Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski discuss collisions in figure skating

Yuzuru Hanyu, Han Yan
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Two-time Olympian Johnny Weir used to collide “all the time” with other figure skaters in practice for junior competitions. The 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski remembered a competitor’s skate scraping her thigh during a warm-up session.

What happened at the Cup of China on Saturday shocked both NBC Sports figure skating analysts not so much because two skaters ran into each other, but because of the severity of the collision.

Olympic and World champion Yuzuru Hanyu warmed up for his free skate at the Grand Prix series event, a six-minute session where all skaters in the group (usually five or six) set to perform prepare on the ice at the same time.

Hanyu skated with his back to the majority of the ice when he turned and saw Chinese skater Han Yan in his path. Hanyu had little time to react, barely pulling his arms up to brace for impact (video here).

Hanyu and Han fell to the ice and grabbed their faces. Han managed to stand up and get off the ice. Hanyu lay on the ice for a minute, blood streaming down his chin and neck, before two people in medical outfits reached him.

“It’s very traumatic,” Weir said in a phone interview Tuesday. “My initial response was just of shock that this happened. And worrying about the boys.”

They both appeared to receive medical attention once they got off the ice. Han while laying on the floor next to the boards; Hanyu while sitting down farther away.

Neither withdrew from the competition, which caused scrutiny given heads collided. Hanyu was reportedly cleared by a doctor to compete, with his coach, two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, saying the skater showed no physical signs of a concussion.

Orser said Hanyu was determined to compete, though the coach cautioned the 19-year-old, “This is not the time to be a hero. You have to take care of yourself,” according to The Associated Press.

“If there was any head trauma or anything that he was at risk for in that area, he definitely shouldn’t have skated,” Lipinski said. “But if they gave him the go-ahead, I give him so much credit. I would consider myself back in the day a tough competitor, but I don’t think I could have done that. I would have been so frazzled and dealing with the physical symptoms.”

Han performed his free skate 45 minutes after the collision, falling on a quadruple jump attempt and erring on several other jumps. Hanyu performed shortly after that and fell five times, while wearing a head wrap. Hanyu needed to be held up by Orser when he got off the ice following his program.

“You’ve got to keep breathing, OK?” Orser told him. “Hang onto the boards.”

“I know that tomorrow he’s going to feel like he was hit by a car,” Orser said later, according to The Associated Press.

source: Getty Images
Yuzuru Hanyu returned from Cup of China in a wheelchair one day after his collision.

Hanyu, who needed jaw stitches and head staples, was wheeled through a Japanese airport the following day. On Monday, Japan’s figure skating federation said he would be out two to three weeks.

Han told Weir after the competition that he was feeling much better.

Collisions in figure skating are common in practice and warm-ups, with skaters twisting and jumping at high speeds in proximity.

Perhaps the most famous came in practice at the Lillehammer Olympics, when Ukraine’s Oksana Baiul and Germany’s Tanja Szewczenko hit each other while preparing for jumps (video here) before the women’s free skate. Baiul suffered a cut on her right shin that required three stitches. Szewczenko suffered a bruised right hip and abdomen, according to The New York Times.

There was immediate concern Baiul might not be able to compete. Both skaters managed to, with Baiul surpassing Nancy Kerrigan for gold. Szewczenko finished sixth.

Weir said collisions were frequent at his home rink as he grew into an international-caliber skater and shared ice time with less experienced athletes.

There is a right-of-way system when skaters are on the ice at the same time for practice, dictated by which skater’s music is playing or which skater is preparing for a bigger competition.

But neither of those deciders can be used in six-minute group warm-ups for international events such as Cup of China. The skaters are the fastest and strongest in the world, too.

“Everyone is so driven and so focused and in their own little zone,” Lipinski said. “[When you collide] you’re shaken up emotionally and taken out of your normal schedule and normal zone.

“For all that to go out the window so suddenly, to get that back on track is nearly impossible.”

Weir said group warm-ups are like “six bulls on the ice all fighting and jostling for space” and likened navigating the rink to driving through traffic.

“You misread somebody, or they misread you or you cut a turn too tight,” he said. “Skaters are skin and bones. You hit another person with skin and bones, and it’s all bones going into you.”

Weir said he would like to see the International Skating Union increase warm-up time from six minutes to 10 minutes, but not necessarily to split the six skaters into groups of three for five minutes each. Rather, he emphasized that six minutes is a short period for a skater to warm-up an arsenal of program elements.

A brief history of figure skating collisions:

In 1994, U.S. ice dancer Renee Roca broke a wrist after skating backward into another couple at U.S. Championships practice, one month before the Lillehammer Olympics. Roca and her partner, the defending U.S. champions, withdrew from the competition. They weren’t eligible for the Olympics because Roca’s partner hadn’t secured citizenship fast enough after defecting from the Soviet Union.

In 2011, U.S. ice dancers Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Gjulietti-Schmitt and Japan’s Cathy and Chris Reed crashed in warm-up at the NHK Trophy Grand Prix series event in Japan (video here). They did not withdraw. Earlier that morning, two other ice dance couples collided in a practice, with one couple withdrawing due to the female skater suffering a cut to her thigh.

In 2012, Russian pairs Yuko Kavaguti and Aleksander Smirnov and Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov collided in training at the World Championships but reportedly did not require medical attention.

In singles figure skating, collisions are less common but still prevalent. There was Baiul in 1994, but also these accidents:

Jill Trenary sliced her calf  and severed an artery in a warm-up collision as a junior skater in 1985. She recovered from that to win the World Championship five years later.

In 1991, Japan’s Midori Ito was reportedly in tears after colliding with a French skater in a short program warm-up (video here). She missed minutes of warm-up time and, in her short program, actually fell out of the rink entirely (video here). Ito ultimately finished fourth. Kristi Yamaguchi won gold. A year later, Ito won Olympic silver behind Yamaguchi.

In 2010, American Adam Rippon and Canada’s Patrick Chan collided in a Skate Canada practice (video here). Rippon had “a red welt the size of a quarter on his cheek,” according to The Associated Press. Chan went on to win the competition. Rippon was third.

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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