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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