At figure skating worlds, U.S. women in medal contention after short program

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Americans Mariah Bell and Alysa Liu are third and fifth after the world figure skating championships short program, looking to deliver the first U.S. women’s medal in six years and in the absence of Russian stars.

The national champion Bell recorded a personal-best 72.55 points, which is 7.77 behind leader Kaori Sakamoto and 2.45 points behind Belgian Loena Hendrickx going into Friday’s free skate in Montpellier, France,

Liu followed with 71.91 points, .17 behind South Korean You Young for fourth place.

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A non-Russian will win the world title for the first time since 2018 due to that nation’s ban after the invasion of Ukraine. Russians swept the medals at last year’s world championships and finished first, second and fourth at the Olympics last month.

Sakamoto, the Olympic bronze medalist, entered as the favorite and delivered a clean short capped by a triple flip-triple toe loop combination.

“With the Russian skaters no longer taking part in this competition, all of a sudden I was considered to be the gold medalist candidate,” Sakamoto said, according to a translator. “In the beginning, because I wasn’t really in top form, it was hard for me to try to push myself, and I also felt a gap between where I was and where I wanted to be. But over the days, my performance started to really pick up, and gradually I was able to tell myself that it wasn’t really the result that counted.”

Bell, 10th at the Olympics, and Liu, seventh at the Olympics, are bidding to become the first U.S. woman to win a world medal since Ashley Wagner took silver in 2016, ending a 10-year drought.

Bell, after FaceTiming with coach Adam Rippon, who is not on site, opened her short with a triple flip-triple toe combo. Bell then FaceTimed again with Rippon after her skate, for which she upped her previous personal best from the 2019 Worlds.

“Part of the Olympic hangover helped me,” said Bell, who performed at a show in Switzerland between the Olympics and worlds. “I rested a lot the last couple of weeks but was able to train well.”

Liu cried after her clean program and hopes to attempt a triple Axel in the free skate.

“I don’t know if I looked I sad, maybe I did, but they were happy tears,” said the 16-year-old, who added that she was not distracted by the Justice Department announcing charges this week alleging that Chinese government officials had spied on Liu and her father leading up to the Olympics. Liu’s father was first contacted by the FBI in October, according to The Associated Press.

The third American, Karen Chen, popped a triple loop that gave her trouble at the Olympics and is eighth.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”