Under the circumstances, figure skating worlds – and future – hard to assess

ISU World Figure Skating Championships - Montpellier
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Even in normal times, it always has been hard to draw a lot of conclusions from the World Figure Skating Championships that immediately follow the Olympics.

The rigors of an Olympic season lead many medalists to take a pass on worlds. Those who do compete often are obviously fatigued.

It is exponentially harder to assess the competition that ended Saturday in Montpellier, France.

No world meet has taken place in more abnormal circumstances.

These championships came as the world entered the third year of a deadly viral pandemic that compelled Beijing 2022 Olympic organizers to bar foreign spectators and allow few Chinese. That meant a sport as much entertainment as competition played to nearly empty houses on its biggest stage, the Winter Games.

They came in a season when the pandemic forced either cancellation (Grand Prix Finals) or relocation/rescheduling of events (Cup of China, Four Continents Championships, World Junior Championships). Two seasons after Covid led to the cancellation of the 2020 worlds. A season after Covid made all skating competition domestic.

They came less than a month after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. That made pariahs of Russian athletes, who have been barred from nearly all international competitions. That sanction included the figure skating World Championships, where Russia likely would have collected several medals.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS RECAP: Women  | MenPairs  |  Ice Dance

In the pairs’ competition, the significant absentees were not only the Russians but also the Chinese. China could have sent three pairs, including reigning Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were injured, according to Chinese media reports. Why no Chinese pairs came remains unclear.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian skaters won the applause and admiration of the world for having the courage to stand up for their county as bombs fell on their hometowns. They included ice dancers Oleksandra Nazarova and Maksim Nikitin, who had recently been in Kharkiv, Ukraine, one of the cities suffering most from Russia’s murderous attacks.

“We saw the tanks, heard the shooting; my house doesn’t have windows anymore,” Nazarova said.

In such a context, after such a difficult few years, it was no surprise that many of the world’s top skaters have deferred announcing their future competitive plans.

That uncertainty is one takeaway from the 2022 worlds. Here are some others:


*Some skaters, notably in women’s singles, might be more inclined to compete at least one more season if the ban on Russian athletes is extended past the end of this season.

Produced by a talent system that looks more Machiavellian the more it is exposed, young Russian women have dominated the sport so thoroughly in the past eight seasons that medals at major events looked almost out of reach for everyone else. It created two-tiered competition.

New world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan stopped a Russian sweep in Beijing when heavy favorite Kamila Valieva, 15, unraveled after it was revealed she had an unresolved doping case. Sakamoto, 22 in April, who never stood on a global championship podium before this year, said after winning the Olympic bronze medal next month she wants to go on to the 2026 Winter Games.

Her men’s champion compatriot, two-time Olympic medalist Shoma Uno, said Saturday, “I have never skated having the Olympics as my goal. All I know is I want to obtain more growth next year and the year after that. There could be the possibility the (next) Olympics are there for me too.”

Reigning Olympic champion Nathan Chen of the United States, who withdrew from worlds with a lingering injury, is returning to Yale for his final two years of studies after a two-year break.

Chen, 22, who had won the previous three world titles, could take two years off from competition and then return, although that seems unlikely, as does his competing again before graduation.

His longtime rival, two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, said after his fourth place in Beijing that he had not ruled out another Olympic try in 2026. That, too, seems unlikely, given Hanyu is 27 and has battled ankle injuries since at least 2017.


* Among the 16 U.S. athletes at worlds, only Camden PulkinenIlia Malinin and two ice dance teams, bronze medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates and eighth-place finishers Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, have expressed their intention to continue.

Pulkinen, 22, who will enter Columbia University in August, hopes to build on his unexpected fifth place, achieved with two clean programs and three personal bests, including massive improvement in the free skate and total.

“I still want to progress more technically and artistically for the next four years to hopefully make the (Olympic) team,” Pulkinen said.

While Pulkinen has no firm plans on his coaching or training venue after moving from Colorado Springs to New York, he intends to work intensely over the summer on building a base and expanding his quadruple jump repertoire beyond the toe loop.


*The presumed successor to Chen as the top U.S. man, Malinin, will go to next month’s (postponed) World Junior Championships looking to rebound from his implosion in Saturday’s free skate. Multiple errors dropped him from a medal-contending fourth after the short program to ninth overall.

Malinin, 17, should be a title contender at the junior championship, where he will skate less demanding programs: quads are not allowed in the short, and he likely will do just two quads in the free, which is 30 seconds shorter and has one fewer element than a senior free skate.

