In sequel to 2017, Karen Chen reprises her worlds role with the same aplomb


Was this an episode of “The Twilight Zone”?

Or a spinoff using the plot of the movie, “Groundhog Day”?

And it may be said that those who fail to learn from history can be condemned to repeat it, but this was a case where Karen Chen’s redo came with as much to celebrate for U.S. figure skating as the original event at the 2017 World Championships in Helsinki.

This time, the historical record will show an even more unlikely path to the same outcome, which was having Chen’s free skate at the World Championships be the key to getting a third women’s singles spot for her country at the upcoming Olympics after a more decorated teammate had faltered.

You want more uncanny coincidence? Both took place in Nordic countries, first Finland, now Sweden.

And just as in 2017, Chen fought through mistakes on jumping passes late in her four-minute free program to come up with a good enough performance to succeed despite the pressure of a situation that, once again, she could not avoid being aware of.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | TV, Stream Schedule

Chen’s pleasantly surprising fourth place Friday at the World Championships in Stockholm, combined with Bradie Tennell’s disappointing ninth, added up to exactly the number, 13, that their finishes could not exceed for the U.S. to regain the third women’s spot they had lost in 2018.

This time, the process is not complete, however. A very confusingly written International Skating Union rule passed after the 2018 Olympics means the United States must confirm the third spot by having a skater compete at the Nebelhorn Trophy next fall, and it cannot use Chen or Tennell to do it. Mitch Moyer, high performance director for U.S. Figure Skating, said Saturday it was likely a top-nine finish at Nebelhorn would be necessary.

They cut it very close to land on 13. The difference between Chen and fifth-place finisher Loena Hendrickx of Belgium was just .00009 percent of their total scores, each a personal best: 208.63 for Chen and 208.44 for Hendrickx.

And, yes, fourth was the same place Chen finished in 2017, when the U.S. women had more breathing room because faltering rivals allowed Ashley Wagner to move up to seventh.

In a sport where the mantra is to focus only on yourself, Chen admitted in 2017 that seeing the standings before her free skate warmup had distracted her.

Fast-forward four years: she peeked again and saw that Tennell, who had skated in the previous group, stood lower than expected.

“I tried just to not look at anything, but before I got on the ice for my warmup I did happen to see what the placements looked like,” Chen said. “I felt myself tense up.

“I kind of gave myself a little pep talk and said, `Karen, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a distraction, but at the end of the day, you’re here to do your absolute best, and everything else is completely out of your control.’”

Chen, 21, said that during her first trip to the mixed zone after the free skate to speak with media (via Zoom). At that point, with Chen second and three skaters to go, all who began seven points or more ahead of her after the short program, it seemed the two U.S. finishes would total 14.

“It’s not finalized yet,” Chen said with a laugh, “but most likely it will just be two spots for us. Competing at worlds again [for the first time] since 2017 and being able to deliver two solid performances (both personal best scores) is a big win in my book.”

Thirty minutes later, after Rika Kihira of Japan stumbled repeatedly in her free skate and tumbled from second to seventh overall, Chen was back in the mixed zone to discuss the unforeseen reversal of fortune.

“I was in shock, for sure, because the situation wasn’t looking that great,” Chen said. “And really happy.”

ISU World Figure Skating Championships - Stockholm: Day Three

Chen, the 2017 U.S. champion, has had a very bumpy path the past three seasons, losing one to a foot injury, beginning the next in college at Cornell before taking a leave, dealing with the pandemic. She finished third at January’s U.S. Championships but earned the second world team spot in a selection procedure that weighs more than one season’s results.

“This season has been really different than any other season for me, where it was constantly good and bad, good and bad, good and bad,” Chen said. “This is the first season where I felt I kept building.”

Meanwhile, there also were medals awarded Friday, all three to Russians, making them the only country other than the United States in 1991 to sweep the women’s singles honors at worlds.

The free skates that got Anna Shcherbakova (233.17), Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva (220.46) and Aleksandra Trusova (217.20) onto the podium were hardly ones for the history books.

Shcherbakova, 16, became the fourth different Russian woman to win in the last six worlds despite trying just one of two expected quadruple jumps and falling on it. She also was dinged by the judges on a spin and a footwork sequence.

Tuktamysheva, the 2015 world champion and a grande dame at 24, fell once, got negative grades of execution on three jumping passes and struggled throughout the program.

Trusova, 16, like the winner a senior worlds rookie, had the chutzpah to attempt her five planned quadruple jumps despite (or maybe because of) a dismal 12th-place in Wednesday’s short program, which left her some 16 points behind leader Shcherbakova.

That Trusova fell on two quads (one also called under-rotated) and had a third downgraded became of little consequence. The base values of the jumps and some very generous component scores gave her enough points to win the free skate and snag the bronze medal when Kihira imploded (one fall, two downgrades), finishing ninth in the free.

(There is a one-point technical score deduction for a fall. That there is no mandatory component score penalty for a tumble is a discussion for another day.)

Hendrickx, 21, whose best previous finish at worlds was ninth, would have the skate of the day. She was the only one of the top seven overall with an errorless free skate, good enough for just fourth because it lacked the jump difficulty of those done by the three Russians.

Tennell, the reigning U.S. champion, was underwhelming in both the short program (seventh) and free skate (eighth). In the free, she had four jumps called under-rotated, leading to negative GOEs on three jumping passes.

“Everything felt very good,” Tennell insisted.

She cited issues with support in her right skating boot as a factor. Her coach, Tom Zakrajsek, said Tennell had brought another pair but they may have needed modifications on short notice.

