Barcelona: Russia are poised for an unprecedented women`s sweep at the ISU Grand Prix figure skating final after Elizaveta Tuktamysheva lead the short programme ahead of countrywomen Julia Lipnitskaya and Elena Radionova in Barcelona.
No country has ever swept the women`s final, although the Russian men achieved the feat in St Petersburg in 1998 in a team that included three former Olympic champions -- Alexei Yagudin, Alexei Urmanov and Yevgeny Plushenko.
"We have had great competition in our country for a very long time. This spurs on progress and makes figure skating stronger and stronger," said 17-year-old Tuktamysheva ahead of Saturday`s free skating final.
Russia have reemerged as a skating power in the women`s field after a lull following the retirement of Irina Slutskaya in 2006, but have come back strong with Adelina Sotnikova winning the Olympic gold.
"At that time (2006) I`d just moved to work with Alexei Nikolaevich (Mishin) and started work on triples," explained Tuktamysheva.
"He decided to send me to the Russian Nationals and I was the only girl doing all the triple jumps so everyone was talking about it.
"The next year it was me and Adelina Sotnikova doing the same, and at 12 years old we were in first and second place.
"That made ladies` skating better and pushed it to the next level. After that all the girls were starting to do triple-triples to catch up."
Tuktamysheva scored 67.52 points for her skate to Ravel`s `Bolero` in Barcelona`s International Conventions Centre on Thursday night which included a triple toe-triple toe combination, to lead world silver medallist Lipnitskaya (66.24), and two-time world junior champion Radionova (63.89) who fell on a triple loop. "We`ve got lots of Russians in all disciplines; dance and pairs too. It`s not just ladies," explained 16-year-old Lipnitskaya, a team Olympic gold medallist with Russia in Sochi.
"It`s only the boys lagging behind. Hopefully they will catch up soon," she giggled, as 15-year-old Radionova added: "Not everything goes ideally. Life is full of ups and downs and if we can call it a fall in Russian ladies` skating then it was only the beginning of a rise later."
Russia`s Anna Pogorilaya, 16, placed fourth (61.34) ahead of Japan`s 18-year-old Rika Hongo (61.10) with 23-year-old American Ashley Wagner in the sixth and final spot (60.24) after stepping out of her opening triple-triple combination.
"During the warm-up I was very nervous and worried if I could skate well today," said Hongo, who got her place in her first Grand Prix final after Gracie Gold withdrew injured.
"Skating with the top skaters makes me feel good, so this led to a personal best. And I was helped by the support and applause of the Japanese fans," she said.
Wagner added: "These younger girls are so strong technically and I`ve got them on the second mark but I`ve got to have the triple-triple to get to them."
Russia, who have not been on the men`s podium in a decade, have two competitors -- Maxim Kovtum and Sergei Voronov -- in the men`s competition which gets underway on Friday evening with Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan bidding to defend his title in a field that also includes Spanish hope Javier Fernandez, and Japan`s Tatsuki Machida and Takahito Mura.
The ice dance competition also gets underway.