Russians putting a world of hurt on women’s singles rivals

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America
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This is what the rest of the women’s singles skaters in the world are up against.

(“The rest” means everyone who is not competing for Russia.)

Mother Russia sent three of her talented daughters to Las Vegas for Skate America, the first event of the Grand Prix Series in this Olympic season.

Only one, Aleksandra Trusova, was among the three Russian women who had swept the podium at last season’s World Championships, a feat in women’s singles previously pulled off by only a U.S. trio in 1991.

And Trusova came to Vegas with a foot injury that sparked talk she might withdraw.

And her two singles compatriots at Skate America, Daria Usacheva and Kseniia Sinitsyna, each was making her senior Grand Prix debut.

Yet they swept the top three places in Saturday’s short program, with all three recording personal bests: Trusova, 17, the reigning world bronze medalist, at 77.69; Usacheva, 15, at 76.71; and Sinitsina, 17, at 71.51.

And it would not be surprising to see Russian podium hegemony after Sunday’s free skate, even if Kaori Sakamoto of Japan (71.16), You Young of South Korea (70.73) and Kim Yelim of South Korea (70.56) are close behind.

Nor would it be surprising to see similar Russian dominance at the remaining five Grand Prix events and the Grand Prix Final…and the Olympics.

After all, the 2021 world champion, Anna Shcherbakova, the silver medalist, Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva, the 15-year-old phenom (and Olympic gold contender), Kamila Valiyeva, and several others who could be the best woman in any other country in the world are yet to come on the Grand Prix.

So you can only imagine how tough the battle will be for Russia’s three women’s singles spots at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

“The competition is always very good,” Trusova said. “We have many great girls in Russia.”

That is why Trusova was disappointed the foot injury prevented her from trying a triple axel. It is a jump she has yet to land cleanly but one she feels might be necessary in the fierce competition for one of those spots and for the Olympic title.

“When I was skating, I didn’t feel (the injury),” Trusova said. “But I am not in the best shape I can be.”

Even without it, she beat her previous personal best short program score by nearly three points, thanks to her highest component scores ever.

Trusova’s big advantage is the points she can pile up with her quadruple jumps in the free skate. She has commanded the title of Quad Queen since landing her first in 2018 and going on to do up to five in a free skate, landing all five cleanly at a Russian test event in September. Trusova declined to comment on how many she might launch Sunday.

“What she does is incredibly exciting and amazing,” said three-time world champion Nathan Chen of the United States, who also has landed five clean quads in a free skate.

“A lot of what she does is better than what I can do. I’m glad I don’t have to compete against her.”

Women are not yet allowed to do quads in the short program, which makes the triple axel more significant in that phase of the competition.

Usacheva, fourth at the Russian Championships last year, skated with a fluidity and maturity that belied her age and her Grand Prix debutante status.

“I’m pleased I was able to skate with emotion,” Usacheva said.

Two U.S. women who have lost preparation time to foot injuries, Amber Glenn (67.57) and Audrey Shinn (62.82), were seventh and ninth in the 12-skater field.

Glenn also hoped to try a triple axel but a hard fall on the jump at Finlandia Trophy earlier this month has made her choose discretion at this point in the season. She knows her all-or-nothing approach to the jump, refusing to reduce it to a double or single once she commits to an attempt, carries considerable risk.

“When it’s not rotated all the way and you fall, it hurts,” Glenn said.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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