“This entire competition did not go nearly according to plan,” Tennell said. “I am very disappointed in my skates, especially at such an important competition.”

In 2018, Chen wound up with the third Olympic spot she had saved a year earlier. If that becomes the case again, well…does anyone have an MP4 of the unforgettably eerie Twilight Zone theme?

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Olympic Winter Games, is a special contributor to

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Chloe Kim, Elana Meyers Taylor among Olympians to join presidential sports council

Elana Meyers Taylor, President Joe Biden

Chloe Kim and Elana Meyers Taylor are among the Olympic and Paralympic medalists set to join the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, & Nutrition.

President Joe Biden intends to appoint the snowboarder Kim, bobsledder Meyers Taylor, retired Olympic medalists Chaunté Lowe (track and field) and Tamika Catchings (basketball) and Paralympic medalist Melissa Stockwell (triathlon) to the council, among other athletes and people in the health and fitness fields, it was announced Friday.

Stephen and Ayesha Curry are also on the list.

The council “aims to promote healthy, accessible eating and physical activity for all Americans, regardless of background or ability.”

Last year, Biden appointed basketball gold medalist Elena Delle Donne a co-chair of the council.

Kim, the two-time reigning Olympic halfpipe champion, sat out this past season but is expected to return to competition for a third Olympic run in 2026.

Meyers Taylor, the most decorated U.S. Olympic bobsledder in history with medals in all five of her Olympic events, sat out this past season due to pregnancy. She took her first bobsled run in 13 months this past week in Lake Placid, New York.

There is a long history of Olympians and Paralympians serving on the council, which was created in 1956.

In 2017, Barack Obama appointed medalists including gymnast Gabby Douglas, soccer player Carli Lloyd and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

Others to previously be on the council include sprinter Allyson Felix, figure skater Michelle Kwan and swimmer and triathlete Brad Snyder.

Members serve for two years and can be reappointed.

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Kaori Sakamoto wins figure skating worlds; top American places fourth


Kaori Sakamoto overcame a late error in her free skate to become the first Japanese figure skater to win back-to-back world titles and the oldest women’s world champion since 2014.

Sakamoto, 22, totaled 224.61 points on home ice in Saitama to prevail by 3.67 over Lee Hae-In of South Korea in the closest women’s finish at worlds since 2011.

Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx took bronze, edging 16-year-old American Isabeau Levito for a medal by 2.77 points.

Sakamoto is the oldest women’s singles world champion since Mao Asada (2014), who is now the only Japanese skater with more world titles than Sakamoto.

She appeared en route to an easier victory until singling a planned triple flip late in her free skate, which put the gold in doubt. She can be thankful for pulling off the second jump of that planned combination — a triple toe loop — and her 5.62-point lead from Wednesday’s short program.

“I feel so pathetic and thought, what was all that hard work I put into my training?” Sakamoto said of her mistake, according to the International Skating Union (ISU). “But I was able to refocus and do my best till the end.

“Because I have this feeling of regret at the biggest event of the season, I want to make sure I don’t have this feeling next season. So I want to practice even harder, and I want to make sure to do clean, perfect performances at every competition.”

Lee, who had the top free skate, became the second South Korean to win a world medal in any discipline after six-time medalist Yuna Kim.

Hendrickx followed her silver from last year, when she became the first Belgian women’s singles skater to win a world medal.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Levito, last year’s world junior champion, had a chance to become the youngest senior world medalist since 2014.

After a solid short program, she fell on her opening triple Lutz in the free skate and left points on the table by performing two jump combinations rather than three. The Lutz was planned to be the first half of a combination with a triple loop.

“I am severely disappointed because I’ve been nailing my Lutz-loop for a really long time, and this is the first time I’ve messed it up in a while, and of course it had to be when it actually counted,” Levito said, according to the ISU. “But I’m pretty happy with myself for just trying to move past it and focusing on making the most out of the rest of the program.”

Levito entered worlds ranked fourth in the field by best score this season. She matched the best finish for a U.S. woman in her senior global championships debut (Olympics and worlds) since Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan took silver and bronze at the 1991 Worlds. Sasha Cohen, to whom Levito is often compared, also placed fourth in her Olympic and world debuts in 2002.

“I feel very proud for myself and grateful for my coaching team for helping me get this far so far in my skating career, and I’m just very proud to be where I am,” Levito said on USA Network.

American Amber Glenn was 12th in her world debut. Two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell was 15th. They had been 10th and eighth, respectively, in the short program.

The U.S. qualified two women’s spots for next year’s worlds rather than the maximum three because the top two Americans’ results added up to more than 13 (Levito’s fourth plus Glenn’s 12th equaled 16). The U.S. was in position to qualify three spots after the short program.

Glenn said after the short program that she had a very difficult two weeks before worlds, including “out-of-nowhere accidents and coincidences that could have prevented me from being here,” and boot problems that affected her triple Axel. She attempted a triple Axel in the free skate, spinning out of an under-rotated, two-footed landing.

Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022, had several jumping errors in the free skate.

“This season has been like one thing after another,” said the 25-year-old Tennell, who plans to compete through the 2026 Winter Games. “I’m really excited to get back and work on some stuff for the new season.”

Earlier, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates topped the rhythm dance, starting their bid for a first world title in their 12th season together and after three prior world silver or bronze medals.

“We skated as best we possibly could today,” Bates said, according to the ISU, after they tallied the world’s top score this season.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the lone U.S. ice dancers to win a world title, doing so in 2011 and 2013.

Worlds continue Friday night (U.S. time) with the free dance, followed Saturday morning with the men’s free skate, live on Peacock and USA Network.

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