Opining on 2016 Rostelecom Cup: Savchenko/Massot make power play, Pogorilaya finds her voice

It's nuts that we are halfway through the Grand Prix Series already. With Rostelecom Cup complete, we have seen almost all of the major contenders skate at least once this season. As with every Grand Prix, we saw some standout performances in Moscow this past weekend. Fresh in my mind are Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot and Anna Pogorilaya, both of whom won but left different impressions on this season.

Savchenko/Massot step it up
From Savchenko's social media posts over the off-season, we all knew that they were working on some new elements for the season, particularly the throw triple axel. And we saw that again here at Rostelecom Cup. But what we did NOT expect (as evidenced by my incredulous tweet about it) was the appearance of the throw quad salchow at the very end of their free skate.

What does that mean? It means that they very much have Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford in their sights. Duhamel/Radford, of course, have been the ones leading the charge on technical elements for the past few seasons. Looking at their planned free skate elements (assuming level 3 triple twists, which they have both gotten this season), Savchenko/Massot's addition of the quad salchow gives them a 0.60 edge over the reigning World champions. Because Duhamel/Radford only do the throw axel in their short program, Savchenko/Massot makes up the deficit they face against Duhamel/Radford's side-by-side lutzes.

It is, of course, much too early to tell how this will shake out later on in the season, when it really counts at Worlds. But I would imagine that this is a more long-term play for Savchenko/Massot for the Olympics, and they are bringing out the quad salchow to get comfortable with it in competition.

Is this going to make Duhamel/Radford rethink their no-axel strategy in the free skate? Probably not, at least not in the foreseeable future. Their side-by-side lutzes give them a base value advantage of 1.60 (assuming all else equal), plus Savchenko/Massot have yet to show that they are consistent enough with the new tricks for them to be as threatening as they would be in the technical score. Duhamel/Radford, after all, have been doing these difficult elements, and fairly consistently, for the past three seasons. 

But what a race!

Pogorilaya dominates
What a difference a World bronze medal made for Anna Pogorilaya, a skater who, for three seasons, looked to have a lack of self-belief every time she went on the ice to compete. You'd see her win one competition with clean skates and then fall apart at the next one with fall after fall. It got to the point last season where she took so many hard falls in competition (Pogofalls™) that folks were hoping she wouldn't be injured.

In a lot of ways, you can see where a potential self-belief issue comes from. She was never - I repeat, NEVER - the skater in the spotlight when she was coming up in the ranks. Her bronze at Junior Worlds in 2013 was behind Elena Radionova and Julia Lipnitskaia. She was fourth at her first Worlds a year later but that was in the Olympic season, heavily overshadowed by Adelina Sotnikova's win in Sochi and Lipnitskaia's silver ahead of her. She had not even medaled at Russian Nationals until last year, when she rose from a disappointing Grand Prix series to take the bronze.

With Radionva, Lipnitskaia, Sotnikova, and now Evgenia Medvedeva in the mix, Pogorilaya was chronically unheralded, and it didn't help that she hadn't found her voice yet in her skating. But last season was where it all started coming together, particularly in her choreography and her look on the ice, which contrasted greatly with the rest of the Russian ladies. Russian Nationals became the turning point, which she built on at Worlds three months later to win the bronze. It was there where she finally found that belief, and it has transferred brilliantly into this season - and we saw it in her dominant performance at Rostelecom Cup.