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    Tears and ecstasy: what’s going on among the skaters at the start of the Channel One Cup

    The Channel One Cup started on Saturday in St. Petersburg with performances by skaters with short programs, as well as a “battle of the elements.” The interim leadership was taken by the “blue” team of 2022 Olympic champion Anna Shcherbakova, the second are the “white” winners of the 2018 Games Alina Zagitova, the third are the “red” 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. The placement of the teams may still change, but the final conclusion can be considered that in the fourth year of the tournament, the organizers found its best format.
    Only half of the Channel One Cup has passed, but everyone involved already has more than enough emotions. And this is largely the merit of those who decided to make fundamental changes to the regulations. It is already obvious that the increase in the number of teams from two to three sharply increased the competitive intrigue, and the “battle of the elements” not only added a touch of All-Star Game to the tournament, but also introduced an element of unpredictability – after all, its results were included in the general standings.
    Even on the eve of the start tournament, there were a lot of reasons for discussion, and this is not only the outfits of team captains and Cup participants at the solemn drawing ceremony. Who succeeded in the “draft”, who got the strongest team? However, it was not easy to find the answer to these questions before the start of the tournament – each team had strengths and weaknesses, and the captains’ task was, among other things, to take advantage of the former and “touch up” the latter.

    It all started with the performance of rhythmic programs by dancers and short programs by sports couples. In these two disciplines, Zagitova’s team looked like an outsider. Its representatives were inferior in rating to their competitors, and due to the conservatism of both pair skating and dancing, something unexpected had to happen for the outsiders to beat the favorites.

    This did not happen, although the “whites” who opened the tournament, Irina Khavronina and David Narizhny, performed their dance at a super level: the judges considered that Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin and Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva/Egor Bazin should have been higher. The sports couple from Zagitova’s team, Ekaterina Chikmareva/Matvey Yanchenkov, also failed to get ahead of the favorites who made mistakes. But one mini-sensation did happen here: Alexandra Boykova and Dmitry Kozlovsky beat Anastasia Mishina and Alexander Gallyamov for the first time this season.
    And then that very “battle of the elements” began – an innovation of the current Channel One Cup. She looked extremely unusual for figure skating, but as exciting as possible. First, sports couples competed in who would hold the position in todes longer, then in rotational support. Then the dancers also performed twizzles for a while and walked in support in an arc. Next came the singles skaters and, together with the boys, competed in the triple jump relay.
    For a long time, in all these competitions, the “whites” were ahead of their competitors, and it seemed that after three types of programs there would be approximately equality. But then the time came for an incredible spectacle – a parallel quadruple Lutz, which was performed by eternal competitors in junior tournaments Arseny Fedotov and Lev Lazarev. At this tournament they ended up on Tuktamysheva’s team, and this is perhaps the main trump card of the ex-world champion’s team, which will play on Sunday.

    “White” responded with a parallel quad Salchow by Margarita Bazylyuk and Mark Kondratyuk. It is worth noting that in this “battle of the elements” the skaters made no mistakes at all. Unless, of course, you count Kondratyuk’s false start in the final relay, where all participants demonstrated the basic elements of figure skating. But everyone forgot about this violation after a few seconds – the action was so captivating. As a result, Tuktamysheva’s team won the “battle,” Shcherbakova’s skaters came second, and Zagitova’s “whites” came third. In the overall standings, the 2015 world champion took the lead, who the day before promised the most “tough” fight for victory.
    But in the last two events on Saturday – short programs for women and men – not all the “reds” managed to shine. Vice-champion of Russia Sofya Muravyova fell from the cascade and did not go for her signature triple axel, and Matvey Vetlugin clearly could not cope with the burden of the final starting number.
    But everyone was touched by Alexander Samarin, who also represented Tuktamysheva’s team. He took to the competitive ice for the last time in his career, the end of which he announced at the Spartakiad in Magnitogorsk, and his coach Svetlana Sokolovskaya began to cry at the side even before the 2019 European vice-champion completed his skate. It was a very dramatic moment: after Samarin’s performance, fragments of his main starts in his career were shown on the screen, and Alexander, dragging a huge bear in his hands, seemed to cry himself. “They hit me in the very heart,” the skater later admitted at a press conference. Perhaps this phrase can be applied to the Channel One Cup itself: there were no indifferent people in the Yubileiny, which was filled to capacity.
    As a result, Shcherbakova’s figure skaters left the leaders for the break until Sunday, for whom Vladislav Dikidzhi, who won the short program, brought the maximum points. This was also quite a significant moment – after all, he was ahead of the two-time Russian champion Evgeny Semenenko, for whom Zagitova was cheering, jumping in ecstasy. Third in the men's box office was Dmitry Aliev, who turned the first quadruple into a butterfly, forcing him to remember his confessions of lack of motivation, but then rehabilitated himself on the remaining elements and added points to the “blues.”

    As for the women, the ones who shone among them were those who rely on soulful skating. Ksenia Sinitsyna from Zagitova's team showed the best result, Anna Frolova, representing Shcherbakova's team, was second. However, this is logical. Quadruple jumps for women in the short program are prohibited, so the quad athletes will enter the competition on Sunday.
    The fact that the team captains took their responsibilities extremely seriously was confirmed by the press conference at the end of the first day. “We discussed tactics on the bus, then went to my hotel room so that no one would overhear,” Zagitova shared, talking about how the skaters were distributed according to programs. “I liked the fuss, the choice of who should skate, they decided it yesterday evening. They also made a decision about who should start behind whom in the relay race, I haven’t thought so much for a very long time,” admitted Tuktamysheva.
    Well, Shcherbakova said, in what were her difficulties in determining tactics. “In short, everyone was scheduled in a minute and a half, and then the dances were decided in an hour and a half,” admitted Anna. The Beijing Olympic champion hinted at the heated debate that she had with Ivan Bukin, but the figure skater present at the table flatly refused to reveal the essence of the discussion. Shcherbakova summed up the results of the first day with the phrase “it’s too early to draw conclusions.”

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