Russian women sweep figure skating worlds podium for first time

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Russian women secured their first podium sweep in the 115-year history of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships on Friday night, thanks to two 16-year-olds and a 24-year-old.

Anna Shcherbakova, 16, led the way with a program that included a cheated quad flip but was otherwise clean, holding on to her lead from the short program.

Skating in her first senior worlds, the 2019 world junior silver medalist earned 152.17 points for her free skate. She ended the event with a 233.17 total.

“I think the world championship is a very important competition,” Shcherbakova said. “To me, it is a great honor to have won and I think it will give me more energy to work harder and for next season.”

Shcherbakova turns 17 on Sunday and said the victory was the “best ever present for my birthday.”

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Russian women have now won five of the last six women’s world titles, and 10 of the last 12 world junior titles.

At age 24, Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva returned to worlds for the first time since 2015, when she won gold, to take the silver with a 220.46 total and a free skate that included two triple axels.

“This has not been an easy year for any of us,” Tuktamysheva, who had contracted COVID-19 toward the end of 2020, said. “For me, the silver medal at the world championships in the pre-Olympic year motivates me and I want to qualify for the Olympic Games.”

Aleksandra Trusova made the comeback of the week, vaulting from a shocking 12th in the short program to land the winning free skate score of 152.38, good for a total of 217.20 and the bronze medal in her worlds debut. The 2018 and 2019 world junior champion’s free skate included an attempted five quads (three had errors), something only one or two men planned to attempt at this world championships.

“I’m very happy I was able to move from 12th to third place,” Trusova said. “Yes it was a difficult year and I am very happy the world championships took place because last year it was canceled and we were really waiting for it.”

Meanwhile, 2018 Olympians Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell did just enough to all but secure three spots for U.S. women at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, one more than they had at the 2019 and 2021 world championships. For a country to earn three spots, their top two athletes had to earn placements that added up to 13 or lower.

It looked as if the Americans would just miss that cutoff, but as Japan’s Rika Kihira, the 2018 Grand Prix Final champion who was in silver-medal position after the short program, faltered on three of her jumps and fell to seventh, they were given renewed hope.

“I was in shock, for sure, just because the situation wasn’t looking that great, but I was shocked and really happy, just felt a lot of emotions,” Chen, who finished fourth, 8.57 points off the podium with a total of 208.63. “I have no regrets. Whether we secured two spots or three spots, I was just proud of myself for delivering two really good programs.”

A U.S. woman will have to compete at Nebelhorn Trophy in the fall to confirm the third spot.

Stockholm marks the second worlds appearance of Chen’s career.

Her first came in 2017, where she also finished fourth and was clutch in helping the U.S. maintain three Olympic spots.

“I feel like I’m a totally different person and skater from who I was in 2017,” she reflected. “In the past, skating was my everything and it still is my everything, but I just have a much better grasp of my life. I definitely gained perspective from the year I had on campus (at Cornell). I know that skating is something I truly love, and I want to give it my best this moment in time.”

Tennell was ninth, slipping from seventh after the short, with three under-rotated jumps in her free. Her total was 197.81. The U.S. champion revealed after her skate that the boot on her landing foot had broke on one of her first days in Sweden, hindering both of her performances.

“This entire competition did not go nearly according to plan,” Tennell said. “I am very disappointed, to be honest, with my skates. It’s not what I’ve been training at all. I’ve been training clean programs, short and long, so to come here and put out these performances is very disappointing, especially at such an important competition. Unfortunately some issues with my boot arose and there was nothing I could do, so I kind of just did the best that I could do, and I’m really proud of the effort I put out.”

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