Those hot pink gloves of Kamila Valieva: You couldn’t miss them in her Bolero free skate.
They were the commas to every move. To the throbbing sounds of “Bolero,” the gloves skimmed the air, in and out and away as her hands moved, too. When she did a jump – any jump – the gloves flew up into a V above her head, and when she landed, they swept down and then artfully away. They danced – constantly – as she hurtled about the ice.
At the end, the gloves made a fist pump, both of them. It was a world record skate.
So Valieva belied her bobby pins, shot like a cannon across the ice, and won the women’s event at the Skate Canada Grand Prix in a landslide, with a long program tally of 180.89 points, a world record, and a final score of 265.08, also a record. She won by 32.20 points over Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, nine years older and a world champion, too. Nobody had ever seen the like.
And Tuktamysheva, who skated directly before Valieva, had already bolted out of the box and astonished everyone with her first jump: a triple Axel – double toe loop, (people in the audience screamed), followed by another triple Axel. Dressed in emerald, down to the (one) glove, she racked up marks of 151.64 for her free skate, with a total tally of 232.88, both a couple of points less than her best. It was jaw-dropping for late October.
“I’m crazily happy that I was able to put out a good performance today,” she said, suffering from jet lag. “Before I went out to skate, I was not in 100 per cent condition. I am glad I was able to overcome myself and to finish on such a positive note.”
She earned a standing ovation. Then came “Bolero.”
That “Bolero” routine? Shouldn’t the music be retired, like hockey shirts are retired, after the memorable routine by Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean that spellbound the world at the 1984 Olympics? Others have tried it. After all, the Torvill and Dean gold-medal winning program occurred 37 years ago.
However, this is one skater who can carry the torch, who can live up to the pianissimo that becomes fortissimo, with the relentless snare drum that underpins the whole thing, that creates a pent-up tension that explodes to the end. And that’s what Valieva did.
Valieva started off with a quad Salchow with both hands above her head. Landed with a swish. Bonus marks of 3.33.
Then – gasp – a rare mistake, stepping out of a triple Axel, child’s play for her, usually.
Then a quad toe loop – triple toe loop, arms above the head on both, bonus 3.12.
Eventually came a third quad, a quad toe loop series ending in a triple Salchow. Bonus 2.99., with a total score of 18.72 for that one element alone. (Tuktamysheva’s biggest scoring element was that triple Axel – double toe loop, with a bonus of 1.60 and mark of 10.90.)
It isn’t just her jumping powers that land Valieva at the top of the ladder. She got level fours on all of her elements, as if she’d been doing them all her life, even her footwork sequence, hard to get. She handles everything. What weaknesses does she have?
She got a standing ovation. The little Skate Canada audience may have witnessed a future Olympic champion being born, although she did win Finlandia with record scores of 174.31 for the free and 249.24 total.
In other words, in three weeks, she increased her total score by 15.84 points.
Her take on the day? “I’m happy that I almost did my job,” Valieva said. “I made some small errors, but they were small.”
There is always room to grow, Valieva said. The triple Axel could have been better. Other jumps could have been better, she said. Three quads and a triple Axel are enough for this season. She said she plans no more big tricks. “I will try to skate the content that I have.”
Was she excited about the scores? She admitted she was, really, but executing what she planned is most important. “I will try to do even better than that and to do my job. The scores? The judges will decide.”
She’s only 15.
Alena Kostornia, all the rage a few years ago, when she was setting all the records, took the bronze medal with 214.54 points, more than 50 points behind Valieva. Kostornaia still holds the world record for the short program at 85.45 points from two years ago at the Grand Prix Final. But Valieva’s score at Skate Canada is only 1.26 points behind that. Valieva is breathing down her neck on that one, but women are not allowed to do quads in the short program.
Kostornaia changed both of her programs just before Skate Canada. Her coaches had already announced to her that they would change the free skate and dump Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons, Winter,” which had been her short program the previous year. She said: “Well, why not?” She thinks she feels the program (“Lovely” by Billie Eilish) better than her old one.
But the short program change was more unexpected. She was working on exhibition routines, one that she wanted to be in English for Canada, the other in French for her Grand Prix in France. But when the coaches came up with “New York, New York,” they all liked it so much, they made it her new short program. “I think right away, it was suiting me better than any previous program,” she said.
So she has some catching up to do.
Kostornia, with mistakes (she stepped out of her triple Axel, too), actually finished fourth in the free skate behind the whisp-like Mia Mihara, skating appropriately enough to “Fairy of the Forest.”
Mihara could not be stopped. She landed a triple Lutz – triple toe loop with such enormous speed, all of her fairy friends would have been left in the dust. She didn’t put a foot wrong. Mihara skated in the first group and when she finished, she had 20 more points than the rest: 142.12. She had been only seventh in the short program. That moved her up to fourth overall with a final score of 210.01.
Alysa Liu, the U.S. hope to go toe to toe with the Russians, finished fourth in the short program and seventh in the free, in which she fell on her triple Axel. She finished with 206.53. At the moment, she’s about 55 points behind Valieva.
Although Rika Kihira withdrew from Skate Canada, there were plenty of other talented Japanese women at the event. Wakaba Higuchi, once a world silver medalist, delighted with her short program, in which she finished fifth, and then again in her free to “The Lion King,” She landed a triple Axel, but made a cascade of little mistakes to finish fifth in the free and sixth overall. She wore a colour that looked like burnt sun.
Mana Kawabe wore a long face after a nightmare short program, finishing last of 12, but she redeemed herself in the long with a rousing free skate, and a triple Axel. (with a tiny cheat.) She got a standing ovation for her grit, and finished sixth in the free, ninth overall.
Canada’s top skater Madeline Schizas finished eighth overall after being ninth in both the short and long. She landed a triple Lutz – double toe loop, but stepped out of a triple flip, and flew through the rest. She finished four-hundredths of a point ahead of Kawabe overall. Somebody gave her a Canadian flag in the kiss and cry.
The 2020 Canadian champion Emily Bausback finished 11th, while Alison Schumacher, dealing with nerves, finished 12th.