The International Skating Union (ISU) has decided not to cancel the tournaments of the adult Grand Prix series in the 2020/21 season. At the same time, it is stipulated that due to the entry restrictions adopted in connection with the current situation with the coronavirus, the format of the stages will be discussed, adjusted and revised.
ISU has certainly made the most optimal decision possible. But does this mean that the adult Grand Prix has been saved, and the first half of the season will be held by the skaters in exactly the format that the world is used to in those 20 five years that the championship series exists? It is clear that no.
The reality is that any of the stages can still be canceled in the worst case (if the situation with the coronavirus in the host country begins to become critical), at best, it will lose its former representation and it is not a fact that athletes will have the opportunity to perform more than once. How the selection of the strongest for the final of the entire series will now take place, and whether this event, which was to become a test before the Olympic Games-2022 in Beijing, will take place at all, we have yet to understand.
Coach Tatyana Tarasova, who is now taking an active part in the preparation for the season of two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva, stated that the lack of competitive practice is a big disadvantage for the athlete. At the same time, in her opinion, the possible cancellation of international tournaments should not be a problem.
“So, we will start performing at home, as in Soviet times, when there were only two major international starts - the European and World Championships. All the strongest skaters in those years, as a rule, began the season with departmental competitions. Trade union athletes - from the championships of the trade unions, Dynamo - from the CS Dynamo competitions, army - from the championship of the Armed Forces. Then everyone skated in the same way at regional and city tournaments - they tried to score at least three or four starts for the national championship in order to feel as confident as possible in the selection for the national team. Now we have the Russian Cup, and I don't see any problems at all in choosing the two most convenient stages for myself. If you want, you can always find an opportunity to compete, ”Tarasova told RT.
It was always customary to look at the final of the Russian Cup, as well as at the stages preceding it, somewhat condescendingly. It was considered a tournament for those who were not lucky enough to get into the number of participants in the Grand Prix series. That is, some kind of secondary competition for outsiders. Real audience interest has been riveted to him in recent years only twice: when, after leaving Eteri Tutberidze under the leadership of Alexei Urmanov, Yulia Lipnitskaya performed in it, and in February 2019. Then in the final, Evgenia Medvedeva and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva fought for one ticket to the world championship.
Now it is quite obvious that with proper organization and presentation, the Russian Cup may well become no less interesting tournament than any of the Grand Prix Challengers. The Honorary President of the Russian Figure Skating Federation (FFKKR) Valentin Piseev noted that he did not see anything extraordinary in the current situation: the training continued and will continue regardless of the form in which the international calendar will remain, but in terms of competition in comparison with other countries Russia now may well be the winner.
“At one time, when the Grand Prix was being created, we made our internal series by the same analogy - the Russian Cup, so that those who do not qualify for the international tournament had a place to compete. Now I would take these competitions as a basis, ”Piseev explained.
“Perhaps it would be worthwhile to take a closer look at the deadlines, correct the calendar, maybe add another stage. In addition, to think about where and how to conduct them, taking into account the new reality, so that all athletes have the opportunity to perform as much as they need, ”the specialist added.
According to him, if the FFKKR decides to bring the Russian Cup to a higher level, it will have enough time before the start of the season to reorganize the tournament and connect larger cities and stadiums to it.
“We already have experience of emergency organization of the 2011 World Cup, when Japan refused to organize it. But we had only a few weeks to hold these competitions in Moscow. So in this regard, I do not have the slightest concern. Another question is that additional funding will probably be required, but this, I am sure, will not become an insurmountable obstacle, "Piseev added.
If the idea with the obligatory involvement of all the strongest in the Russian Cup is implemented, this can give a very powerful impetus to the progress of figure skating in the country. After all, the second echelon of athletes in this case will have an additional opportunity to compare themselves with the leaders, compete with them, gain experience in real time and real competition. All that is needed for this is a well-thought-out system for selecting participants for each stage, good ice and decent coverage of the competition.
Of course, do not flatter yourself. It is clear that a surrogate, even of the highest quality, will never replace the original product. You can indulge yourself as much as you like with the illusion that Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov became European champions last season, which means that they are the ones who dictate fashion in European ice dancing. But the nostalgia for the Russians' duel with six-time world champions Gabriela Papadakis and Guillaume Sizeron will only grow sharper in the absence of real competition.
The same can be said about pair skating: no matter how good the Russian duets, led by European champions Alexandra Boykova and Dmitry Kozlovsky, turn out to be in the coming season, their class can really be understood only in comparison with the best pairs in China. After all, whatever one may say, it is the Chinese who are now in the rank of the reigning world champions.
But something else is more important here: any athlete (and a top-level athlete doubly) needs to constantly be not only in training, but also in a competitive tone, otherwise a person suddenly loses the ability to concentrate and "take a punch" in a highly competitive environment. By the way, this is why leaders who, for one reason or another, missed the competitive season, very rarely return to the sport at the same level. It is no coincidence that when boycotts of the Olympics took place, alternative tournaments immediately appeared in the calendars, designed to at least partially replace these starts.
Now the danger of being without serious competitive practice lies in wait for everyone who, for objective reasons, was locked up within the borders of their own state. In addition, not many countries can afford to host full-fledged highly competitive competitions at all for several months in a row. But Russia can. Moreover, with a single exception, all Russian figure skaters are at home. Accordingly, when planning this or that start, they will not have to decide how to get to the place of performance.
So there should be no reason for panic. Alexander Zhulin, under whose leadership Sinitsina and Katsalapov are training in Moscow, noticed that the question of participation or non-participation of the duo in the Grand Prix series does not worry the team too much.
“The first performance, for which we are preparing more than seriously, is the open September rentals at Megasport. If Russia manages to keep the home stage of the Grand Prix, Vika and Nikita and I will participate in it. I know that the option of organizing competitions in Novogorsk is being discussed, in case someone lacks starts. But now we are quietly training as usual, ”Zhulin said.
In conclusion, it remains only to recall the well-known saying that there is a silver lining. The need to transform the usual routine of the first half of the season will require a number of decisions from the leaders of the figure skating federation, which are currently being worked out with might and main, although not announced. This was announced by the general secretary of the FFKKR Alexander Kogan.
“You can be sure that all our athletes will have the opportunity to participate in the number of competitions they need to prepare. And this amount will be at least the same as in previous years, ”Kogan assured.