Kamila Valiyeva breaks her own figure skating record score at site of her Olympic inspiration


In 2014, a 7-year-old ballet dancer and figure skater named Kamila Valiyeva got her first glimpse of the Olympics. She watched on TV as fellow Russian Yuliya Lipnitskaya, then 15, captivated the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, skating as the girl in the red coat to music from “Schindler’s List.”

On Friday and Saturday, Valiyeva, now 15, turned in her own performances to remember inside the same venue at the Black Sea resort.

Valiyeva recorded the highest scores in history (due to scoring changes, this effectively means since 2018) for the short program and free skate. Valiyeva broke her own record for best total score. She tallied 272.71 points to win the Rostelecom Cup by 43.48 with three quadruple jumps in her free skate.

Russians took the top three spots (Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva, Maiia Khromykh), giving the nation five of the six spots in the Grand Prix Final in two weeks. The Grand Prix Final is the biggest international competition before the Olympics, taking the top six per discipline from the six-event autumn Grand Prix Series.

American Mariah Bell was fourth, nearly posting a personal-best score. She jumped from fifth among U.S. Olympic hopefuls this season to second and will likely go into January’s nationals as a favorite to make the three-woman Olympic team, along with Alysa Liu.

No U.S. women made the Grand Prix Final. No U.S. women made a Grand Prix Series podium for the first time ever (debuted in 1995).

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | Grand Prix Final Field

Valiyeva is the only female skater to eclipse 270 points. To eclipse 260 points. And to eclipse 250 points. No other woman in the world has scored within 30 points of her this season.

Valiyeva began 2021 on the junior level. Her story is similar to that of Alina Zagitova, who won the 2018 Olympic title at age 15 in her first senior season. Except that Zagitova had a close rival in training partner Yevgenia Medvedeva. Valiyeva, by contrast, is on pace to finish 2021 as the biggest favorite for gold among all of the figure skating events.

“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,” NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir said while commentating Valiyeva’s performance last month at Skate Canada, when she set the world record of 265.08 points that she just bettered in Sochi. “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.”

Valiyeva is the latest star churned out of the world’s most prestigious skating school, Sambo-70 in Moscow. The headmaster is Eteri Tutberidze, a no-nonsense coach who is set to go to a third consecutive Olympics with a 15-year-old phenom after guiding Zagitova in 2018 and Valiyeva’s inspiration, Lipnitskaya, in 2014.

Tutberidze, whose students include six of the world’s top eight skaters, calls Valiyeva “gifted,” and it’s easy to see why.

She puts both arms over her head to show the ease of her quadruple jumps. She (or, perhaps Tutberidze or a choreographer) had the audacity to choose “Boléro” for her free skate starting at age 14 (Michelle Kwan and Carolina Kostner, two of the most graceful modern skaters, performed to it in their mid-20s.)

What’s next for Valiyeva? Arguably the four biggest competitions of her life: The Grand Prix Final. The Russian Championships, the deepest competition in the world (including the Olympics), in late December, after which the Olympic team is expected to be named. The European Championships in January and then the Beijing Games in February.

Grand Prix Final fields set

Earlier Saturday, Georgian veteran Morisi Kvitelashvili earned his first Grand Prix win, jumping from third after the short program to edge Japanese Kazuki Tomono by 1.69.

American Jason Brown, who wasn’t competing, clinched his second Grand Prix Final berth once the overall results shook out. Countrymen Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou previously earned Final spots. They’ll be joined by Japanese Shoma Uno and Yuma Kagiyama and Russian Mikhail Kolyada.

Reigning world champions Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia won the ice dance with 211.72 points, distancing Italians Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri by 8.01.

That sets up a Grand Prix Final showdown between the Russians and four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France. The last time they met, the Russians handed the French their only defeat of this Olympic cycle, but that was way back in January 2020. The French own the world’s top three total scores this season.

Also qualifying for the Final: Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates.

In pairs, reigning world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov leapfrogged fellow Russians Daria Pavliuchenkova and Denis Khodykin in the free skate, totaling 226.98 points to prevail by 14.39. Only Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, yet another Russian pair, have scored higher this season.

Four Russian pairs qualified for the Grand Prix Final. They’re joined by Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, China’s best hope for a figure skating medal in Beijing, and Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, the first Japanese pair to make the Final in 10 years.

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Mikaela Shiffrin finishes World Cup with one more win, two more records and a revelation


Mikaela Shiffrin finished a season defined by records with two more.

Shiffrin won the World Cup Finals giant slalom on the final day of the campaign, breaking her ties for the most career women’s giant slalom wins and most career podiums across all women’s World Cup races.

Shiffrin earned her record-extending 88th career World Cup victory, prevailing by six hundredths over Thea Louise Stjernesund of Norway combining times from two runs in Andorra on Sunday.

An encore of Shiffrin’s record-breaking 87th World Cup win airs on NBC next Sunday from 12-1 p.m. ET.


She won her 21st career GS, breaking her tie for the most all-time on the women’s World Cup with Vreni Schneider, a Swiss star of the 1980s and ’90s.

She made her 138th career World Cup podium across all events, breaking her tie for the most all-time on the women’s World Cup with Lindsey Vonn. Shiffrin earned her 138th podium in her 249th start, meaning she has finished in the top three in 55 percent of her World Cup races dating to her debut at age 15 in 2011.

Earlier this season, Shiffrin passed Vonn and then Ingemar Stenmark, a Swede of the 1970s and ’80s, for the most career Alpine skiing World Cup victories. She won 14 times from November through March, her second-best season after her record 17-win campaign of 2018-19.

In those years in between, Shiffrin endured the most difficult times of her life, was supplanted as the world’s top slalom skier and questioned her skiing like never before.

