My favorite part of Russian competitions is the exhilarating energy in the arena. Russian fans love their figure skating, there’s always several incredible performances, and good old Tatiana Anatolievna Tarasova ends up blowing out my eardrums with a good old “davaiiiiiii!” (Although this time, we had the option of Ted Barton commentary in English and I went for it). This spirit is in full force at Russian Nationals, which makes it one of the most exciting competitions of the season. Even with the withdrawal of Zabiiako/Enbert and Stolbova/Novoselov (get well soon, guys!), it was a loaded roster here.
With all the hype of Christmas going on, I thought I would just make a short blog post about the pairs and that would be it. But this is Russian Nationals. All the pairs are amazing. So naturally, I had to write a review of the whole pairs’ event. Then the ladies’ event was super crazy and I had to share SOME thoughts, so my comments on Nationals will be divided into two posts: an official pairs review and a less formal play-by-play of the ladies. Let’s do the formal review first.
Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitri Kozlovskii:
It’s really been a breakthrough season for Boikova/Kozlovskii so far. It’s only their second year as seniors, but they’ve picked up two gold medals at their Grand Prix assignments and earned scores fit to make a run at a World medal. However, Aleksandra was struggling with an injury at the Grand Prix Final, and a rough free skate there kept them off the podium.
I’ve already gushed about their programs in every blog post I’ve written about them, so I’ll keep this brief. The SP exudes classic Moskvina godliness – they look like the stunning Russian pairs of a bygone era. It was great to see them deliver it so cleanly here – they’re going 4 for 4 when it comes to clean short programs this season. After Tarasova/Morozov skated very well, Boikova/Kozlovskii needed to go clean to get the title, and they did. The free skate music works perfectly with their skating, the choreography is flawless, and that final upside-down lift adds 10 years to my life expectancy. When they announced this program earlier this year, I didn’t know if they could handle such a mature theme, but they made it their own and they nailed it! They could literally teach a master class on elements – the twist is high, the throws are huge, and the lifts look easy. His air position on the side-by-side jumps scares me – he always looks so off-axis and you think he’s going down – but he still lands them without a hitch. His reactions are always so expressive and entertaining; it’s fun. I’m so proud to call this talented team “national champions”.
Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov:
This season got off to a bit of a rough start for Tarasova/Morozov. A pair of difficult Grand Prix assignments and an aborted lift at Skate Canada knocked them out of the GPF. As reigning World silver medalists, they’re still one of the top teams in the world, so it was critical for them to show great skating here and remind everyone that they’re top contenders. Well, the short program did just that. This was a very strong pairs field, but there was a noticeable difference in quality between Tarasova/Morozov and the rest of the skaters. Their elements are truly worthy of +5’s and their skating skills are incredible. It was so nice to see them finally happy with themselves. However, I’m surprised the judges didn’t shave off a bit of GOE on the throw jump because her free foot seemed to graze the ice on the landing. Bolero was a risky choice for them, but I don’t mind how it turned out. I was afraid it would overpower them because they aren’t very expressive skaters, but they stuck to big, powerful basic skating and it lives up to the dramatic music. I like how the choreography unleashes a more sultry side of Tarasova – we’ve always seen her as this cute little ray of sunshine or a serious, classical skater (I don’t count “Candyman” as a success in the “sensual programs” department). I think Marina Zoueva took a look at her and went, “Now here’s a beautiful woman. Why are we hiding her behind polka dots and house-elf pillowcases?” She’s always been a sparkling star on the technical side, but I think they’re slowly peeling back the shyness and letting her be bold and confident out there. Now can you guys please bring back the hot practice unitard she was wearing at test skates?
I’m not a fan of this free skate music for them because it feels a bit dated. However, the choreography is excellent and they seem to have found a bit more expression, which was always their weak point. I love, love, love Tarasova’s lace dress for the free skate. Her costume designer has made some questionable choices in the past, but I approve of this. It’s stylish, classy, and seriously envy-provoking. They almost managed to win this thing, but they botched the combo jump, and got edged out by less than half a point! Guys, you were so close! But I think they can be very, very proud of this competition. Boikova/Kozlovskii are formidable rivals and Tarasova/Morozov gave them an epic fight. I think we could easily see both these teams on the World podium if they can continue to deliver this caliber of skating.
Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin:
This season, I bit the bullet and climbed aboard the Pavliuchenko/Khodykin cheer train. I wasn’t a fan of them last year (mainly because I didn’t like their free skate), but I’ve really been warming up to them throughout the season. I think it’s largely because of this year’s SP. It fits them so well and makes them look like a world-class pair. To be blunt, they aren’t as talented as the other top couples here. His skating skills aren’t up to snuff and their size difference makes it hard for them to move as a cohesive team. But whoever packaged them in that short program deserves a gold medal, because it works so well for them. If you sent me a video of their SP and told me this pair won Worlds, I would believe you. It really goes to show how much good packaging can benefit a couple. The short program is their weapon and they fired it right at the target.
