Sports

Young figure skater Shcherbakova wins gold at senior event

2019 Skate America was the first event in the 2019-20 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating. This was a competition in which athletes who performed well could earn points towards qualifying for the 2019-20 Grand Prix Final. Held in Las Vegas, Skate America saw seasoned competitors and first-timers alike vying for podium positions.

15-year-old Anna Shcherbakova, the Russian champion and Junior World silver medalist, was competing in her first senior-level Grand Prix event. Though she was among the youngest athletes in the competition, she had won gold at her senior debut at the Lombardia Trophy, and expectations ran high.

In the short program, Shcherbakova performed a double Axel, a triple flip, and a triple Lutz-triple loop combination for her jumps. However, under-rotation on the loop and a 1.00 point deduction for a fall, along with several mistakes on the step sequence meant that she received a total of 67.60 points. This placed her in fourth place, 7.5 points behind the leader, Bradie Tennell of the USA.

Shcherbakova’s free skate started spectacularly, beginning with a performance of her most difficult element: a quadruple Lutz-triple toe loop combination that seemed to have her levitating off the ice effortlessly. Landing beautifully, Shcherbakova quickly followed that up with a historic second quad Lutz that she landed just as cleanly. She then went on to perform 2 well-executed double Axels and a sequence of spins ending with a remarkable costume change, signaling the start of the second half of her routine with an accompanying shift in music.

A triple Lutz-triple loop combination was Shcherbakova’s first second-half element. Although the Lutz was done well, the loop was under-rotated. Another combination, a triple flip-Euler-triple Salchow, saw points withheld for under-rotation on the Salchow as well. Her last jump, a triple Lutz with both hands overhead, was wonderfully executed and given full points. Shcherbakova ended her routine with another set of spins, a well-choreographed step sequence, and a third set of spins, the sum of which brought her technical score up to 92.20 — nearly 20 points higher than the leading competitor.

With a program component score of 67.96, Shcherbakova received a phenomenal final free skate score of 160.16 — a score almost 10 points over her previous personal best and the second-highest ladies’ free skate score in history. She shot up to first place with a combined total of 227.76 points.

Bradie Tennell, who had led with a 75.10 personal best in the short program, put up a formidable performance, but her free skate score of 141.04 was far below Shcherbakova’s, and Tennell’s combined total of 216.14 saw her take the silver medal.

With her phenomenal performance, Shcherbakova took the gold medal in incredible style, becoming not only the first woman in the senior competition to land two quadruple Lutzes in international competition, but also the first lady to land a quad Lutz-triple combination in international competition. She also set new records for the highest valued single jump and highest valued jump combination, having earned 14.79 points for her quad Lutz and 18.66 points for her quad Lutz-triple toe combination.

Shcherbakova’s history-making quadruple Lutzes exemplifies the accelerating evolution of the sport. Scarcely two decades ago, the idea of a woman landing any quadruple jump in a competition of this scale seemed preposterous. The idea of anyone landing a quad Lutz, in fact, seemed incredible just a decade ago. Now with Shcherbakova landing two quad Lutzes a mere year after her countrywoman Alexandra Trusova landed the first ratified quadruple Lutz in competition, it is evident that figure skating is progressing rapidly towards new heights.

It seems that Shcherbakova is definitely a competitor to watch going forward, and if she continues to perform as well as she did at the ISU’s 2019 Skate America, more stunning, record-setting skates are sure to follow.