that their costumes match, I’m not thrilled about his pink shirt. Some guys can pull off pastels, but in my opinion, Dmitri is not one of them. I’d love to see him skate this program in a white tuxedo with a pink handkerchief in the pocket. He looked so sharp last season in the white suit, so I think that might elevate the program even more. Now about the scores…wow. They broke 80, which is basically the bench mark for exceptional pairs’ short programs. This literally puts them on par with Sui/Han in that segment. I was definitely surprised, but they didn’t put a foot wrong and they got a level 4 on everything, so I can’t justify skimming off any points. The judges sent a clear message about which Russian pair they want to see on top: Boikova/Kozlovskii beat a nearly clean Tarasova/Morozov in the SP by more than three points.
The free skate is one of my favorite pair programs this season. When they first announced it was going to be a James Bond theme, I wasn’t sure if they would be able to pull it off, but it feels like a very fresh, modern take on the soundtrack. I personally prefer the cover version they used over the original version (sorry, Sam Smith, but this cover rocks). The vocals go with the raw power of their skating and make it feel a little more suitable for such a young couple. They aren’t mature adults like the original characters, so I’m glad they’re aware of that and didn’t try to look older than they are. When you’re 17 and 19, you need to be like Alicia Vikander’s Tomb Raider instead of trying to be an Angelina Jolie. They literally didn’t make a single mistake, and with these scores, they could truly run with Sui/Han this year. Dmitri’s exuberant reactions are always hilarious; it’s like he thinks every competition is the Olympics! The only thing I would change is Sasha’s heavy eye makeup – it’s a bit distracting. With this gold medal, I think they just labeled themselves as Russia’s top pair, and I’m living for it.

Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov:
I don’t think Tarasova/Morozov expected to find themselves in this position. After an unexpected lift mistake at Skate Canada gave them a bronze medal instead of the gold they were aiming for, they really needed a win here to secure themselves a spot in the Grand Prix Final. This silver medal gives them a chance, but it’s going to be close.
I think “Bolero” works well for them. It’s not the most incredible/innovative program I’ve ever seen, but it doesn’t detract from their skating. For a pair with so much natural talent like Tarasova/Morozov, they don’t need a lot of interesting choreography, they just need to skate big and clean. They actually remind me of Boikova/Kozlovskii, but with a little less expression on the ice. I mean, imagine them skating Boikova/Kozlovskii’s SP to “My Way” – it would be exquisite! This performance was a big step up from Skate Canada; they nailed the triple toes and throw triple loop, and they got level 4s on every element except the stupid spin, which got some negative GOE. It was by far the cleanest SP I’ve seen from them this season, but Vladimir had a little fluke stumble and they still finished 3 points behind Boikova/Kozlovskii and it all came down to those darn GOEs. Tarasova/Morozov have always dominated the pairs scene because of their big, clean elements, but now it looks like Boikova/Kozlovskii are starting to beat them at their own game.
I have mixed feelings on the free skate. On one hand, I love the new transitions and seeing choreography that hasn’t been recycled from their earlier programs. But the music just doesn’t work for them. The tune is repetitive, I don’t understand the story, and it’s not memorable. Truth be told, I even preferred their free skate to “Music” by John Miles over this – it had some character, even though it wasn’t a masterpiece. I would strongly suggest they either get a new free program (which might be asking for a lot), or go back to their free skate from last year, “The Winter”. It was beautiful and unobtrusive, and they had some great performances with it. I know judges frown on bringing back old programs, but it’s better to skate an old program everyone loves than a new program that makes people scratch their heads. I do approve of the new free skate dress – it’s much better than that flapping oversize shirt thing she was wearing at Skate Canada. It’s like a sexier version of Cheng Peng’s SP dress this year. On the technical side, it wasn’t perfect but it was a big improvement from the last two competitions. They couldn’t have done a lot more, and they’ll just have to wait and see if it’s good enough to get into the Final. But what’s going on with these big Russian men in pink? First Kozlovskii, now Morozov…

