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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