Throughout the season, the free program has been their nemesis, but they finally pulled it together and threw it down. I wasn’t expecting them to grab bronze, but they stayed upright when the others didn’t and that’s what matters. That said, I still wish the Tron program was a bit more engaging – it’s a very difficult style to pull off. Daria in particular has a great star quality about her, so I hope to see this team continue to grow.
Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov:
Mishina/Galliamov are the new kids on the block, but they’ve wasted no time marking their territory on the senior stage. It’s truly amazing how many Russian pairs with textbook technique are competing at the same time. I like how they look together on the ice – they have enough of a height difference that I’m not scared he’ll drop her, but it’s not so extreme that it looks like he’s skating with his kid sister. Unfortunately, the short program was a very rough day at the office for Anastasia. She fell on the throw jump, then tripped in the step sequence and botched a spin. She’s usually pretty solid so I was very surprised when things started going wrong. Aleksandr responded supportively, as all good partners should – he’s usually quite serious and stoic, but it was so sweet to see him hugging her. To be honest, I’ll never be a fan of this “Je Suis Malade” SP for them. Great music + great skaters doesn’t always = great program. The elements are in the wrong places and I’m just not seeing enough emoting. Is it asking too much for them to get a new SP at this point in the season?
They had quite a deficit to make up in the free skate, but they delivered a great performance and earned some redemption. I was surprised to find I’m actually enjoying this program more and more as the season goes on. It’s not my favorite program of the season, but there’s some sort of old Russian charm to it that suits them. They probably won’t get the ticket to Euros, but the Worlds spot is still open if one of the teams really struggles at Euros. One big tip for them: work on the speed of the basic skating. Their elements are so huge but the skating between the jumps could still use some work, if you ask me.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: they look like Black Widow and Hawkeye from the Avengers movies and I will not rest until I see them doing some cool fight choreo in black faux leather bodysuits.
Alina Pepeleva/Roman Pleshkov:
These two were the big discovery of this competition for me. They have charm, nice lifts, and one heck of a throw jump. Their SP was one of the highlights of this event for me. The FS makes me smile because it has “Nina Mozer’s Greatest Hits” written all over it. They’re coached by Vladislav Zhovnirski (he works with Mozer), so that explains a lot. The costumes were definitely inspired by Volosozhar/Trankov, the lifts were clearly a Mozer group thing, and of course, the soundtrack is Romeo and Juliet. (It’s not the same Romeo and Juliet soundtrack as Volosozhar/Trankov used, but you get the picture). I think it’s cute that they did a nod to their idols, but now that they’re finishing 5th at Nationals, it’s time for them to embrace their own style instead of cosplaying as a great pair. They’re still only doing one triple jump in the free skate (and double axels in the short), so they’ll need a second triple if they want to move up. However, I’m really starting to like this team and I think they have great potential.
Apollonaria Panfilova/Dmitry Rylov:
Panfilova/Rylov ran off with my heart the minute they stepped on the ice and skated to “The Matrix” in the SP. Yup, still my favorite movie. When watching them, immediately you notice how beautifully they move together. They’re fast, smooth, and graceful. Their throw jumps are massive and their lift exits are fabulous. I wish there was a bit more “funky” choreography because come on, it’s “The Matrix”. I expect some face-kicking! But I really enjoyed seeing them skate because they are a quality team. That’s why it was so frustrating to see them melt down in the free skate. They don’t really have triple jumps yet, so they needed to go clean if they had any chance of staying close to the top. And, well, that didn’t happen. She fell on a throw triple flip, which is usually a consistent element for her, and then again on a basic crossover. However, the quality of their lifts and movements is second to none, and this free skate perfectly highlights their strengths. They’re a beautiful team and I hope they can figure out how to land triples because I want to see them rise. They have a lightness and balletic quality that reminds me of Zabiiako/Enbert.
Also, can I pause to say that Apollonaria Panfilova is exceptionally pretty and I low key want her to get the short “pair girl” haircut? It would fit the Matrix program so well.
Iiulia Artemeva/Mikhail Nazarychev:
Okay, I really loved these two in the short program. Guys, they can EMOTE! It was really beautiful. I’m not sure why they chose gray costumes for this program (a more vibrant color would match the music better) but I like this team so I’m cool with it. I’m not really into the band Queen, but they made a fun program out of the songs. Besides the botched combo, they really did a great job. I’m eager to see more of this team.
