Smaller Competitions From the Season’s First Two Weeks

Two international competitions see some Nebelhorn contenders test themselves out; internal Russian competitions give us a first look at some higher-ranked skaters.

The first two Junior Grand Prix events haven’t been the only skating competitions of the past two weeks. The opening of the Challenger series is still a couple of weeks away, but two smaller senior international competitions gave the skaters of the lower ranks chances to begin their season. Meanwhile, intranational competitions also continued, some of them featuring higher-ranked skaters. One of them even gave us a first look of the year at the reigning Olympic ladies bronze medalist.

Over both these internationals loomed the upcoming Nebelhorn Trophy, at which many of their participants will attempt to qualify their countries Olympic berths. It’s now less than a month away, and the roster is out. The qualifying competitions will have 27 men, 36 ladies, 14 pairs, and 17 ice dance teams. Not all of them have a real chance, especially in the singles, where there are perhaps a dozen serious contenders in each competing for half that amount of berths. The pairs and ice dance competitions also have about a third of their fields more likely than the rest of win what are officially four and five berths respectively (though there will almost certainly be a sixth ice dance berth reallocated according to Nebelhorn’s results, and possibly a fifth pairs berth).

Southeast Asian Games

The same week the JGP series was starting in Australia, not too far north, in Malaysia, the 29th Southeast Asian Games included figure skating for the very first time, with men’s and ladies’ events with nine skaters each. For obvious reasons, the eleven countries who participate in the SEA Games have never been much for winter sports, and it was only at the last Olympics that any of them first got a figure skater in. This weekend, however, the men’s roster included two men who will be right in the thick of it at the Nebelhorn Trophy.

Julian Zhi Jie Yee is looking to be the first ever Malaysian skater at the Olympics, and his performance here was a promising one. He not only won, he skated two strong programs, made the audience lose their mind in the free, and broke two hundred overall:

He skates like that in Germany, he will make it to Korea. Silver medalist Michael Christian Martinez of the Philippines, on the other hand, will have to turn things around to get a second Olympics. His short program was downright disastrous. His free program wasn’t quite as terrible, but he still made the kind of costly mistakes he’s been making way too much recently.

The ladies field contained no one favored to qualify an Olympic berth. But Shuran Yu was already seen as being the best chance Singapore’s ever had. She did have to beat out countrywoman Chloe Ing to earn her trip to Nebelhorn here, which she did, though Ing won silver. She also backed up her status as a having a real shot at winning the berth, her short program especially being very solid, if only because she’s reusing last season’s. She’d need a cleaner long program than the one she skated here, though.

Slovenia Open

In Celje, a week later, the Slovenia Open gave more skaters preparing for Nebelhorn a chance to gauge themselves against each other. Although men’s winner Igor Reznichenko is currently Poland’s substitute to that competition, rather than their entry. If he was trying to get the Polish federation to change their minds there, this was a mixed result. On one hand, the current entry, Krzysztof Gala, was in the field, and came in sixth, nearly forty points behind him. So were three other men on the Nebelhorn roster, including bronze medalist Stephane Walker of Switzerland, who’s been seen as having a good chance at qualifying an Olympic berth, but will have to skate better than he did here. On the other, Reznichenko didn’t actually skate that well, especially in the short. He won by a combination of high technical content and mistakes from others.

At least according to the event’s scoring sheets, though for all but one skater in the competition, those have been our only source of information so far. Only Eliska Brezinova, who came in fifth in the ladies, uploaded her pretty short program and dramatic free program up to YouTube for the world to get a first look at:

She lost her chance at Nebelhorn at the Czech test skates a couple of weeks back, and noone’s sure how the Czech Republic will fill a ladies berth if they get one. Though given how badly Nebelhorn-bound Elizaveta Ukolova did, coming in fifteenth, the odds seem against them getting one anyway.

Ukolova was one of eleven ladies in the field who will vie for berths at Nebelhorn. Four more of them arguably have serious chances, though down in sixth Ukranian Anna Khnychenkova probably weakened her case there, and down in twelfth Austrian Kerstin Frank definitely did. Gold and silver medalists Alexia Paganini and Kailani Craine, on the other hand, did better for theirs. Paganini, representing Switzerland internationally for the first time, especially impressed, coming from behind to win and landing the competition’s only difficult triple-triple jump combination in her free. But Australian Craine did well for herself too, skating two decent programs and only losing by a couple points.

