As I'm writing this, the biggest unknown about Rostelecom Cup this season is actually, well, whether or not there WILL be a Rostelecom Cup this season. To catch you up on the drama, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) released a statement after the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) report on state-sponsored doping in Russia. In it, the IOC stated:
The IOC asks all International Olympic Winter Sports Federations to freeze their preparations for major events in Russia, such as World Championships, World Cups or other major international competitions under their responsibility, and to actively look for alternative organisers.
A few days later, the ISU issued its own statement, which does not address the preparation of competitions in Russia, so there is no confirmation either way. But we'll assume that everything will go as planned. Here are five things to get excited about at Rostelecom!
1. Early battle of the Russian women
At Grand Prix events, you often see the host country earmark a spot as TBD, just in case they wanted to promote someone who didn't get a spot for whatever reason. Last year, Olympic champ Adelina Sotnikova got that TBD spot in the ladies' event. But this year, there will be no such host pick for Sotnikova here, because the Russian ladies' spots have been filled. It's an interesting lineup, because you have the surging Anna Pogorilaya, who got the surprise bronze at Worlds, the reemerging Julia Lipnitskaia, whose coaching switch mid-last-season looks to have reinvented her, and the on-the-bubble Elena Radionova, who is still among the world's best but could be in a precarious spot this year. This battle could reveal a lot about how the Russian women sort themselves out this season.
2. Fernandez and the quad loop
We already know that Shoma Uno has a quad flip in his repertoire (and based on what we've seen this summer in exhibitions, I wouldn't be surprised if he includes two quad flips in his free skate). Rostelecom, which will be now-two-time World champion Javier Fernandez's first Grand Prix this season, could very well see the competition debut of his quad loop. With speculation that Yuzuru Hanyu may finally put that quad loop we've seen in exhibition into competition, chances are that one of them will do it this season. New quads aside, the battle between Fernandez and Uno will be one of the major matchups of the competition.
3. Can Dmitriev convert talent into success?
Yes, that would be Artur Dmitriev, Jr., son of two-time Olympic champion Artur Dmitriev. The younger Dmitriev has been bubbling under for the past few seasons. He's got loads of talent but have yet to really be able to harness the huge jumps that he's got. But there was some promise last season, where he won three smaller international competitions and looked to be making inroads on his consistency. And while he couldn't translate it to success at Nationals (he was 10th), he will be starting anew this season with his first two Grand Prix assignments. There's no real leader in Russian men's skating right now, with Kovtun and Kolyada up at the top but loads of skaters right behind, and Dmitriev could make some noise this season if he can get those jumps right.
4. Seguin/Bilodeau return
Canadian silver medalists Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau were on the cusp of a major breakthrough last season. But Seguin's injury took them out of Four Continents and then Worlds. Rostelecom will be their first big international back since last year's Grand Prix Final. I'll be watching to see whether they continue their ascent right away or they have to work their way back into the international panels' good graces. The matchup with Savchenko/Massot and Stolbova/Klimov will be telling. Speaking of which ...
5. Savchenko/Massot's next step
But last season's big debut? None other than Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot. They came in to an already-super-deep international pairs scene and went straight to the top. In their first competition season, they picked up a silver at Euros and a bronze at Worlds. They've made it clear that they are coming into the new season with upgrades - new side-by-side combos and, even more importantly, the throw triple axel in their short and free.
Their chief competition here will be home team Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov, who had a very solid season last year with personal bests at the Grand Prix Final. But their fourth-place at Worlds (behind Savchenko/Massot) will certainly fuel their motivation this season. As always, though, with their rivals' difficulty increasing almost across the board, how will Stolbova/Klimov keep up?