Minerva Fabienne Hase/Nolan Seegert:
Hase/Seegert are one of the upcoming teams I like. I’ve said this before: I love the short program but not the free skate. They thrive in light, soft programs – I almost see Satoko Miyahara in her delicate movements. They had a pretty good showing in the SP here and it was a joy to watch. She has lovely posture and arm movements, great extension in the lifts, and hair like Sleeping Beauty. That’s why I really, really need them to get a new free skate. It simply doesn’t work for them and hides all their talent. They won this bronze medal based on sheer skill, not the program. I don’t like it when it feels like a skater won in spite of a program, rather than because of one. However, I do really like this team and I’m happy they won themselves their first Grand Prix medal!

Miriam Ziegler/Severin Kiefer:
Internationaux de France was a mixed bag for Ziegler/Kiefer – they struggled in the short program, then earned a personal best in the free skate. I think they can be proud of their SP here. If you’re doing anything with a Great Gatsby headband, you gotta be groovin’, and this time they finally got their groove going. It’s definitely the cleanest they’ve skated this program, and I was finally able to enjoy it without saying “This is going to be really good when they get the jumps.”

I still think this free skate is one of the top 5 pairs’ programs of the year. It channels that “Savchenko/Massot Olympic free skate” style (lyrical but powerful, I don’t know how else to describe it), but it feels unique to them. They have a lovely lightness to their skating that I really appreciate. Their performance here was not bad at all; I think they’re finally starting to get their mojo back and are delivering fairly solid performances. I can’t help thinking they should’ve gotten bronze here; while Hase/Seegert deserved to beat them in the SP, Ziegler/Kiefer’s FS was so much better and works with their style.

Ksenia Stolbova/Andrei Novoselov:
Okay, y’all know I love this woman, so bear with me while I fangirl a little. Ksenia Stolbova is one of the most talented and interesting female pair skaters I have ever seen. It’s been a rough road for her over the past few years, so just seeing her back is all I could ask for here. I was nervous when she paired up with Andrei because I wasn’t sure if he could keep up with her, but he is much better than I expected. First of all, they completely surprised me by debuting a new SP to “Rebirth”. At test skates, they had shown a SP to “I’ll Take Care of You” by Beth Hart, but for some reason they decided to change it. I think it’s a very smart move. The original program was sharp and sexy, but it felt like a remake of Ksenia’s iconic program to “I Put a Spell on You” that she skated with Fedor Klimov a few years ago, and I couldn’t stop comparing the two in my head. The new SP feels completely new, and I think “Rebirth” is the perfect word to describe what’s happening in their skating. They performed it pretty well for their first competition out of the gate, besides the doubled toe loop. I was very worried that their twist would be bad because both of them have had trouble with twists in the past, but they got a level 3 with only one negative GOE mark, so it’s better than I anticipated. The rest of the elements looked pretty solid, and the step sequence and throw jump were some major highlights. They just need to maximize their GOEs if they want to run with the other two Russian couples.
32 for PCS feels criminally low (did one judge really dare to give Ksenia Stolbova a 7.25 in skating skills???), but they are a brand-new team and don’t have the reputation behind them yet, and they skated in an early group where scores are generally lower. Her dress is beautiful (she’s worn it before to the galas), but it’s a bit pale under these bright rink lights so I would suggest going with something bolder.
This free skate had the potential so good, but here it just didn’t happen. I’m guessing that Andrei just got nervous and choked. He’s not used to this much media attention and a big rowdy Russian crowd cheering for him. He put his hands down on both side-by-side jumps and botched two lifts, so I must say it was a bit of a disaster, but at least it happened here and not at Nationals. On a good note, Ksenia’s jumps look more secure than they were in her last season with Fedor, besides the one fall on a throw jump. I’m obsessed with the program itself: this dark, dramatic Moonlight Sonata remix just exudes pure Stolbova it-factor. Usually, Moonlight Sonata makes me fall asleep, but this recording completely transforms it into an epic piece fit for a grand comeback. The only thing I would change is the ending; it builds and builds but then it goes soft at the end, and I think it would work better if they maintained the drama to the last second. Back in the 2014-15 season, Ksenia and Fedor had a free skate to “Notre-Dame de Paris” and she would land a beauty of a throw triple salchow on the crescendo of the music in the last 5 seconds of the program. That’s the kind of ending this program deserves. I love the back of her bodysuit – it’s stylish and cool – but I wish she had more details in the front. She’s always had pretty minimalist costumes and I understand she’s trying to show off her beautiful lines, but this outfit looks like practice gear; she needs to get a medal hanging down the front! I’d also like to see more dramatic makeup for her – this music feels like Daenerys Targaryen walking into conquered territory, so let the queen slay and get her some goth eyeliner or something! Overall though, I was just pleasantly surprised to see her so happy – after all she went through in the past few years, she seems to truly love skating again.
I’m sure everyone knows I’m no fan of Nikolai Morozov for personal reasons, but I must admit he’s done a great job choreographing these programs, as well as Boikova/Kozlovskii’s SP. If Andrei can get his head in the game, I think they could eventually run with the other Russian pairs contending for the Euros and Worlds teams. Overall, I am excited to see Stolbova/Novoselov continue growing over the next few years!

