Elizaveta Tuktamisheva may only be 14, but she's already turning heads.
The Russian teenager earned 59.57 points for her short program Friday to take a big lead in women's singles at Skate Canada International.
She's so good that Alexei Mishin, the veteran Russian coach helping to guide Tuktamisheva, calls her “the main hope for the gold medal at the Sochi Olympics” in 2014.
Tuktamisheva won't meet the International Skating Union age requirement to compete in a senior world figure skating championship until 2013.
But she certainly appears ready to take full advantage of the green light the ISU gave her to enter senior Grand Prix meets this season.
Tuktamisheva, the 2011 world junior silver medallist, was the only skater to cleanly land a triple-triple combo. The five-foot-one skater needs to improve her spins, but she clearly has huge potential.
Americans Ashley Wagner and Rachael Flatt were second (54.50) and third (54.23), respectively. Both landed triple-double combos.
“I was very satisfied with that program,” said Wagner, 20, who was sixth at the 2011 U.S. nationals. “It was solid.
“I stood up on everything, which was my main goal. I would have preferred that the Lutz had not been such a death-defying act on the ice but I stood up and that's really all that counts in the long run. I think it's a great start to my Grand Prix season and, hopefully, it's only up from here.”
The 19-year-old Flatt, a silver medallist at her nationals last winter, was 12th at the world championships.
“I haven't started out this well at a Grand Prix in a while,” she said. “I'm very pleased.”
Amelie Lacoste of Delson, Que., was sixth (50.60), Canadian champion Cynthia Phaneuf of Brossard, Que., was eighth (48.70) and Adriana Desanctis of Barrie, Ont., was ninth (47.14) among 10 skaters.
Lacoste, 22, the 2011 Canadian bronze medallist was 16th at the world championships. She fell on a triple Lutz and reduced a scheduled triple-triple to triple-double.
“I rushed the triple Lutz,” said Lacoste. “That's why I missed it. I lost a level in my layback and I couldn't get my speed back to get it to a level three. But it's a start and I'm looking forward to the long program (Saturday).”
She hopes to turn bronze to gold at the 2012 nationals, and Phaneuf will have to skate much better than she did Friday to stand a chance of holding off Lacoste. Phaneuf, 23, who was fifth in 2010 then 13th at the 2011 world championships, singled on her planned triple Lutz and there was a lack of oomph in her performance.
“Losing points here and there makes a big difference at the end,” said Phaneuf. “I'm very disappointed with the Lutz. But I did the rest of the jumps and I'm looking forward to (Saturday).”
Leonova, 20, the 2009 world junior champion and fourth at the senior level last spring, showed more polish than most, but she made too many mistakes to avoid slipping to seventh. She stumbled out of her triple-triple combo and singled a planned double Axel.
Leonova came into the meet as the favourite and will have to be much better in the free skating to step onto the podium.
In pairs, world silver medallists and Russian champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov earned 70.42 points to outdistance their closest rivals in the short program.
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, the 2011 Canadian silver medallists, scored 62.37 and were elated to be second. They were seventh at 2011 world championships.
Duhamel of Lively, Ont., teamed up with Toronto's Radford after previous partner Craig Buntin retired in 2010.
“That was our first clean short program as a pairs team and, regardless of the levels and the points, that was our goal so mission accomplished,” said Duhamel.
“It's an amazing way to start off the season,” added Radford.
Paige Lawrence of Kennedy, Sask., and Rudi Swiegers of Virden, Man., were seventh among eight pairs with 50.11.
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