Cup of St. Petersburg I

Russian has begun its full fall season of internal competitions, but they’ve also decided they don’t want their senior skaters to have to let the world look at their programs before the test skates, now a few days away. So they closed the first Cup of St. Petersburg, which is used as part of the complicated Russian Nationals qualification process, but also serves as an opportunity for higher-ranked skaters to skate their programs in a low-stakes competition, included multiple Russian skaters of significance, but, for the most part, we have only informal reports on how they skated, via GoldenSkate’s normal yearly thread.

However, there was also a foreign skater in the field, which is uncommon but far from unheard of at these events. Carolina Kostner, training in St. Petersburg under coach Alexei Mishin, decided to begin her season here, and Russian officials certainly didn’t care if someone in the audience filmed and uploaded her short program. It’s not the best short program she’s ever had, but it’ll do if she skates it well. According to reports, she won the segment with it too, if narrowly. So far we haven’t gotten footage of her free skate, which accord to reports scored sixth and dropped her to fifth. That may or may not have been deserved. Scoring at intranational events tends to be higher than international scores, with home judges being generous, and whether they extended this courtesy to the foreign guest is uncertain.

They were probably generous to 2015 World Champion Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, who was second in both segments and won narrowly over free skate winner Anastasiia Gubanova, reportedly 213.35 to 212.59. But by accounts she skated well, too, even landing her triple axel in the free, and it sounds like a possible return to form for her after a bad pair of seasons. If so, of course, Gubanova’s taking the segment over her would have been a promising sign for her, except failing to medal in Salzburg this week has since countered that. It’s probably not bad for third place Stanislava Konstaninova to be reportedly breaking 200 at this point in her career, even if it was almost certainly home judging that got her just over that mark.

Kostner may have been the only full program we got, but we also got one further clip, when Serafima Sakhanovich, who posted a brief clip of her short program on Instagram:

She’s reported as having edged out Kostner for fourth, which isn’t a bad accomplishment for her at all, given she’s spent the past couple seasons as a skater falling way short of her potential.

Reports on the men claim Dmitri Aliev landed a quadruple lutz jump combination and scored extremely high to win the short, but it’s unclear whether he even skated the free. Mikhail Kolyada is reported to have won with 256.56, having also been second in both segments, but to have struggled with the same combination.  He probably didn’t skate his best in the free either, or the scores would have been higher.

Moscow Open Programs

Last weekend’s competition, the Moscow Open, was a competition for junior and below only, which may be why there’s plenty of footage of it. The juniors here weren’t the top names either, though some of them showed signs of being on the way to becoming them. But some senior dance teams showed up to skate programs in exhibition before the test skates, apparently not minding that got them filmed and made available on YouTube, including Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev, who did their short dance:

It’s a program that needs more speed to work, but they’re likely to get that when they’ve spent longer with it. Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov, who also did their short, looked more prepared, and their dance has a bit more steam, but starts to get boring near the end. Meanwhile Alla Loboda & Pavel Drozd debuted their free dance, where they suffered lack of real connection to the music for much of the program, especially with it using too much spoken speech.

Other Internal Competitions

A couple significant American club competitions are still going on. Club competitions will in fact go on throughout the year, and this year we may even see Ashley Wagner at one of them. Last weekend’s Golden West Championships in Ontario, California, though, is most notable for our first look at an Australian skater. Brendan Kerry winning in the four-skater senior men’s field was a given, but how well he skated was not. His short program was a mixed bag. It included a quad-triple combination, but also a popped axel, and one also feels he maybe could’ve done a bit more with the music. That also goes for his long program, which was more clean than not:

Caroline Zhang similarly went unchallenged in the senior ladies field. She didn’t skate her best in either program, but she did pull off her signature triple loop-triple loop in both, and even maxed out the possible score for one of her spins in the short.

Some footage from the summer is still coming in. This week, for instance, much of the world first got a look at the Kitkyushu Open/Izuka Ice Palace Cup that took place nearly a month ago in Japan, including Rika Hongo’s Frida free skate.  Unfortunately it doesn’t look very good:

Next week there’s not likely to be much of significance on the competitive circuit outside the Junior Grand Prix. But the week after that will come both of the first two Challenger events.

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