Figure skating’s Grand Prix Final in Osaka, Japan, may have been canceled, but the Russian Figure Skating Championships – one of the sport’s most significant competitions – are still set to begin Tuesday and conclude on Sunday, December 26. Winners will likely head to the 2022 Winter Games and may very well go on to earn Olympic medals.
Russian athletes won three of 15 medals at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, earning a one-two punch with gold and silver in women's singles (courtesy of Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva, respectively); they also took home a silver in the team event. While no country has ever swept the women's event, Russian athletes currently occupy four of the top five spots on the International Skating Union’s world standings – meaning history may soon be made.
The Russian Olympic Committee will send the maximum number of skaters – nine men and nine women, for a total of 18 athletes – to the upcoming Games. The most compelling drama, however, is in the women's singles competition, as only three skaters will make the Olympic team. Here are some of the athletes you should know (and those who will not make appearances) ahead of the 2022 Russian Figure Skating Championships.
Names to Know
At the 2018 Olympics, few saw Kamila Valiyeva as a medal contender for the following Winter Games. Probably because she was 11 years old.
Though she is currently ranked No. 10 in the world, Valiyeva is an odds-on favorite not only to join the Olympic team, but also to earn women's singles gold at the upcoming Games. Since she made her international debut – and won – at an August 2019 Junior Grand Prix competition, the 5-foot-3 Russian has taken home gold at the 2019-2020 Junior Grand Prix Final and the 2020 Junior World Championships.
Valiyeva made her senior figure skating debut this October. Perhaps more than any one title, what truly sets this athlete apart is her eye-popping scores: She has set nine world records and is the current world record holder for the women’s short program, free skate and total (a whopping 272.71 points).
She’s ranked No. 1 in the world and won the 2021 world title in women's singles. Anna Shcherbakova has earned numerous medals and titles since she made her international debut on the Junior Grand Prix circuit in 2018, but a high-scoring performance at the 2022 Russian National Championships may finally provide an opportunity to shine at the Olympics.
Shcherbakova is one of the esteemed “3 A’s” – a trio (nicknamed “Troika”) of Russian figure skaters who dominated all the major events during the 2019-2020 season, and are or have been coached by the esteemed Eteri Tutberidze. (Tutberidze also serves as Valiyeva’s head coach.) Shcherbakova might be the most likely of the “3 A’s” to win a medal at the upcoming Olympics, especially considering Alena Kostornaya (see below) will not appear at this week’s Championships.
Another of the “3 A’s,” Alexandra Trusova is the world No. 2. She recently took home bronze at the 2021 World Championships and won the 2021 Skate America Grand Prix event in October – despite nagging leg injuries, which may affect her Olympic prospects.
Trusova won back-to-back golds at the 2018 and 2019 World Junior Championships. She made her international senior debut in September 2019 and holds six of the top ten highest-ever quadruples.
At 25, world No. 3 Elizaveta Tuktamysheva – “The Empress” – is almost a decade older than most of her competitors at the Championships.
Tuktamysheva won gold at the 2015 World Championships in Shanghai and became an early favorite for the 2018 Olympics. However, she sustained an ankle injury late that year which forced her to withdraw from major competitions – and led to several years of inconsistent performances. She finally showed signs of resurgence in late 2018, winning bronze at that year’s Grand Prix Final.
The last two years have seen ups and downs for Tuktamysheva – she had bouts with COVID-19 and pneumonia, as well as some losses at the Russian Championships. However, her silver medal at the 2021 World Championships cemented her comeback and qualified three berths for the Russian Olympic Committee at the 2022 Games.
Out of Competition
Alena Kostornaya, the world’s top figure skater before the pandemic hit, will miss the Russian Figure Skating Championships – denting her hopes of making the three-woman team for the Winter Games. Russian TV and an Instagram post suggested the Tutberidze-trained “3A” athlete suffered a fractured hand.
Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva
The reigning Olympic gold and silver medalists in women's singles, respectively, were not included on the Championships’ official list of participants. Zagitova is currently ranked 61st in the world and has endured setbacks following her sixth-place finish at the 2019 Grand Prix Final.
Meanwhile, Medvedeva sustained a back injury sometime in 2020. She announced she would skip the 2021-2022 season this past August and effectively retired from the sport due to chronic pain earlier this December.