At figure skating worlds, women’s medals up for grabs after Russia ban

Alysa Liu
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Russians swept the women’s medals at last year’s world figure skating championships, then placed first, second and fourth at the Olympics. But none of them will be at this week’s world championships in France due to Russia sport sanctions after the nation invaded Ukraine.

The women’s medals (silver and bronze at least) appear up for grabs for skaters from several nations.

“That’s definitely something that obviously everybody is talking about,” said American Karen Chen, the top non-Russian at last year’s worlds in fourth place. “This is going to be a very interesting world experience. Nothing will be ever like this.”

For the first time since the 2018 Worlds, a woman from outside Russia will take gold. The favorite is Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, the Olympic bronze medalist who had the best score in Beijing among non-Russians by a significant 18.69 points.

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After Sakamoto are six skaters from five nations who finished within 15 points of each other at the Olympics. That list includes Alysa Liu, who was seventh at the Olympics and ranks second in the world championships field by best total score this season.

Liu, who in 2019 became the youngest U.S. champion at age 13, took a week off after the Games.

She said her preparation for worlds has been better than expected. She also hasn’t put much thought into the Russians’ absence, which makes her a threat to win the first U.S. women’s medal since Ashley Wagner‘s silver in 2016.

“I didn’t really have that much of a reaction,” to the ban, Liu said. “I don’t really have like a strong opinion on it, and I also don’t really care too much.”

U.S. champion Mariah Bell is also in that bunched group behind Sakamoto. She was 10th in her Olympic debut at age 25, the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928. Like the rest of the U.S. women’s team — Liu and Karen Chen — Bell does not know if she will compete next season.

But Bell has performed since the Games. She took part in a show called Art on Ice, skating to live music in Switzerland in early March.

“If I was home [after the Olympics], I don’t know how much training I would have been doing,” she said. “I probably would have been sleeping in a little bit more, still recovering. So it forced me to kind of skate a little bit more.”

Chen developed reputation for strong skating at worlds, taking fourth in 2017 and again in 2021. She was 16th at the Olympics last month, felled by her triple loop.

She is headed back to a pre-med track at Cornell this fall, yet to decide whether she will balance classes with competition, which she did in 2019.

“If I skated my absolute best, and I have landed spot on the podium, I would be super, super grateful and thankful and just happy that I skated well,” she said of worlds. “I also would totally understand the fact that the reason I am getting that medal is because the Russians weren’t able to compete. And I totally respect that.”

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U.S. Alpine skiers wear climate change-themed race suits at world championships

U.S. Alpine Skiing Team Race Suit
Images via Kappa

Looking cool is just the tip of the iceberg for Mikaela Shiffrin, Travis Ganong and the rest of the U.S. ski team when they debut new race suits at the world championships.

Even more, they want everyone thinking about climate change.

The team’s predominantly blue-and-white suits depict an image of ice chunks floating in the ocean. It’s a concept based on a satellite photo of icebergs breaking due to high temperatures. The suit was designed in collaboration with Kappa, the team’s technical apparel sponsor, and the nonprofit organization Protect Our Winters (POW).

The Americans will wear the suits throughout the world championships in Courchevel and Meribel, France, which started Monday with a women’s Alpine combined race and end Feb. 19.

“Although a race suit is not solving climate change, it is a move to continue the conversation and show that U.S Ski & Snowboard and its athletes are committed to being a part of the future,” said Sophie Goldschmidt, the president and CEO of U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

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Global warming has become a cold, hard reality in ski racing, with mild temperatures and a lack of snow leading to the postponement of several World Cup events this winter.

“I’m just worried about a future where there’s no more snow. And without snow, there’s no more skiing,” said Ganong, who grew up skiing at Lake Tahoe in California. “So this is very near and dear to me.”

What alarms Ganong is seeing the stark year-to-year changes to some of the World Cup circuit’s most storied venues.

“I mean, it’s just kind of scary, looking at how on the limit (these events) are even to being possible anymore,” said Ganong, who’s been on the U.S. team since 2006. “Places like Kitzbuehel (Austria), there’s so much history and there’s so much money involved with that event that they do whatever they can to host the event.

“But that brings up a whole other question about sustainability as well: Is that what we should be doing? … What kind of message do we need show to the public, to the world, about how our sport is adapting to this new world we live in?”

The suits feature a POW patch on the neck and the organization’s snowflake logo on the leg.

“By coming together, we can educate and mobilize our snowsports community to push for the clean energy technologies and policies that will most swiftly reduce emissions and protect the places we live and the lifestyles we love,” according to a statement from executive director Mario Molina, whose organization includes athletes, business leaders and scientists who are trying to protect places from climate change.

Ganong said a group of ski racers are releasing a letter to the International Ski Federation (FIS), with the hope the governing body will take a stronger stance on sustainability and climate change.

“They should be at the forefront of trying to adapt to this new world, and try to make it better, too,” Ganong said.

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U.S. Alpine Skiing Team Race Suit

12-year-old skateboarders earn medals at world championships

Chloe Covell

At the world skateboarding championships, 12-year-olds Chloe Covell from Australia and Onodera Ginwoo from Japan earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, in Sunday’s street finals.

In the women’s event, Covell took silver behind Brazilian 15-year-old Rayssa Leal, who was a silver medalist herself at the Tokyo Games.

Frenchman Aurélien Giraud, a 25-year-old who was sixth in skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, won the men’s final in the United Arab Emirates. Ginwoo was third behind Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro.

The top Americans were Olympic men’s bronze medalist Jagger Eaton in sixth and 15-year-old Paige Heyn in seventh in the women’s event.

Nyjah Huston, a six-time world champion who placed seventh in Tokyo, missed worlds after August surgery for an ACL tear.

Up to three men and three women per nation can qualify per event (street and park) for the 2024 Paris Games. World rankings come June 2024 determine which Americans qualify.

In Tokyo, four of the 12 skateboarding medalists were ages 12 or 13.

Japan’s Kokona Hiraki, then 12, won silver in women’s park to become the youngest Olympic medalist since 1936, according to Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, then 13, won women’s street and became the youngest gold medalist in an individual event since 1936.

Worlds conclude this week with the men’s and women’s park events. The finals are Saturday.

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