Anna Shcherbakova, 17, chases youth at Grand Prix France; TV, live stream schedule

Anna Shcherbakova
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Anna Shcherbakova, a 17-year-old from Moscow, toted the two most prestigious titles in figure skating into this Olympic season: world champion and Russian national champion. But the sport’s top label — Olympic favorite — has been swiped by her 15-year-old training partner Kamila Valiyeva.

It is so far playing out like a sequel of the last Olympic season in 2018. Then, reigning world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva was usurped by her 15-year-old training partner, Alina Zagitova. All four skaters were coached by Eteri Tutberidze.

“Competing as a Russian woman right now is almost like running from an avalanche,” NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir said during Shcherbakova’s short program at a Grand Prix in Italy two weeks ago. “You can always be taken over if you look over your shoulder, even for a second.”

Shcherbakova, a knitter, has time, and several competitions, to change the script. Such as this week at Internationaux de France, the fifth of six stops on the annual Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, the sport’s most exclusive event taking the top six in the world per discipline.

Shcherbakova is the showcase skater this week in Grenoble, live on Peacock. The field includes another accomplished Russian, Alena Kostornaya, the world’s top skater when the pandemic hit. Plus U.S. Olympic hopefuls Karen Chen and Mariah Bell.

In the big picture, Shcherbakova’s primary competition is not a person but a score: Valiyeva set the standard with a whopping 265.08-point outing at Skate Canada three weeks ago, landing two triple Axels and three quadruple jumps between two programs. Shcherbakova is the only skater within 30 points of her this season — a distant 28.3 points behind.

Valiyeva is not in Grenoble, but Shcherbakova could have up to three head-to-heads with her between now and the Olympics — the Grand Prix Final and Russian Championships in December, plus the European Championships in January.

Shcherbakova doesn’t yet have a triple Axel, and without it will likely be playing catch-up to Valiyeva in any competition, given quads are not allowed in short programs.

“Out of the top contenders for Olympic gold, Anna, to me, feels a bit in the shadows,” NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said two weeks ago as Shcherbakova began her Grand Prix Italy free skate. Shcherbakova went on to hit a personal-best program with one quad and all positively graded jumps. Her score was 15.84 points shy of Valiyeva’s free the previous week.

At Skate Canada, Lipinski and Weir were at times left speechless and wondering if Valiyeva was of planet Earth for her total package of jumps (putting both arms over her head to show the ease of her quads), spins and artistry. Valiyeva was touted as a junior skater a year ago by Weir, who said then that she had “the biggest opportunity for Olympic glory.”

“If anybody can put it all together and be better than Kamila Valiyeva was today in less than 100 days at the Olympic Games, I will be shocked,” Weir said on the Skate Canada broadcast. “She makes everyone happy on either side, the technical purists or the artistic purists. She has it all, and that is ultimately who is supposed to win these competitions.”

In the men’s field this week, world silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama of Japan is the favorite. Jason Brown, after a silver at Skate Canada, has a chance to join countrymen Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou in the Grand Prix Final. He qualified for the Final once before in 2017.

Four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron head an ice dance field that also includes world bronze medalists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Canada. The French won all eight of their Grand Prix starts in this Olympic cycle and again rank No. 1 in the world this season.

Pairs features world bronze medalists Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy of Russia and U.S. champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier.

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2021 Internationaux de France Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 7 a.m. Women’s Short Peacock | STREAM LINK
9 a.m. Rhythm Dance Peacock | STREAM LINK
10:45 p.m. Men’s Short Peacock | STREAM LINK
12:45 p.m. Pairs’ Short Peacock | STREAM LINK
Saturday 7 a.m. Women’s Free Peacock | STREAM LINK
9:10 a.m. Free Dance Peacock | STREAM LINK
11 a.m. Men’s Free Peacock | STREAM LINK
1:10 p.m. Pairs’ Free Peacock | STREAM LINK
Sunday 4 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

Svetlana Romashina, seven-time Olympic champion artistic swimmer, retires

Svetlana Romashina
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Russian Svetlana Romashina, the most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history with seven gold medals, announced her retirement at age 33.

Romashina entered seven Olympic artistic swimming events and won all of them, starting in 2008. She won four Olympic titles in the team event and three in the duet (two with Nataliya Ishchenko and one with Svetlana Kolesnichenko).

The Tokyo Games marked her last major competition.

Romashina is the only woman to go undefeated in her Olympic career while entering seven or more events. The only man to do so was American track and field athlete Ray Ewry, who won all eight of his Olympic starts from 1900-08, according to Olympedia.org.

Romashina also won 21 world championships medals — all gold, second in aquatics history behind Michael Phelps‘ 26.

She took nearly two years off after giving birth to daughter Alexandra in November 2017, then came back to win three golds at her last world championships in 2019 and two golds at her last Olympics in 2021.

Romashina is now an artistic swimming coach, according to Russian media.

Russian swimmers swept the Olympic duet and team titles at each of the last six Olympics.

Russians have been banned from international competition since March due to the war in Ukraine.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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