Arguing about Kovtun vs Menshov 2013, while we should be wondering about Pluschenko 2014 for sport-express.ru
The Russian Figure Skating Federation announced the European Team on Thursday: the men team remains with no changes: Russia will be represented by the Olympic Champion Evgeni Pluschenko, Sergey Voronov and the 17 y.o. Maksim Kovtun.
Let me remind you: in the end of December right after the Russian nationals were over the Federation released the list of the European participants and the internet exploded with the support campaign for Konstantin Menshov. Despite becoming 3rd in the Nationals in Sochi beaten by Pluschenko and Voronov only Menshov was not included in the team and was replaced by the young and promising Kovtun.
The athletes protest against the decision that seemed so unfair went as far as Russian sports minister Vitalii Mutko, who demanded RFSF reconsider the team.
The situation is unique: it happened before there were disagreement about the team it never went as far as it did this time nor was so loud. Most of the comments could be summed up: `We are not for Menshov or against Kovtun. We are for following the rules'
Ironically, but the federation actually followed the rules naming the team. According to the rules the national champion and the silver medalist make it to the team, while the third participant is decided by the federation. Menshov lost 25.18 points to Voronov and beat Gachinski and Kovtun by 1.42 and 3.86 points. Taking Menshov's age (he will be 30 in a month or so) and the tradition sending a young and promising skater it is hardly surprising the federation preferred the younger skater, rather than a not so consistent veteran.
To understand the federation's decision one just have to look one year forward and recall that in Sochi 2014 there will be a new medal - for the team event. Russia can send just one participant to Worlds 2013 who must bring 2 tickets to the Olympics back home. According to the ISU rules the country gets 3 spots if the athlete becomes first or second in the Worlds, two spots if he is 3rd till 10th and just one participant should the athlete finish outside the top 10. Taking Pluschenko does not plan participating the worlds the odds there will only be one Russian skater in the Olympics are high. Should that only participant be Pluschenko no one can guarantee he will be able to skate 4 clean programmes. And he would have to give his best in the team competition - Russia's odds to win it are high. Much higher than, say, in men skating.
I reckon that's the main reason which made the RFSF to come come to make the decision they did.
The fact the athlete who gained the most from that decision is the 17 y.o. student of Tatiana Tarasova and Elena Buyanova is not the backstage intrigues, but a coincident. Only two skaters could be considered as Menshov's replacement: Gachinski and Kovtun. Gachinski's coach Mishin was against including his student in the team - Gachinski is far from his best shape and will not be able to compete the way he should in the Europeans.
Kovtun on the other hand is a promising dark horse. He won both of his Junior Grand Prix events, showing decent skating, performed two new (senior) programmes in the nationals. Indeed his LP was not brilliant, he only landed one quad out of two, but that is understandable: he had just 2 week to make changes in his programmes for a senior competition. No one can promise Kovtun will be able to provide in the Europeans. But there is no better way to find out.
Three people voted against Kovtun being included in the team: Mishin, Nikolai Morozov and Viktor Kudriavtsev. It's easy to understand their motives: should Kovtun skate well in the europeans he will become a serious threat for Gachinski, who is coached by Mishin and Voronov, who is coached by Morozov, leaving the fact Morozov kicked Kovtun from his group saying he showed no promise. As for Kudriavtsev- he always considered competing in the senior competitions at a young age a wrong thing. That was the reason Ilia Kulik left Kudriavtsevs group at the age of 17 and went to the seniors Europeans in 1995, which he won, instead of the Junior Worlds.
It's useless comparing the skaters themselves in this situations. The RFSF made a decision according to a certain strategy, which they couldn't avoid living in a country where the sports is part of the country's politics. Especially when it's about the home Olympics. I'm quite sure those who are shouting about the rules don't think about the double standards: such as letting certain skaters not participate the nationals - for example the European silver medalists Bazarova/Larionov. It happened before the leaders were allowed to skip the nationals if there was a good reason and usually it was justified. As well as allowing the federation decide on the 3rd team member.
This is the reason there is no right or wrong answer who should had been included in the team. The one who pays gets to say the word. Only the federations with a huge number of good substitutes can afford sending the 3 national bests (such as USA) or the countries where the athletes pay for everything themselves.
It should be mentioned Menshov's not participating the Europeans does not mean the end of the season for him. The RFSF president Alexey Gorshkov mentioned the final choice for the worlds will be made after the Europeans where Voronov and Kovtun will have a chance and the Russian Cup finals in Tver on 18-21/2, where Menshov and Gachinski will participate. All four athletes are put in a position where they have to prove being the best. The only skater who could go to the worlds with no preliminary is Pluschenko, but that's a different matter.
Among the numerous comments on the situation the question why can't the RFSF make Pluschenko go to the worlds was raised. After all Evgeny is the current champion whose training are payed by the federation and he has to represent the county if needed. I personally don't have an answer, though this question would make much more sense than the one that everyone keep asking.
The disadvantages for Pluschenko personally in participating the Worlds 2013 are obvious: becoming the European champion he automatically gains all the benefits for the next season; while participating the Worlds is a bit of a danger: he has a chance to loose, which is not part of the Olympic champion's plan; and, at last, Pluschenko will participate the Olympics 2014 even if he is the only Russian participant.
On the other hand: why not? He is capable to finish top 3. Should he become first or second Russia will gain 3 spots in the Olympics and Pluschenko will be considered the savior of the motherland, which will not shine any less if he doesn't win a medal at the Olympics.
Pluschenko himself is so used to surprise and go against all odds, that should he decide to give the men skating a fight in March that will become the main issue of the season.