Polina Kostiukovich/Dmitri Ialin:
I became a fan of this team last year when they showed up with that fabulous Tomb Raider short program. They stuck with that edgy style and it works so well for them. Seriously, guys, that was fun. I really like her intensity; she’s a tiny diva. Objectively, they aren’t the greatest pair here – they still need to work on the basic skating skills and speed – but her sass makes up for it. I’m so confused why they’re only doing a double axel in the short program if they can do a double axel-Euler-triple salchow combo and a triple toe in the free skate. It makes no sense. Now can I just say I love her costume for the SP so much?
Alisa Efimova/Alexander Korovin:
Efimova/Korovin are one of the most frustrating little pairs I’ve ever invested in. Alisa has star quality in spades. Alexander has lovely lines and solid jumps. Their twist is insane. Their throw jumps are killer. Their programs are amazing. But every time they compete, something goes wrong. I absolutely adore this SP to “Carmina Burana”, and they finally skated it clean! Of all the Russian pair girls who showed up to Nationals, I would say Alisa has the most intensity and charisma. I screamed like a proud mom when she held onto that triple toe – my girl was not going down! They even made it to the final flight, so I got hopeful that they could finish in the top 5. Unfortunately, the free skate unraveled for them. What really breaks my heart is how they’ve been getting lost in the shuffle. They’re a world-class pair – they could win U.S. Nationals with their eyes closed – but the field in Russia is so deep that I don’t know if they’ll ever be able to get to Europeans or Worlds. I’ll continue crossing my fingers.
Ksenia Akhanteva/Valerii Kolesov:
I liked the SP music; it’s a bit like Sui/Han’s “Rain in Your Black Eyes”. Their elements are good and their skating is pleasing to watch; the lift was a highlight of the program for me. I would work on the speed in the step sequence though. She had a rough day in the free skate, so it was a bit hard to watch. I think he is the stronger skater in the pair; his lift technique is quite nice. I see some potential with this couple, but only time will tell if they’re going anywhere.
Taisia Sobinina/Nikita Volodin:
The brightest impression I got from this team was Taisia’s dress from the short program: simple, pretty, classy. They tried to do a jazzy SP but their skating didn’t really have the right energy for it. She has nice lift positions but they skate very “small” to me. The free skate was quite messy (the aborted lift really took things down a few notches), but I liked the concept of the program. Skating to “Seimei” (Yuzuru Hanyu’s 2018 Olympic gold medal free skate, in case you’ve been living under a rock) was a gutsy move, but I really like the idea to use it in a pairs’ free skate. I wish Sui/Han would think to do that in the next Olympic season.
Ekaterina Belova/Dmitrii Chigirev:
The short program did not go as planned for Belova/Chigirev. I don’t like the keyboard smash/wailing lady music, but she wins the award for the best dress of the event. Okay, I really appreciate that they gave us a James Bond free skate and used the “Writing’s on the Wall” music cuts. I swear they got talking to Boikova/Kozlovskii and decided, “let’s do this!” It’s not quite as technically brilliant as Boikova/Kozlovskii’s, but I still enjoyed it a lot. Also, the female coach in the kiss-and-cry with the fur coat looked fabulous and Eteri needs to watch out before she loses her title of “most fashionable coach” 🙂
I love Russian Nationals, but I got a weird feeling this time around: the pairs’ event feels more and more like the ladies’ event every year. The teams keep getting younger, pushing the older teams down, and there’s an increasing rate of “recycling” – it’s becoming less likely to see the same pair on the World team for several years in a row. Between injuries and the depth of this field, it’s become harder to qualify for Worlds than it is to actually medal at Worlds! It’s a bummer for me – I enjoy investing in pairs that will continue to grow and improve over the years. It’s been a joy to watch Sui/Han evolve from two kids with big tricks to an exquisite, mature, and well-rounded pair. I love looking back on baby Tarasova/Morozov and seeing how far they’ve come. Look, I love some good domestic competition, but not when it means several world-class teams are deprived of opportunities in favor of less talented athletes from other countries. I’m happy to see such development in the sport, but I hope it won’t swing to the extreme, as it has in the ladies’ event.
Overall, Russian pairs continues to be one of the most exciting aspects of the skating world, and I am excited to see the story continue to unfold at Europeans and Worlds.
This week’s shoutout goes to my sweet friend Rocio from Paraguay! Since discovering the sport in 2014, she has shown unparalleled devotion to her favorite skaters and supported them through many fan pages on Instagram. She is one of the kindest figure skating fans I have ever met, and she’s probably the only person who fully understands how much I love Russian pair skating because she loves it too! Follow her fan pages here: @russia_vlszhr.trnkv, @tarasova_morozov_fans, @fedor_klimov_team , @stolbova_novoselov_fans, @papadakis_cizeron_fans, and @yuzuhanyufans_paraguayofficial.
Happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.