Evelyn Walsh/Trennt Michaud:

Skate Canada was rather rough for Evelyn and Trennt, but there were some bright points here. I wasn’t a fan of their “Bennie and the Jets” SP, so I was very excited to see they got a new one. I was 100 times more excited to see that they were skating to “Someone You Loved” by Lewis Capaldi. It’s one of the few songs that make me tear up every time, and this was the cleanest SP they’ve had so far this season, so I really couldn’t ask for more from them. The twist looked better than usual and the elements were more solid.
I really like the concept of the free skate and enjoy the performance, but I’m not quite sure if it’s the best fit for them. When you have two partners who are so close in height, this light and floaty style isn’t going to have the same effect. I think they need to take a page out of Cain-Gribble/LeDuc’s book and go for a modern, powerful aesthetic with a lot of side-by-side skating. Remember their fabulous SP to “Come Together”? They’ve got it in them. I hope I can see this program with the elements skated cleanly so I can get a fair reading on it.

Rebecca Ghilardi/Filippo Ambrosini:
One of the pleasant surprises of Internationaux de France was this pair’s SP. They found a good, fun song and just put on a show. I enjoyed them, but the crashy twist and the fall on the downgraded salchow butchered their score. I still think the FS is boring and doesn’t showcase their talent, and the elements weren’t great here. Come on, guys, you can do better than this! They have potential but they need to step it up a notch.

Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov:
This was Audrey and Misha’s single Grand Prix event, so they were looking for a great showing here. Since coming onto the senior circuit last year, they showed a lot of potential, but weren’t able to pull it all together into one incredible performance yet. Skating to “Skyfall” can be either a power move or a terrible idea. I liked their performance, but tumbling on the throw jump just as Adele sings the word “fall” isn’t a great look.
For the free skate, they went with one of my favorite warhorses, Notre-Dame de Paris, and I think the program could be good without all these mistakes. He has a habit of messing up lifts; while they didn’t have any aborted or base level lifts, they got negative GOE on every lift in this free skate. He seems to get them mostly right in the short program but misses them in the free skate, so I’m wondering if maybe he just gets too tired. I know most pair programs have the lifts towards the end, but if it’s not working for him, I don’t see anything wrong with moving them around. They need to figure something out. I see a lot of nice things about this pair, and there’s a major shortage of young pairs in the US, so I wish them the best. Plus, he’s Wisconsin-born like me!

After this excessively long pairs section, I’ll keep the ladies’ review brief because 1. I don’t want my readers falling asleep and 2. I don’t have a lot to say. Like Cup of China, this roster included several skaters I had never seen before. It’s always interesting to watch new performers because sometimes you discover a star amongst them!

