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.”

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | TV, Stream Schedule

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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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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