Quad Queen Trusova does just one but still easily rules at Skate America

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America
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It must have felt like a day off for Aleksandra Trusova.

The 17-year-old Quad Queen from Russia was a runaway winner Sunday at Skate America in Las Vegas despite limiting herself to just one free skate quadruple jump, a lutz, because of an unspecified foot injury.

“It was like a day of rest,” Trusova said. “We wanted to skate here with three quads but couldn’t. With the injury, I lost a lot of practice time.”

It was the first time Trusova has attempted fewer than three quads at international competition in 11 events dating to the fall of 2018. She did five clean quads in a national event last month.

The third Grand Prix triumph of Trusova’s career came with a total of 232.37 points, more than 15 ahead of compatriot Daria Usacheva, 15, who was making her senior Grand Prix debut.

Young You, 17, of South Korea, a one-time phenom trying to recapture her mojo, took bronze with a free skate full of powerful jumps.

The third Russian, Kseniia Sinitsyna, dropped from third after the short program to fifth overall.

Trusova’s victory was the eighth straight by a Russian woman in the Grand Prix. They won every event in the Grand Prix season before the pandemic turned the series into domestic competitions last year.

The leading U.S. finisher Sunday, sixth-place Amber Glenn, did a strong free skate that re-established her as a solid contender for one of the three women’s singles places on the 2022 U.S. Olympic team.

Yet even with personal bests by substantial margins in both the free and total (201.02), Glenn was nearly 17 points behind You and nearly 16 behind fourth finisher Kaori Sakamoto of Japan on a day when skater after skater drew big ovations for the quality of their performances.

Glenn’s unexpected second place at last season’s U.S. Championships suddenly put her into the Olympic team picture after a career that had stagnated for several years after she won the national junior title in 2014.

She was not picked for the 2021 World Championships team because inconsistency made her “body of work” results less impressive. Karen Chen, the third finisher at last year’s nationals, got that second world spot and delivered a performance at worlds that was critical to Team USA earning the third Olympic spot.

“I haven’t thought about the Olympics as much as I thought I would,” Glenn said. “For a while there, I never thought I would make a team. During the pandemic, I thought, ‘I’m going to go for it.’ I’m hugely focused on consistency.”

A foot injury forced her to withdraw after the short program at August’s Cranberry Cup International and affected her at last month’s Finlandia Trophy, where she finished 10th after taking a hard fall in the short program. She looked at Skate America as her first big event of the season.

“This was good but still not where I want to be,” she said. “Knowing I was able to put out two stable programs gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season.”

Trusova, reigning world bronze medalist, may need her whole free skate quad arsenal and a triple axel in the short to earn one of the three spots on the Russian Olympic team. The contenders also include the gold and silver medalists from the 2021 worlds, Anna Shcherbakova and Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva, and the first-year senior sensation, Kamila Valiyeva…and a host of others.

Trusova’s technical element score in Sunday’s free skate was 85.68, a number she has topped seven times internationally with five TES scores in the 90s and a best of 100.2.

While some of that drop here owes to differences in grades of execution on the 12 elements, including 11 jumps, most owes to the lower base value with only the lone quad. Trusova’s score for just that quad lutz (13.8) accounted for 16 percent of her TES total.

Thanks to her best-ever free skate component scores, Trusova’s overall and free skate scores were the fifth highest of her international career.

“Obviously I want to have a higher degree of difficulty in both my short and free programs,” Trusova said.

Trusova, who trains in Moscow, will have a few days off to help the foot heal before preparing for her next event, the NHK Trophy Nov. 12-14 in Tokyo.

Knowing she was going to do so few quads at Skate America did not lighten the pressure.

“It added more because I was not so well prepared,” Trusova 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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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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