GLOBETROTTING by Phil Hersh: In Russian Figure Skating Federation’s no-win game to pick worlds team, Tuktamysheva the loser

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (center) won 2018 Skate Canada, with compatriot Evgenia Medvedeva (right) third and Mako Yamashita (left) of Japan second. (Photo: ISU)

The Russian Figure Skating Federation’s selection Wednesday of its women’s team for next month’s World Championships was sure to cause controversy, given four strong candidates for three places.

And it did, as Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was left off the team in favor of Alina Zagitova, Sofia Samodurova and Evgenia Medvedeva.

The controversy was centered on the pick of Medvedeva over Tuktamysheva.  The federation said on its web site that a vote of its 27-member coaching council had 19 votes for Medvedeva, 7 for Tuktamysheva and 1 abstention.

No selection criteria were given.  It is believed the result of last week’s Russian Cup Final, in which Medvedeva beat Tuktamysheva for first place by fewer than two points, was a significant factor.

Complicating the process were:

• The top three finishers at this season’s Russian Championships are all below the minimum age for senior international events.

• The top age-eligible finisher at nationals, fourth-place Stanislava Konstantinova, was a distant fourth at the Russian Cup Final and 19th at last year’s worlds.

• Samodurova, a first-year senior internationally, all but clinched her world spot by upsetting reigning Olympic champion Zagitova for the 2019 European title.

• Zagitova’s finishes all this season have been better than her skating, with the exception of nationals, where both were bad: after winning the short program, she was a dismal 12th in the free skate (two falls) and fifth overall.

• Tuktamysheva’s impressive season of return to medal podiums was compromised when she contracted pneumonia after winning a bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final, sidelining her from the nationals and keeping her from being selected (had she become healthy) for January’s European Championships.

• After leaving Russia last spring to train in Canada with Brian Orser, two-time world champion and reigning Olympic silver medalist Medvedeva has won mainly the affection of Russian fans.  She did not qualify for the Grand Prix Final and was seventh at nationals.

But Medvedeva was behind only the three juniors in the nationals free skate, and her much improved performances at the Russian Cup Final undoubtedly impressed voters in a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” manner.

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To give figure skating fans something to chew on, I have created a results chart using the world team selection criteria employed by U.S. Figure Skating, which ranks events in tiers.

Let me be clear, though: the USFS criteria have no bearing on Russia, nor am I suggesting they be used by Russia, even though a Russian source told me today that its selection criteria are generally similar to those of USFS.

And the USFS criteria still are too opaque to avoid controversy, as has been evident in selection of U.S. singles skaters for the last two Olympics.

The biggest problem is the events listed in each tier of the USFS designated criteria are not weighted relative to one another, nor is each tier given a weight relative to the others.  Last year, USFS officials cited head-to-head results, which were not listed in the criteria, as a factor when 2018 nationals silver medalist Ross Miner was left off the 2018 Olympic team.

So this chart is not meant to be conclusive in any way but rather to provide some numbers for discussion.

My feelings:

• There is little doubt Zagitova and Samodurova should be on the world team, based on their body of results relative to the others from this season’s Russian nationals, Europeans, Grand Prix Final and Grand Prix events.  That their positions were strong was emphasized by neither having to compete at the Russian Cup Final.

• Tuktamysheva’s absence from nationals means the major factors in arguing for her – and they are significant – are results from last fall’s Grand Prix events and final.  She beat Medvedeva at Skate Canada, their only head-to-head meeting until last week’s Russian Cup Final.

But Tuktamysheva’s poor results the previous three seasons may have been her undoing in the minds of some of those who voted.

Forget what role internal politics might have played.  The Russian Figure Skating Federation was in a no-win situation on this one, because neither woman made a slam dunk case for herself.

How would I have voted?  My inclination is toward Tuktamysheva.

The chart:

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