Anna Shcherbakova topped the short program at the Russian figure skating championships, looking to become the first woman in 19 years to win three consecutive national titles.
Shcherbakova, 16, had the cleanest jumps of the top contenders, though she did not attempt a triple Axel. She tallied 80.31 points, edging 14-year-old Kamila Valiyeva by .32 going into Saturday’s free skate in Chelyabinsk.
Shcherbakova, the world’s third-ranked skater last season in her senior international debut campaign, is looking to emulate Irina Slutskaya, who three-peated from 1999-2001. Shcherbakova is recovering from pneumonia, according to Russian news agency TASS.
Valiyeva, who is too young to skate at March’s senior world championships, fell on an under-rotated triple Axel attempt.
Aleksandra Trusova, a two-time world junior champion, was fourth without a triple Axel and second among skaters old enough for worlds.
Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva, the 2015 World champion, stepped out of a triple Axel landing and is fifth, 6.75 points behind Shcherbakova. Tuktamysheva won the Rostelecom Cup last month, after Shcherbakova withdrew on the morning of the short program due to illness, reportedly pneumonia.
In normal years, the top two finishers are guaranteed world championships spots, assuming they are age eligible. The third spot on the world team is a discretionary selection and can go to a skater who does not compete at nationals.
That’s key given the absences: Olympic gold and silver medalists Alina Zagitova (indefinite break from competition) and Yevgenia Medvedeva (working her way back from weeks-long hospitalization for illness). Aliona Kostornaya, the world’s top skater last season, is also out as she returns from a coronavirus positive test.
Earlier Friday, PyeongChang Olympian Mikhail Kolyada won his third national title, landing three quadruple toe loops between two programs. Last year’s champion, Dmitry Aliyev, missed nationals after it was reported in early December that he suffered from pneumonia and contracted the coronavirus.
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