Alexandra Trusova:
With a gold medal in the bag from Skate Canada, Trusova was on the fast track to the Grand Prix Final before she even showed up. I’m not crazy about the “Peer Gynt” SP because I feel like they’re trying to make her balletic when she isn’t. She’s not Kostornaia and she’s never going to be, so at least give her a fun program that lets her be a spitfire. I think the “Game of Thrones” FS works much better for her. She’s a fierce, tiny little dragon lady and she knows it! I do think she’s overscored on PCS but when her technical content is so difficult, you can’t really argue that she deserves to win. Her quad technique actually looks pretty solid in comparison to the other ladies’ quads I’ve seen. Most of the girls doing quads look like gangly, underfed toothpicks, but Trusova actually looks very muscular despite her small bone structure (she reminds me of Meagan Duhamel in that way). I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about how “ladies’ skating has become a competition of little girls running around the ice doing quads and beating the mature women”, and honestly, that’s true. However, that’s the direction the sport is going and I don’t see a way of stopping it. It happened in the men’s event too – young, new guys were attempting 4 quads and falling on 3 of them but still beating clean guys with no quads who had been there for years. While the new scoring system has somewhat helped, it’s still an issue, but it’s the ISU’s problem, not Alexandra’s.

Evgenia Medvedeva:
After missing out on a medal at Skate Canada, Evgenia wasn’t in the running for a GPF ticket here, but her placement here would determine a lot about who did and didn’t qualify. This “Exogenesis” SP is probably my favorite SP she’s done so far, and she performed it so well here. It feels like the perfect marriage between her lyrical classical programs with Tutberidze and the free, modern style she’s developed with Orser. There was definitely some redemption here for her, since it was the SP that knocked her out of GPF contention in the first place. I was so impressed at how she backed up her SP with a clean free skate (besides the edge call on the lutz). It was a strong performance and I still can’t believe a skater like her has such a slim chance to go to Worlds. To be honest, I don’t think “Memoirs of a Geisha” is the best fit for her. The music isn’t particularly engaging, and Evgenia thrives in programs where there’s actually music to interpret. However, it was great seeing her deliver two strong performances and get on the podium.

Mariah Bell:
With a bronze medal from Internationaux de France and another bronze here, Mariah is on a roll. I like both of her programs this season; they show two very different sides of her skating, but I think she can pull off both of them. The SP feels reminiscent of Ashley Wagner’s “Sweet Dreams”, but it’s been customized to work for Mariah. I’m a big fan of the short program dress because it’s flirty without making her look uncomfortable. The score was a bit high considering the fall but her spins looked killer and her step sequence was fun. Then she turned around with a free skate that was light and elegant and exactly the opposite of the SP. I find this program so pleasing and relaxing to watch, and she skated it very cleanly here. Overall, I think this has cemented Mariah and Bradie Tennell (who just got into the GPF, congrats girl!) as the two American ladies going to Worlds.

Satoko Miyahara:
Satoko had only a few days to prepare for Rostelecom Cup because she came straight from Cup of China, where she won a silver medal. I have to say, I’m not a fan of this SP for her. It’s too much posing and angular movements, and Satoko’s strength comes from her softness and fluidity. However, I give her props for trying something new, and it’s more interesting than some of her lyrical programs. I was very surprised that she doubled the lutz because her jumps are usually so consistent. When you already get low GOE for your jumps, you can’t afford to pop one.
It’s a controversial opinion, but I do enjoy her Schindler’s List program even though I don’t like skaters using this piece. She has the quiet musicality to interpret the nuances of the piece. I think it’s a much better fit for her than her tango program last year. Her skating is never going to be my cup of tea, but I still admire this program. At this event, it seems like the technical panel spared most of the girls but gave all the underrotation calls to Satoko. I do agree that her jump landings are cheated, but I wish the panels would be more consistent about calling them.

