WINNIPEG: A troika of Russian women hope to bolster their Olympic team credentials this week at Skate Canada International in Vancouver, while three-time world champion Nathan Chen will be looking for redemption. Chen struggled in his 2022 Olympic season debut at Skate America last weekend in Las Vegas where his three-year winning streak ended abruptly. He settled for the bronze medal after misfiring on four of his typically reliable quadruple jumps.
“The more (quads) you put out, the more risky it is. Is it worth it? I don’t know. It depends on the day, I guess,” Chen said. Whether the US champ can be outscored again at Skate Canada remains a long shot, but just knowing it’s not impossible could prove a confidence boost for top contenders including Canada’s Keegan Messing and American Jason Brown.
Like Chen, Russian women have owned international podiums in recent years thanks to the unmatched depth of talent in that country. Kamila Valieva, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Alena Kostornaia finished 1-2-3 at Finlandia Trophy in Espoo three weeks ago and come into this second of six Grand Prix events with impressive resumes. The youngest of the trio, Valieva, 15, has proven the most successful among the latest batch of phenomenal competitors trained by star-making coach Eteri Tutberidze.
In Finland, the 2020 world junior champion showed three quads in her free skate, garnering the highest score ever awarded for a long program plus a record total score. At 24, Tuktamysheva is the seasoned veteran among Russia’s teen prodigies and the only top-flight woman who does not train with Tutberidze in Moscow. The 2015 world champion mastered the triple Axel later in her career to keep herself in the game, and claimed world silver last March.
Kostornaia, 18, also has a triple Axel in her repertoire. Women who could spoil the Russians’ Skate Canada podium party include resurgent Japanese Wakaba Higuchi and Americans Alysa Liu and Karen Chen, fourth in the world last year behind three Russians. In pair competition, the spotlight will shine on twice world champions and 2018 Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong. The Chinese hope to top off their careers with Olympic gold in Beijing next February. Podium favourites in ice dance include couples from Spain, Italy, Great Britain and Canada.
According to Canadian government COVID-19 protocols, international athletes who are not inoculated with a Canada-accepted vaccine are subject to a mandatory quarantine and testing on entry to Canada. A Skate Canada spokesperson confirmed there were skaters from Russia and China who didn’t meet vaccination requirements and had to sequester at the host hotel for 72 hours after landing in Vancouver. Competition begins today with short programs for all disciplines. A limited 1,000, fully-vaccinated fans will be in the stands. – AFP