284 days have passed since figure skating at the 2022 Beijing Olympics officially came to a close — and what a ruckus it caused.
After a doping scandal followed by a complete ban from international competition due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shortly after, Russian skaters have found themselves entirely stripped of the opportunity to compete for a spot on international podiums.
Several months on from what was surely one of the biggest scandals in figure skating in recent years — certainly in the last Olympic cycle — I wanted to talk about the state of Russian skating, specifically focusing on the women’s field.
And what state is it in? Not a good one.
Given the ban, the Figure Skating Federation of Russia decided to take matters into its own hands. It created its own version of the ISU’s Grand Prix series, a frankly embarrassing series of events that capitalizes on the only thing Russian skaters have been able to focus on recently: quadruple jumps.
While the actual Grand Prix series has had one of the most exciting (in my humble opinion) years in recent history, its Russian counterpart has been, to be honest, quite boring.
At least in 2018 there was some emphasis on the program component scores, though a jumping showoff was not avoided due to an entirely backloaded free program in Alina Zagitova’s Don Quixote (what I actually think is quite a brilliant program, but that is neither here nor there).
In 2022, though, Russian women’s programs have been a jumping showdown: quad after quad after quad. Skating skills? Abysmal. Musicality? Barely.
This isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s something Russian women’s skating has been plagued with for some years now — because who cares when you can do a quad salchow and a quad lutz-triple toe combination in the second half of your free program.
But don’t worry: They thought this through! By arguing that their main competition was internal anyway, and capitalizing on what they seem to love most, the Russian skaters also participated in their very own — wait for it — jumping competition.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that revolutionizing a sport is integral to its development. Kamila Valieva was the first female skater to land a quad at the Olympics earlier this year, an impressive feat no matter how it’s spun.
My issue stands more with the fact that quad jumps have been used, especially by the Russians, to rack up points in lieu of developing any and all other aspects of skating.
I’m certainly not the first person to harp on about how quads are killing the sport, and I absolutely won’t be the last. People might call me boring, a traditionalist or against progress. Sure, go ahead. But Russian skaters ruining their bodies to out-jump each other is hardly the innovative drive some think it is.
But their competition currently is just each other, and a domestic contest is not and can never be a full substitute for international competition, no matter how much the federation might be trying to convince itself that it is.
This isn’t a call for Russian skaters to be reinstated to international competition, nor is it a call to ban quads. It’s rather just commentary on the sad state of Russian figure skating, a tirelessly self-perpetuating sense of grandiose superiority that lacks any merit beyond the ever-tireless pre-rotated, hammer-picked quads with bad posture, straight knees and bad edges upon landing.
I can’t propose a solution. Frankly, I don’t have one. But it’s certainly been a miserable state of affairs to watch so much wasted talent essentially implode on itself with not much hope for development of young skaters, nor their debut on an international stage.
Maybe, by the time this Olympic cycle concludes itself, we’ll see a new set of Russian skaters with supreme skating skills, jump technique and musicality. But that’s probably just wishful thinking.