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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