April 25, 2021

Not-Russia Does Great Figure Skating

Not-Russia Does Great Figure Skating
Actually, this stand-in for the Russian flag is not that bad. Wikimedia Commons user ilyanel

With the world figure skating championships canceled last year due to the start of the pandemic, this year's contest in Stockholm (March 24-28) was long anticipated. "Russia" did not disappoint, winning gold in three categories out of four and sweeping the entire medal podium in the ladies' event. This has only happened one other time: American ladies Kristi Yamaguchi, Tonya Harding, and Nancy Kerrigan swept the podium in that order in 1991. Russia won six medals out of twelve in all events in 2021, with the U.S. coming in a far second with two medals.

Because of doping charges against Russia, the whole bunch of winners actually represented the Figure Skating Federation of Russia (FSFR) rather than Russia itself. They wore Bosco's signature Team Russia jackets, this time in white and red, but the name of the country was nowhere to be found. In lieu of the Russian national anthem, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B♭ Minor, Op. 23, was played three times over the course of the championship week, and the nondescript blue flags pictured above were raised instead of the Russian Federation tricolor. (We are almost certain that you have heard Tchaikovsky's concerto but that you have no idea what it is called; click here and listen to the "Allegro," or first, movement.)

Gold medalist Anna Shcherbakova. | Wikimedia Commons user Yuuliiya

In the ladies' event, Anna Shcherbakova took gold, Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva earned silver, and Alexandra Trusova took bronze. Russians Anastasia Mishina and Alexander Galliamov were the winning pair. Another Russian pair, Alexandra Boikova and Dmitry Kozlovsky, took bronze. In paired ice dancing, Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov won gold medals. Only the men's category was disappointing for Russia this year: three-time Russian national champion Mikhail Kolyada placed fifth at worlds, and his closest Russian teammate, Evgeni Semenenko, ended up in eighth place. American Nathan Chen won gold.

As if to put a final point on the indignity of the removal of "Russia" and its flag from the official record, the middle "FSFR" flag in honor of gold medalist Shcherbakova fell during the medal ceremony. It was still attached but hanging on one end instead of two. Shcherbakova laughed at "her" goofy flag as Tchaikovsky's concerto played on. She celebrated her seventeenth birthday on March 28, and Nathan Chen brought a cake onto the ice at the end of her exhibition performance on that day.

Gold medalists Anastasia Mishina and Alexander Galliamov. | Wikimedia Commons user Luu

Mishina and Galliamov are the first pair since 1986 to win their debut world championship competition. In 1986, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov – considered by many to be the best pair in history and who later married – also won their debut entry at worlds.

For those who are not quite sure why ice dancing is part of figure skating, consider that the choreography in figure skating often only loosely fits the music. Jumps take precedence over rhythm as skaters glide in preparation for a jump with no regard for what is happening musically. Landings rarely hit the downbeat. Ice dancing corrects this oversight by focusing on rhythm, artistry, and the synchronicity of the partners in the absence of jumps.

Sinitsina and Katsalapov
Gold medalists Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov. | Wikimedia Commons user David W. Carmichael

One of Russia's ice dancing pairs, Tiffani Zagorski (sometimes Zahorski) and Jonathan Guerreiro, danced to the music of the 2017 movie-musical about the life of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest ShowmanGuerreiro is half Russian and grew up in Australia before moving to Russia at age fourteen. Zagorski is a British-French citizen with distant relatives in Russia. An unlikely team that might have competed for any country, Zagorski and Guerreiro placed tenth in ice dancing.

Among the top figure skaters in the world at the moment are many people with evidently Russian or former Soviet heritage competing for other countries. Just scan the International Skating Union (ISU) list of currently registered skaters and see how many Russian names you can find not on Team Russia (or "Russia").

Silver medalist Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. | Wikimedia Commons user Luu

ISU rules state that competitors must be at least fifteen years old for the world championships. The skaters thus range from fifteen all the way up to the late thirties. Despite the youth of some of the skaters, sexy black lace costumes seemed to be very popular this year, with many sultry songs and performances on display.

Most of the competitors wore gloves this year, including men wearing what appeared to be nylon gloves matching their skin color coming out from underneath their sleeves. It is unclear if this was a COVID-19 intervention or not. None of the skaters competed in masks as they had the ice to themselves, but they all donned masks as soon as they left the ice and joined their coaches in the "kiss and cry area" to hear their scores.

Bronze medalist Alexandra Trusova. / Wikipedia user Luu

Speaking of COVID, the virus ran rampant among Team Russia all season, worrying others who knew they would be in close proximity to Russians in Stockholm. But everyone tested negative beforehand – which makes sense since ten out of seventeen Russian competitors at the world championships had already built up immunity.

One Belarusian skater, Victoria Safonova, tested positive upon arrival in Stockholm and was removed from the competition before entering the "bubble." A French-Canadian male ice dancer competing for Armenia, Simon Proulx-Sénécal, tested positive once he was already inside the bubble, but the competition went on without him and his partner, and Proulx-Sénécal suspected it was a false positive.

Figure skates. | Pixabay user guvo59

Although the event was hosted in Sweden, the exhibition show after the competition began with a song by famous Russian pop singer Polina Gagarina. She was the runner-up of Eurovision 2015 and sang a duet, "Circles and Squares," in Stockholm with the winner of that Eurovision contest, Måns Zelmerlöw of Sweden.

When the winningest team arrived home in Moscow with its medals on Monday, March 29, there were lots of real Russian flags waving. Winners got to hear their real national anthem, acapella, filling the airport.

World figure skating championships
The official event logo. / Wikimedia Commons user Stasmeneuola

The next Winter Olympic Games are theoretically less than a year away, in February 2022 in Beijing, as long as COVID does not get in the way. The biggest questions for Russia are whether quad-jumping Alexandra Trusova can skate more cleanly without landing with her hand and whether her coach, Evgeni Plushenko, has what it takes to be a coach; whether the three female medal winners can repeat; and whether Mikhail Kolyada can step up his performance in the men's event.

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