Five takeaways from World Figure Skating Championships

Ashley Wagner, Evgenia Medvedeva, Anna Pogorilaya
AP
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1. U.S.’ most medals in 10 years

The U.S. earned three medals in Boston, including the most vital one in the women’s competition. It’s the nation’s best output since 2006, though it lacked the gold-medal performance of the last Worlds in the U.S. in 2009 (Evan Lysacek).

The U.S. women will go into the 2017-18 season with their best international standing in a decade.

Ashley Wagner is now a World silver medalist in addition to a three-time Grand Prix Final medalist.

Yes, Gracie Gold dropped from her short-program lead to finish fourth, but she leaves Boston the most consistent elite woman in the world the last three years.

That’s not to mention Polina Edmunds, who is younger than Wagner and Gold yet finished between them at the U.S. Championships before pulling out of Worlds with an injury.

The U.S. men all scored personal-best free skates in Boston, but Adam RipponMax Aaron and Grant Hochstein couldn’t quite meet the goal of keeping three spots for the 2017 Worlds.

Remember, the U.S. was the only nation that had three men’s skaters at Worlds, and they all placed in the top 10. Not bad at all.

The competition for two Worlds spots at the 2017 U.S. Championships should be compelling with the returns from injury of 2015 U.S. champion Jason Brown and 2016 U.S. bronze medalist Nathan Chen and perhaps two-time Olympian Jeremy Abbott.

The U.S. is the world’s best in ice dance. It earned two medals and put three couples in the top six for the first time since 1955. If Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White return for another Olympic run, they will be in for the toughest domestic competition of their career.

Pairs remains the weakest discipline. Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim‘s wheels fell off after they became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final since 2007. They were last at the Grand Prix Final in December, then upset for the U.S. title in January and ninth in Boston, with a disastrous 12th-place free skate.

MORE: Gracie Gold gives emotional interview after Worlds

2. Staggering scores

In all four disciplines, World Championships points records were broken in either the short or long programs, or both.

The current scoring system was implemented a little over a decade ago, and scores have been generally rising in recent years, but the performance level in Boston was still staggering.

World records also fell in the women’s free skate (Yevgenia Medvedeva breaking Yuna Kim‘s 2010 Olympic mark) and free dance (Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron breaking Meryl Davis and Charlie White‘s 2014 Olympic mark).

Perhaps the craziest set of numbers came in the women’s free skate. The top seven scored at least 130 points and finished with more than 200. Before this year, the most to break either of those barriers at a single Worlds was three.

MORE: Charlie White blown away by French ice dance champs

3. Yuzuru Hanyu in perspective

When Hanyu is at his best, he is the greatest skater of all time. He showed that at NHK Trophy in November, the Grand Prix Final in December and in the short program on Wednesday.

But he is also susceptible to errors, especially with such difficult programs, evident in the free skate Friday.

Before Hanyu began his record-breaking binge in November, he had actually lost four of his last five top-level international competitions. That was overlooked in anointing him the biggest favorite of all disciplines heading into Boston, because Hanyu was so great at his two most recent international events.

Now Hanyu goes into the season before the Olympics facing more great men’s skaters than he’s ever seen. Not only the man who beat him again, Javier Fernandez, but also three-time World champ Patrick Chan and rising teens Jin Boyang and Shoma Uno.

More records from Hanyu won’t be a surprise, but defeats shouldn’t be shocking, either.

MORE: Hanyu: I want to redo free skate

4. The Russian factory

Here’s another stat: Of the 12 women’s medals awarded at the 2014 Olympics and 2014, 2015 and 2016 Worlds, half have been earned by six different Russians.

Yevgenia Medvedeva and Anna Pogorilaya were the latest to ascend Saturday night, following Adelina Sotnikova at the Olympics, Yulia Lipnitskaya at the 2014 Worlds and Elizaveta Tukstamysheva and Yelena Radionova at the 2015 Worlds.

That speaks to Russia’s utter dominance but also its incredible turnover at the top.

Sotnikova, Lipnitskaya and Tuktamysheva were sixth, seventh and eighth at the Russian Championships in December. They were followed in ninth by Alena Leonova, who sparked the Russian renaissance with silver at the 2012 Worlds, the nation’s first women’s medal since the 2006 Olympics.

Medvedeva must fight on two fronts to stay at the top, internationally against the Americans and Japanese but also domestically against those champions.

And more Russian talent is on the way. Polina Tsurskaya and Maria Sotskova, 14 and 15, went one-two at the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, then finished four-five in the senior division at the Russian Championships two weeks later.

MORE: Medvedeva describes World title with one English word

5. Comebacks fell short

Past World champions Patrick ChanMao Asada and the Russian pairs team of Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov all struggled in their first global championship in two years.

Chan, a three-time World champion in 2011, 2012 and 2013, was a respectable third in the short program but stumbled into the TD Garden boards in his eighth-place free skate. He finished fifth, his worst at Worlds since his debut as a 17-year-old in 2008.

Asada, also a three-time World champion, couldn’t keep up with women several years her junior in the short program or free skate. The 25-year-old was ninth and seventh, finishing seventh. That marked her worst result in 11 Olympic or Worlds appearances.

Even more surprising was the Russian pairs team of Volosozhar and Trankov, who unlike Chan and Asada were unbeatable this season coming into Worlds. However, they erred on their twist, side-by-side jumps and a throw across their two programs.

Volosozhar and Trankov had never finished worse than second in 18 top-level international competitions going into Worlds. They placed sixth in Boston.

MORE: Mao Asada looks ahead after rough Worlds

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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