Ekaterina Ryabova:
There’s an interesting story behind this girl: she trains in Russia under Evgeni Plushenko, but she competes for Azerbaijan. It’s a smart move – she’s probably going to Europeans while Medvedeva, Tuktamysheva, and maybe even Zagitova won’t be. It was another day, another El Tango de Roxanne SP, but it was a squeaky clean Roxanne. Since she’s a Plushenko student, it should be no surprise she’s skating to The Godfather in the free skate. I always thought old Mishin looked like a mafia boss and Plushenko and Yagudin were his two sons who helped him carry out his hits. Okay, joking aside, this girl has some potential and skated really well in a tough field.

Yuhana Yokoi:
This is my first time watching Yuhana Yokoi. Apparently, this Phantom of the Opera free skate was also her free skate last year. Out of curiosity, I looked back at some of her old performances and found that she really has a habit of recycling programs. However, they’re all really good programs! Props to her for climbing from 10th in the SP to 6th overall.

Alexia Paganini:
I love Alexia Paganini’s skating so much; she has a fresh, spirited, enjoyable quality on the ice. I would’ve actually had her in third after the short program because she was so clean. Unfortunately, it didn’t continue in the free skate, but I think she’s awesome.

Stanislava Konstantinova:
I’m going to write a longer note here because it might be one of the last times I get to comment on this lovely skater. Stanislava was my underdog fave last year, so it’s hard to see her struggling so much this season. Her short program is so beautiful I can’t really describe it. While I’ve always loved Stasya, I never thought she would be quite this stunning on the ice. Her musicality has improved so much since last year – I literally got chills. I’m just going to pretend the mistakes didn’t happen.
I’ve seen so many Moulin Rouge programs in my life that I cringe every time someone uses it, but Stasya’s is an exception for me. Her dress is so simple I almost didn’t believe it was a Moulin Rouge costume, but she’s just heartbreakingly gorgeous and it looks amazing on her. (A friend of mine pointed out that she looks like a younger version of Stolbova and that’s when I realized I definitely have a type). It’s a shame she didn’t have these programs last year when she was skating more cleanly, because it would’ve been exquisite. I’m clinging to a desperate hope that she’s just going through a rough season and she will emerge stronger than ever like Tuktamysheva did, but I’m not sure if that’s possible.

Quick notes:
It was nice to see Nicole Schott get two Grand Prix events after being out for so long. Yuna Shiraiwa is a good skater, but that free skate does nothing for her and she needs to fix her underrotations. Emmi Peltonen reminds me of Anna Pogorilaya – Old Hollywood beauty but unfortunately inconsistent jumps.

Shoutout of the week goes to the fabulous Justin Laem. For the past few years, he has been running his own YouTube channel, where he posts in-depth reviews of skating events. He is honest about his opinions, but he always tempers any negativity with a note of hopefulness. He’s basically the president of the Gabby Daleman, Ashley Wagner, and Kailani Craine fan clubs on Twitter, and he has a true passion for the sport. His twitter and Instagram always put a little sunshine on my feed. He’s also an out and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community and uses his platform to stand up for the rights of women and minorities. He has the wisdom of a Greek philosopher but the giddy love for life of a teenager. He’s one of the few people who can talk about the evils of conversion therapy and the perfection of “The Lizzie Maguire Movie” in one conversation. A self-proclaimed progressive, he explores politics in a straightforward, non-judgmental way. He’s also a bit of a beauty blogger and frequently posts selfies showing off his makeup looks. Finally, he’s just a good, caring guy who loves figure skating, so follow him on his skating channel, his vlog channel, his Twitter, and his Instagram.

Phew, we’re done! Until next time, happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

2 thoughts on “2019 Rostelecom Cup Pairs’ and Ladies’ Review: Rambling About Russians

  1. Thank you so much for your – as ever – thoughtful review. I’m really looking forward to your comprehensive reviews every week. I never get bored, so just keep wrting long ones that take every aspect into account!

    Liked by 1 person

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