He tried four quads Saturday, executing the first two perfectly, falling hard on the third and making a hash of the fourth. He finished 11th in the free.

“There were some good and some bad things,” Malinin said of his senior worlds debut. “A whole pile of stuff happened.”

Malinin’s dazzling performances at January’s U.S. Championships, with six clean quads, revealed an impressive talent. What he did at nationals now looks like an outlier in a season he began as a junior. Among his seven junior and senior competitions this season, the national meet is the only time Malinin has done two clean programs.


*Isabeau Levito, 15, who also will be a title contender at junior worlds, becomes the heiress apparent to the U.S. crown if neither Alysa Liu, the new world bronze medalist, nor reigning champion Mariah Bell competes next season.

Levito was third in her senior nationals debut this January. She has been a strikingly consistent performer this season, with just three negative grades of execution in 30 jumping passes.


*The sport will look very different if neither Hanyu nor Chen is competing next season. Beginning with Hanyu’s first of two Olympic and world titles in 2014 and continuing when Chen first began to challenge Hanyu in 2017, the two have deservedly been the faces of men’s figure skating seemingly forever.

Had Chen won a fourth straight world title, he would have been the first to do that in men’s or women’s singles since the elimination of compulsory figures in 1990.

Beating Uno’s outstanding performances would have been a formidable task, but Chen’s scores in his three title wins were eight-to-10 points higher than what Uno scored last week. Chen won the Olympics with a 22-point margin over silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama of Japan and a 39-point margin over bronze medalist Uno.

“I always like the word `dominate,’” said Chen’s coach, Rafael Arutunian. “Nathan won the Olympics that way.”

*It would be both easy and unfair to say the results at worlds need an asterisk.

After all, you can only beat those who actually compete.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at every Winter Olympics since 1980, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Iga Swiatek sweeps into French Open final, where she faces a surprise


Iga Swiatek marched into the French Open final without dropping a set in six matches. All that stands between her and a third Roland Garros title is an unseeded foe.

Swiatek, the top-ranked Pole, swept 14th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 6-2, 7-6 (7) in Thursday’s semifinal in her toughest test all tournament. Haddad Maia squandered three break points at 4-all in the second set.

Swiatek dropped just 23 games thus far, matching her total en route to her first French Open final in 2020 (which she won for her first WTA Tour title of any kind). After her semifinal, she signed a courtside camera with the hashtag #stepbystep.

“For sure I feel like I’m a better player,” than in 2020, she said. “Mentally, tactically, physically, just having the experience, everything. So, yeah, my whole life basically.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

In Saturday’s final, Swiatek gets 43rd-ranked Czech Karolina Muchova, who upset No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to reach her first major final.

Muchova, a 26-year-old into the second week of the French Open for the first time, became the first player to take a set off the powerful Belarusian this tournament, then rallied from down 5-2 in the third set to prevail 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5.

Sabalenka, who overcame previous erratic serving to win the Australian Open in January, had back-to-back double faults in her last service game.

“Lost my rhythm,” she said. “I wasn’t there.”

Muchova broke up what many expected would be a Sabalenka-Swiatek final, which would have been the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 match at the French Open since Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova in the 2013 final.

Muchova is unseeded, but was considered dangerous going into the tournament.

In 2021, she beat then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make the Australian Open semifinals, then reached a career-high ranking of 19. She dropped out of the top 200 last year while struggling through injuries.

“Some doctors told me maybe you’ll not do sport anymore,” Muchova said. “It’s up and downs in life all the time. Now I’m enjoying that I’m on the upper part now.”

Muchova has won all five of her matches against players ranked in the top three. She also beat Swiatek in their lone head-to-head, but that was back in 2019 when both players were unaccomplished young pros. They have since practiced together many times.

“I really like her game, honestly,” Swiatek said. “I really respect her, and she’s I feel like a player who can do anything. She has great touch. She can also speed up the game. She plays with that kind of freedom in her movements. And she has a great technique. So I watched her matches, and I feel like I know her game pretty well.”

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Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone’s defining race; Paris Diamond League TV, live stream info

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, what happens in her first outdoor race of 2023 on Friday could dictate the rest of her season. It may impact her 2024 Olympic plans, too.

McLaughlin-Levrone strays from the 400m hurdles — where she is the reigning Olympic and world champion and four times broke the world record — to race her first flat 400m in two years at a Diamond League meet in Paris.

