ISU Figure Skating Season to Run on a Modified Schedule

Heather Qin '24

With the tidal wave of disappointing cancellations in sports as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Skating Union has announced that the annual Grand Prix of Figure Skating will still run on a modified schedule for seniors [1].


Due to travel restrictions, health concerns, and the opting out of various countries, the ISU cancelled the Junior Grand Prix series. In this series of competitions, rising stars such as Alysa Liu, two time national US champion and world bronze medalist, and Kamila Valieva, who went undefeated through the entire 2019-2020 season on her debut year, were slated to compete once again.


The Grand Prix, a series of international invitational competitions, allows the top six skaters to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. Out of the six events on the senior level: Skate America, Skate Canada, the Cup of China, the Internationaux de France, the Rostelecom Cup, and the NHK trophy, competitors attend two events that are assigned to them. However, because of travel restrictions this year, the ISU has placed a one-event limit on athletes and turned each stage into a mostly domestic-run event. For each event, only competitors from the host country, who train in the host country, or are close enough for safe travel are allowed to participate [2].


Furthermore, the Grand Prix final, originally scheduled for mid-December in Beijing, China, has been postponed to 2021 because of travel, quarantine, and health concerns. 


Certain events have drawn considerable interest from fans, namely Skate America and the Rostelecom Cup held in Las Vegas and Moscow respectively. Although before a cardboard cut-out audience, two time world and Grand Prix final champion, Nathan Chen, claimed gold, while compatriot Audrey Shin made an unexpected breakthrough to third place on the ladies’ podium on her senior debut. The Rostelecom cup was set to feature Russia’s latest sensations in ladies’ singles skating: Aliona Kostornaia, Anna Scherbakova, and Alexandra Trusova, the three athletes who swept the Grand Prix final and European Championship podium last year on their senior debut. Former world champion Elizabeth Tuktamysheva and two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva were also in contention for a podium position.


The intense competition and deep field led many social media users to term the competition as a ‘bloodbath.’ However, Medvedeva’s withdrawal due to an injury and testing positive for COVID-19, as well as Scherbakova’s due to pneumonia, were unexpected events that narrowed the field. Tuktamysheva won an unforeseen victory, with Kostornaia second and Trusova narrowly missing the podium due to a minor injury that contributed to four falls in her free program. Trusova was a favorite to win because of her significant advantage in technical score, and Kostornaia was also in contention as reflected by her previous successes. Tuktamysheva had already restored her triple axel, an important element worth many points, while Kostornaia had not, and was able to win with a relatively error-free performance. 


The Rostelecom Cup is just one of the competitions leading up to the highly anticipated Russian Nationals, one of the sport’s most competitive events due to the sheer volume of high-level athletes. Expectation and excitement only continue to grow as new programs and costumes are revealed through different stages of the Russian cup, the qualifying competitions for nationals this year. Anna Scherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, silver and bronze medalists in last year’s Grand Prix Final, have each won the two stages of the Russian Cup that have been held so far.


Notably, double olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu stated that it was with ‘deep regret’ that he chose to withdraw from this year’s grand prix series, citing concerns of COVID-19 and the possible correlation with his asthma [3]. The upcoming Grand Prix series is now important more than ever because it is serving as a test event for the next Winter Olympics, and Hanyu’s absence means that his American rival, Nathan Chen, is now the favorite to win the event for a third time. 


Although two of the Grand Prix stages, Skate Canada [4] and the Internationaux de France [5] have been cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, fans are still anticipating plenty of events to come in the up-and-running modified season.