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Russia’s Kovtun records monster short program in Plushenko’s absence

Nov 22, 2013, 1:20 PM EDT

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final 2012 - Day One Getty Images

For some 15 years, Yevgeny Plushenko has been the king of Russian skating. But Friday, with no king in sight, a prince reigned over the ice in Moscow, Maksim Kovtun formally announcing his challenge to Plushenko’s throne.

Kovtun has been the up-and-coming boy of a nation steeped in figure skating tradition for the last two years and delivered a monster short program at the Rostelecom Cup, the final Grand Prix of the season, in which Plushenko withdrew from a week ago with a knee injury.

Skating in front of a home crowd, the 18-year-old Kovtun produced a 92.53, the fourth-highest score of the season and better than Plushenko’s best-ever short program (91.30), securing himself a safe lead over second-place Tatsuki Machida of Japan (84.90) and re-igniting the discussion of who will get Russia’s coveted lone Olympic spot for Sochi.

Kovtun was a disappointing 17th at the World Championships earlier this year, meaning the Russians got just one place for a men’s singles skater at the upcoming Olympic Games. But after a second-place finish at the Cup of Russia earlier this month and a dazzling performance that included a quadruple Salchow-triple toe opening combination and a quadruple toe to follow, Kovtun continues to push the envelope.

Reigning world bronze medalist Javier Fernandez fell on his opening quadruple Salchow, relegating him to third behind Kovtun and Machida.

Lipnitskaya, Savchenko/Szolkowy take leads in Moscow

It was a poor showing for American men, as Richard Dornbush came up short on two of his jumps and fell on his lone Axel, a triple, finishing seventh out of eight skaters. His teammate, Josh Farris, withdrew after spraining his ankle Thursday in practice.

Dornbush is the 2011 U.S. Championships siilver medalist while Farris, 18, is competing in his first season on the senior Grand Prix circuit. He was fifth at Skate Canada last month.

In the ice dancing that followed, reigning and three-time Russian national champions Ekaterina Bobrova and Dimitry Soloviyev skated to a first-place finish in the short program with a 68.42. The team earned a bronze medal at the World Championships earlier this year.

Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were second with a 61.50, though they were visibly disappointed after seeing their scores. Weaver had pumped her fist following their short dance, but then stared blankly at the screen and simply said, “OK,” when their scores came up.

Ekaterina Riyazanova and Iliya Tkachenko of Russia were third while Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the lone Americans in ice dance, were fourth, less than a point back from medal contention.

For much of the second group of ice dancers Friday night the rink took on a Broadway theme, music from “Chicago,” “42nd Street,” “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Moulin Rouge” playing in consecutive programs.

Kovtun will look for another show-stopping performance Saturday in the men’s free skate. Many around skating believe the Olympic spot will go to Plushenko if he is healthy regardless of how Kovtun performs, though a win in Moscow from the youngster would put more pressure on the veteran.

The last Russian man not named Plushenko to win a Grand Prix gold medal? Iliya Klimkin at the NHK Trohpy in 2002.