On Saturday afternoon, Shiffrin was asked what made the difference this fall and winter. There were multiple factors. She detailed one important one.

“I had a lot of problems with my memory,” she said in a press conference. “Not this season, so much, but last season and the season before that. I couldn’t remember courses. And when I was kind of going through this, I couldn’t keep mental energy for the second runs.”

Pre-race course inspection and the ability to retain that knowledge for a minute-long run over an hour later is integral to success in ski racing. Shiffrin is so meticulous and methodical in her training, historically prioritizing it over racing in her junior days, that inspection would seem to fit into her all-world preparation.

She didn’t understand how she lost that ability until she began working with a new sports psychologist last summer.

“That was a little bit like less focus on sports psychology and more focus on, like, psychology psychology and a little bit more grief counseling style,” she said. “Explaining what was actually going on in my brain, like chemical changes in the brain because of trauma. Not just grief, but actually the traumatic experience itself of knowing what happened to my dad, seeing him in the hospital, touching him after he was dead. Those are things that you can’t get out of your head. It had an impact. Clearly, it still does.”

Shiffrin had a “weird a-ha moment” after her first course inspection this season in November in Finland.

“I didn’t take that long to inspect, and I remembered the whole course,” she said. “Oh my gosh, I was like coming out of a cloud that I had been in for over two years.”

What followed was a win, of course, and a season that approached Shiffrin’s unrivaled 2018-19. Fourteen wins in 31 World Cup starts, her busiest season ever, and bagging the season titles in the overall, slalom and GS in runaways.

“After last season, I didn’t feel like I could get to a level with my skiing again where it was actually contending for the slalom globe,” she said. “And GS, I actually had a little bit more hope for, but then at the beginning of the season, I kind of counted myself out.

“I feel like my highest level of skiing has been higher than the previous couple of seasons, maybe higher than my whole career. My average level of skiing has been also higher than previous seasons, and my lowest level of skiing has also been higher.”

There are other reasons for the revival of dominance, though Shiffrin was also the world’s best skier last season (Olympics aside). She went out of her way on Saturday afternoon to credit her head coach of seven years, Mike Day, who left the team during the world championships after he was told he would not be retained for next season.

“He is as much a part of the success this entire season as he’s ever been,” said Shiffrin, who parted with Day to bring aboard Karin Harjo, the first woman to be her head coach as a pro.

Shiffrin’s greatest success this season began around the time she watched a a mid-December chairlift interview between retired Liechtenstein skier Tina Weirather and Italian Sofia Goggia, the world’s top downhiller. Goggia spoke about her disdain for mediocrity.

“Ever since then, pretty much every time I put on my skis, I’m like, ‘OK, don’t be mediocre today,’” Shiffrin said in January.

During the highest highs of this season, Shiffrin felt like she did in 2018-19.

“It is mind-boggling to me to be in a position again where I got to feel that kind of momentum through a season because after that [2018-19] season, I was like, this is never going to happen again, and my best days of my career are really behind me, which it was kind of sad to feel that at this point four years ago,” said Shiffrin, who turned 28 years old last week. “This season, if anything, it just proved that, take 17 wins [from 2018-19] aside or the records or all those things, it’s still possible to feel that kind of momentum.”

After one last victory Sunday, Shiffrin sat in the winner’s chair with another crystal globe and took questions from an interviewer. It was her boyfriend, Norwegian Alpine skier Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.

“Excited to come back and do it again next year,” she replied to one question.

“Yeah,” he wittily replied. “You will.”

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Russia ban runs through Olympic gymnastics team qualifying deadline

Russia Gymnastics

Russia’s ban from international sport extended long enough that, as rules stand, its gymnasts cannot qualify to defend Olympic men’s and women’s team titles at the 2024 Paris Games, even if they are reinstated to compete elsewhere before the Games start.

Should the ban be lifted in time, they can still qualify for the Paris Games to compete in individual events.

Gymnasts from Russia, and other European nations not already qualified, need to compete at next month’s European Championships to stay on the path toward Olympic qualification in the men’s and women’s team events.

Earlier this month, the European Gymnastics Federation was asked by what date must bans on Russian athletes be lifted for them to be eligible to compete at the European Championships.

“According to our rules, changes can be made until the draw,” the federation’s head of media wrote in a March 8 email.

The draw for the European Championships was held Tuesday. Russian gymnasts, who are still banned from international competition for the war in Ukraine, were not included in the draw.

The 2024 Olympic team event fields will be filled by the top finishers at this fall’s world championships, plus the medalists from last year’s worlds. Teams can only qualify for worlds via continental championships, such as the European Championships, or the previous year’s world championships.

The International Gymnastics Federation, whose Olympic qualifying rules were published by the IOC last April, was asked if there is any other way that gymnasts from Russia could qualify for the Olympic team events. It responded by forwarding a March 3 press release that stated that Russia and Belarus gymnasts remain banned “until further notice.”

Russia’s gymnastics federation has not responded to a Monday morning request for comment.

Last December, the IOC said it planned to explore a possibility that Russian and Belarusian athletes could enter Asian competitions if and when they are reinstated. There have been no further updates on that front. The Asian Gymnastics Championships are in June.

In Tokyo, Russian women, competing as the Russian Olympic Committee rather than Russia due to the nation’s doping violations, won the team title over the heavily favored U.S. after Simone Biles withdrew after her opening vault with the twisties. It marked the first Olympic women’s team title for Russian gymnasts since the Soviet Union broke up.

At last year’s worlds, the U.S. won the women’s team title in the absence of the banned Russians.

Russian men won the Tokyo Olympic team title by 103 thousandths of a point over Japan, their first gold in the event since the 1996 Atlanta Games.

China won last year’s world men’s team title over Japan and Great Britain.

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