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    Pj Kwong

    About Pj Kwong

    With more than 25 years of coaching experience, Pj Kwong is one of Canada's best known figure skating experts. She has worked with CBC Sports as a commentator and analyst since 2007.

Figure Skating

Pj Kwong - Tuesday Nov. 26, 2013 15:13

Rostelecom Cup proof of figure skating's 'close race'

Cup of Russia narrows down Grand Prix Final competitors

Japan's Tatsuki Machida had two gold-medal wins this Grand Prix season, at Skate America and Cup of Russia. (Grigory Dukor/Reuters)

At the beginning of the Grand Prix series there were things that I could not have predicted: that Tatsuki Machida would make it to the Grand Prix Final, or that 2012 World champion Caroline Kostner and 2013 European champion Javier Fernandez would not.

As always, Italy’s Kostner was prepared to compete like a champ with exquisite programs choreographed by long-time collaborator Lori Nichol. The issue is being able to skate like a champ when it counts and Kostner can be inconsistent in that area. Though she won silver at the Cup of Russia, it wasn’t enough to overcome the bronze medal she took home at the Cup of China.

Conversely, Russian teenager Julia Lipnitskaia’s reputation continues to grow with her second Grand Prix win in Russia. There is something about her 15-year-old innocence against the backdrop of the powerful Schindler’s List music that was captivating even if her skate wasn’t her best. Couple that with perfect costuming, choreography and superior technique, and you have the makings of a star.

I was waiting to see if Machida would rise to the occasion in Russia after winning Skate America at the very beginning of the Grand Prix series. Machida didn’t skate his Firebird free program with the same energy as earlier in the season but still well enough for a win and a trip to the Final. 

The other name to remember is 18-year-old Maxim Kovtun, of Russia, who will also be going to the Final on the strength of a second silver medal at the Russian Grand Prix. I want you to remember him because if Evgeni Plushenko doesn’t end up competing in Sochi, this talented teenager, who won the short program in Moscow, is my bet as the man to take his place.

I have often said that the four-time World and European pair champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, of Germany, are two of the smartest competitors ever to have competed in that discipline. They, along with coach Ingo Steuer, are masters at capitalizing on points-grabbing opportunities. They have also been known for eccentric choices in choreography and costuming which have been known to distract. Influenced by David Wilson, the team is skating to the classical Nutcracker and in so doing highlights their skills and prowess.

Ice dance event 'fiercely competitive'

In a bit of a nail biter, Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch made some uncharacteristic errors but held on for the bronze in Moscow and a ticket to the Grand Prix Final.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won the free dance portion of their event and took the silver medal, qualifying them for the Grand Prix Final. European champions Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev took the win due in some large part to an almost seven-point advantage after the short dance. I take nothing away from this team. They are talented and I am a fan of their skating as much as I always have been. 

I don’t argue with the result in the short dance; it is the almost insurmountable gap in the scores by the top two teams that has me wondering. The teams are particularly well matched and I can believe that in any segment the result could go either way. What makes me scratch my head is how differently this panel saw Weaver and Poje’s short dance than the judges at Skate Canada, especially because they made no obvious errors.

What I can say is that the Cup of Russia is further proof of the fiercely competitive and close race across the board in ice dance which will make for a fascinating Grand Prix Final event.

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