by Laura Flagg | Photo by Daphne Backman
Rostelecom Cup, the fourth event in the Grand Prix series, will take place this week in Moscow. A full roster of eight teams will compete, headlined by the battle between new Russian teams (and former partners) Elena Ilinykh & Ruslan Zhiganshin and Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov.
Madison Chock & Evan Bates are coming off their first-ever Grand Prix win at Skate America and are the favorites to take gold in Russia. Coached by Igor Shpilband, a strong showing in Moscow will pave the way for their first Grand Prix Final appearance. Both their short dance and their free dance to “An American in Paris” have been extremely well received by international judging panels.
Another American team, reigning World Junior champions Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker (pictured, right), will be making their Grand Prix debut. They competed at Nebelhorn Trophy earlier this season, where mistakes in the short dance cost them a medal; they finished fourth overall. Their beautiful new free dance is to music from the 2013 film adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet.” While the story is very familiar to skating, this music is not. Hawayek & Baker are coached by Angelika Krylova and Pasquale Carmerlengo.
Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton hope to improve on their sixth-place finish at Skate Canada. Their free dance, to music from “Gone with the Wind” had a lackluster reception from the judges, especially in comparison to their short dance. The duo, who recently switched coaches to train with Marina Zoueva, placed fifth at last season’s U.S. Nationals. Before that, they were two-time U.S. junior champions, and the direct comparison to Hawayek & Baker could set up an interesting battle for the second half of the season.
One of the most intriguing story lines in ice dance this season revolves around the fallout from the breakup of Olympic bronze medalists Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov. Rumors started swirling during last season’s World Championships that Katsalapov was ending the partnership, and after he and Ilinykh finished fourth, those rumors were confirmed. He paired up with Victoria Sinitsina, who, along with Ruslan Zhiganshin, had placed seventh at Worlds. As this left both Ilinykh & Zhiganshin partnerless, they decided to skate together. And now, the entire world—or at least the entire skating world—is wondering which team will end up ahead. Ilinykh & Zhiganshin may have they edge here as they have the experience and feedback from last week’s Cup of China, where they finished fourth. However, they had several issues with their free dance and may not have had enough time to work those out with coach Elena Kustarova. Sinitsina & Katsalapov train with Zoueva, and will be debuting their free dance to music by Gary Moore.
But of all the Russian teams, Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin might be the favorite to rank highest this week. Stepanova & Bukin, who won the 2013 World Junior Championships, have had an extremely strong season thus far. They won Finlandia Trophy and won the bronze medal at Skate America, despite Stepanova suffering a severe leg contusion from a fall during practice on the morning of the short dance. This is an enormous improvement from last season, when they finished eighth—and last—at their only Grand Prix event. They train in Moscow with Alexander Svinin and Irina Zhuk, so they will hope to make the best of their home ice advantage.
The reigning European bronze medalists, Penny Coomes & Nicholas Buckland, also have a shot at the podium. The duo from Great Britain, who placed ninth at the World Championships last March, has never won a medal on the Grand Prix series, but their programs have generated some buzz at smaller events this fall. Last week, they easily won NRW Trophy in Germany. They are coached by Evgeny Platov, and they should make an impact with their striking free dance to music by Muse.
The Korean team of Rebeka Kim & Kirill Minov will be making their Grand Prix debut. They finished seventh at last season’s World Junior Championships, and they will be skating a free dance to music from “The Phantom of the Opera.” They also have home ice advantage, as they work with Svinin & Zhuk’s group.
The short dance takes place on Friday, and the free dance will be contested on Saturday.