Finlandia Trophy 2021 raises the stakes on early Olympic season competition

Holly Harris and Jason Chan at the 2020 Four Continents Championships Photo: Chau Nguyen/Four Continents Championships 2023 - Twitter

The 2021 Finlandia Trophy is shaping up to be an interesting competition, with heavy hitters in all four disciplines competing at the largest event prior to the the Grand Prix invitational events and the Olympic test event, 2021 Asian Open Trophy.

Several nations, including Australia will be sending key Olympic team contenders, with two entries in the men’s and women’s singles, and the ice dance events.

Many of the heavy hitters from North America and Europe will forego the Asian Open Trophy to compete in Finland, however, Finlandia will not feature the big name skaters from Japan and China who are currently entered in next week’s event.

Men’s singles

The men’s event will be one of the most hotly contested events at Finlandia, with many nations sending their top skaters to see how they fare. It will be challenging to predict, many of the men will be attempting technical content, such as jumps, that they have not been able to do consistently in competition.

The battle for gold will be between Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada, Canada’s Keegan Messing and the United States’ Jason Brown who finished fifth, sixth and seventh respectively at the 2021 World Championships.

Brown is at a technical disadvantage compared to the other two, as he will likely do only one quadruple jump across the two programs. However, if Kolyada or Messing are not clean on any of their quadruple jumps, Brown’s components score could land him on top.

The other two Russian skaters, Dmitri Aliev and Evgeni Semenenko could be wild card podium contenders. Both are skaters that have potential to finish high but have consistency issues that have often gotten in the way of success.

Australia’s Brendan Kerry will be looking to improve upon his free skate score from Nebelhorn Trophy two weeks ago, where he earned Australia an Olympic spot with a clean short program but a much rougher free skate.

Finlandia also marks the international season debut of South Australian skater James Min, whose last international competition was the 2020 Four Continents Championships.

His capacity to train was disrupted by South Australia’s lockdown and was unable to compete last season.

Min competed in New South Wales at the 2021 Hollins Trophy in June, where he withdrew after the short program.

James Min returns to international competition for the first time in over 18 months this weekend Photo: SAISA – Website

Women’s singles

The favourites for the podium at Finlandia will be the three Russian women: reigning Grand Prix Final and European champion Alena Kostornaia, reigning Russian National silver medalist Kamila Valieva, and reigning World silver medalist Elizaveta Tutktamysheva.

All three women are contenders for Russia’s Olympic team and will be taking every opportunity they can to prove to the Russian Federation why they deserve one of the three spots.

This will be Valieva’s senior international debut, after an illustrious career in juniors. With a triple axel and a quadruple toe loop in her arsenal, her technical base value makes her a favourite for the win at this event.  

After an successful 2019-2020 season, Kostornaia had a rough 2020-2021 season, struggling with injury and turbulent coaching changes. If she can deliver a clean performance here, her component score will easily put her ahead of Tutktamysheva.

All three Russian women and the United States’ Amber Glenn will be attempting triple axels at this competition. Being able to land them cleanly will factor significantly into the placements at this competition.

Australian Victoria Alcantara will make her Senior debut this weekend at Finlandia Photo: Melbourne Figure Skating Club

15-year-old Melbournian skater Victoria Alcantara will be making her Senior debut at Finlandia. The last time Alcantara competed was at 2020 Junior Worlds, where after a rough short program, she did not qualify for the free skate.

Likely impacted by various lockdowns and travel restrictions, Alcantara did not compete at in the 2020/2021 season, and spent most of the season training in Toronto, Canada. It will be interesting seeing what condition she is in for her first senior season.

Kailani Craine will also be at Finlandia, hopefully feeling much more relaxed after securing Australia an Olympic spot at Nebelhorn Trophy two weeks ago. Craine is still the favourite to make the Australian Olympic team, so from now until February, it will be a matter of getting both her programs as clean as possible.

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Pairs

After getting the third reserve spot for pairs at Beijing 2022, Australia has elected to not enter any teams into the Pairs competition.

Australians Anastasia Golubeva and Hektor Giotopoulos Moore will be competing in the final Junior Grand Prix, Cup of Austria, that will be occurring concurrently in hopes of achieving a better result than their previous performance.

It is uncertain what the competitive plans are for Australian Pairs Olympian Harley Windsor, who paired up with Maria Chernyshova earlier this season. So far, the pair have only competed at Russian domestic competitions, with no indications of an international debut any time soon.

The favourites to win the event will be Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov who won their first competition of the season with a score of 227.63, despite a fall from Tarasova on the side-by-side triple salchow in the short program. With their rivals Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov hot on their heels this time around, there will be no room for error if they want to stay on top.

It will also be interesting to see how the newly formed Canadian pair, 2018 World bronze medalist Vanessa James and reigning Olympic bronze medalist Eric Radford, will fare after their flawed performance at their first competition earlier this season. They will be facing American pair Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson who finished behind them at their last encounter, and compatriots Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro who will be making their season debut.

Ice Dance

Finlandia will be the second time that Australian teams Holly Harris and Jason Chan, and Chantelle Kerry and Andrew Dodds face off this season. Harris and Chan were the firm victors at their last encounter, finishing fourth, while Kerry and Dodds finished ninth.

French team Gabriela Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron will be the favourites to win this competition, however there is room for uncertainty. After taking the entire 2020-21 season off and having a late start to this season, it will be interesting to see how the judges score them at their first international competition after such a long break.

Gabriela Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at French Masters last weekend Photo: Olympics – website/Olivier Brajon

Behind them will be American team Madison Chock and Evan Bates making their season debut after missing out on the 2021 Worlds podium by less than two points.

Notably absent is the Russian contingent after the sudden withdrawal of both of their teams, Sofia Shevchenko and Igor Eremenko, and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin. Without the Russians, the race for bronze has become much more interesting.

Finlandia also marks the first of many face-offs between Spanish teams Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz, and Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin for Spain’s sole ice dance spot at Beijing 2022. According to Smart and Diaz, the Spanish federation will decide which team gets the Olympic spot based on the teams’ combined scores from three face-offs this season: Finlandia Trophy, Spanish Nationals and European Championships.

Hurtado and Khaliavin sat most of the 2020-2021 season out due to a dislocated shoulder, but were sent to 2021 Worlds after a virtual skate-off against Smart and Diaz, and just missed out on earning two Olympic spots for Spain by exactly one point.

Smart and Diaz have had a stronger start to the 2021-22 season, finishing second with a new personal best free dance and combined score at 2021 Autumn Classic International. If they are able to perform as well here, they could make a very good case for why they deserve the Olympic spot.

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