Anna Shcherbakova leads figure skating worlds; Karen Chen in medal contention


Russian national champion Anna Shcherbakova didn’t have a triple Axel, but she didn’t need one to take the lead at the world figure skating championships in Stockholm on Wednesday.

Shcherbakova skated clean, highlighted by a triple Lutz-triple loop combination, and tallied 81 points. She outscored two women who landed triple Axels — Japanese Rika Kihira (79.08) and Russian Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva (78.86).

Americans Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell are in fourth and seventh, respectively. Chen has a chance to become the second U.S. female singles skater to earn an Olympic or world medal in the last 15 years (Ashley Wagner, 2016 silver).

Chen and Tennell’s results after Friday’s free skate must add up to no more than 13 (sixth and seventh place, for example) for the U.S. to earn the maximum three women’s singles spots at the 2022 Olympics.

Another ballyhooed Russian, 16-year-old Aleksandra Trusova, is 12th after struggling on her trademark — jumps — including failing to do a combination.

Worlds continue later Wednesday with the pairs’ short program.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | TV, Stream Schedule

Shcherbakova, a knitter who turns 17 on Sunday, looks to extend a reign. A Russian woman won skating’s biggest title every season dating to 2014.

“I miss full stands of people supporting you before the start and during the performance,” Shcherbakova said, according to the International Skating Union. “Maybe on this reason I was very nervous, but I understand why the restrictions are needed.”

Shcherbakova won the last three national titles and was among a trio to take the skating world by storm in the abbreviated 2019-20 season, combining to sweep the eight biggest international titles before the 2020 World Championships were canceled. Shcherbakova made headlines that autumn by winning after changing her costume mid-skate, then overcame pneumonia last autumn to continued success.

Shcherbakova, who is coached by Eteri Tutberidze, who guided 2018 Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, was pegged as the second- or third-best Russian last season. Aliona Kostornaya was the favorite, but, after contracting the coronavirus, did not make this season’s world team.

Trusova has a jumping arsenal — up to a handful of quadruple jumps, which are allowed in the free skate but not the short program — to outscore Shcherbakova. But her deficit — 16.18 points — may be too large to make up in the free skate.

Chen, a 2018 U.S. Olympian, is in fourth after a personal-best short that included a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. She scored 74.40 points skating to “Rise” by Katy Perry.

“That was the best I’ve ever seen Karen Chen skate,” NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir said of Chen, who was third at January’s U.S. Championships but chosen for the world team over silver medalist Amber Glenn due to her recent body of work.

Chen, then 17, finished a surprising fourth at the 2017 Worlds to earn the U.S. three women’s spots at the 2018 Olympics, where she was 11th. Chen took the next season off after a stress fracture in her right foot and spent the 2019-20 campaign balancing skating with a pre-med track at Cornell. Now, she’s on a break from classes to focus on skating.

“[Cornell] also made me realize how much I love skating. I’m addicted to skating,” Chen said. “I know that as I get older, it’s definitely going to be more challenging. Now is the time to really pursue my skating goals.”

U.S. champion Tennell, the top American at the most recent Olympics and worlds, skated clean save doubling the back end of her planned triple-triple combination.

“I’m pretty disappointed,” Tennell said. “I’ve been skating clean programs every day since nationals [in January].”

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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson

Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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