Peacock streams it live from 3-5 p.m. ET. CNBC airs coverage Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.

What we know is this: On Friday, McLaughlin-Levrone will race against the Olympic and world silver medalist in the 400m (Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic) and the 2019 World champion (Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain).

Next month, McLaughlin-Levrone will race the flat 400m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, the qualifying meet for August’s world championships. She is racing that flat 400m at USATF Outdoors at least in part because she already has a bye into the 400m hurdles at worlds as defending champion.

What we don’t know: which race McLaughlin-Levrone will enter at worlds. Her coach, Bobby Kersee, said last month that she will choose between the 400m and 400m hurdles for worlds, should she finish top three in the 400m at USATF Outdoors to qualify in that second event. She will not try a 400m-400m hurdles double at worlds.

McLaughlin-Levrone was asked Thursday which event she would pick if given the choice.

“Is it bad to say I don’t know?” she said in a press conference. “Honestly, ask me after tomorrow. I don’t know. I’ve got to run this one first and see how it feels.”

McLaughlin-Levrone also doesn’t know what she will try to race at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Next year, the 400m-400m hurdles double is more feasible given one could do both events without ever racing more than once per day.

“We’re still focused on 2023,” McLaughlin-Levrone said. “One step at a time, literally. Obviously that’s something as the season comes to an end we’ll kind of start to look and figure out what our plan is for next year.”

Here are the Paris entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

12:57 p.m. ET — Women’s Shot Put
1:35 — Women’s High Jump
2:15 — Women’s Discus
2:20 — Women’s Pole Vault
3:04 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
3:15 — Women’s 800m
3:19 — Men’s Long Jump
3:24 — Women’s 5000m
3:42 — Women’s Javelin
3:52 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
4:02 — Women’s 400m
4:12 — Men’s 100m
4:22 — Women’s 200m
4:32 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
4:51 — Men’s 800m

Here are six events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 2:20 p.m. ET
Olympic and world champion Katie Moon won the first two Diamond League meets and again faces some of her biggest domestic and international challengers in Paris. That includes fellow American Sandi Morris, who won the first three Diamond League meets last year, then took silver behind Moon at worlds on count back. Plus 34-year-old Slovenian Tina Sutej, who ranks second in the world this season.

Women’s 5000m — 3:24 p.m. ET
Includes the world record holders at 1500m (Kenyan Faith Kipyegon in her first 5000m since 2015), 3000m steeplechase (Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech) and the 5000m and 10,000m (Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey). Plus new American 10,000m record holder Alicia Monson, who is third on the U.S. all-time 5000m list at 14:31.11. Shelby Houlihan has the American record of 14:23.92.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 3:52 p.m. ET
The three members of the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo — Grant HollowayDevon Allen and Daniel Roberts — could face off for the first time in nearly a year. Holloway, who has a bye into worlds as defending champion, overcame a rare defeat in the Diamond League opener in Rabat to win his last two races. He is the fastest man in the world this year at 13.01 seconds. Allen isn’t far behind at 13.12, while Roberts has yet to race the hurdles this outdoor season.

Women’s 400m — 4:02 p.m. ET
Could very well determine the favorite for worlds. Reigning Olympic and world champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas is on maternity leave. Paulino is the only other woman to break 49 seconds since the start of the pandemic, and she’s done it each of the last two years. Naser is the only other active woman to have broken 49 seconds, doing so in winning the 2019 World title (before she was banned for two years, through the Tokyo Olympics, for missing drug tests). McLaughlin-Levrone’s personal best from 2018 is 50.07 seconds, but she was just 18 years old then and focusing on the hurdles. Still, that time would have won the 2022 U.S. title. Last month, University of Arkansas junior Britton Wilson ran the fastest time by an American since 2009 — 49.13 — but she might bypass the flat 400m to focus on the hurdles this summer.

Men’s 100m — 4:12 p.m. ET
Could be a meeting between the reigning Olympic men’s 100m champion (Marcell Jacobs of Italy) and world men’s 200m champion (American Noah Lyles), which hasn’t happened since the 2009 World Championships 100m final, where Usain Bolt lowered the world record to 9.58 seconds and American Tyson Gay was second in a then-American record 9.71. Later in that meet, Bolt won his first world 200m title, a crown he held concurrently with his Olympic 100m titles through his 2017 retirement. But Jacobs, citing nerve pain, scratched out of the last two Diamond League meets, which were to be showdowns with world 100m champion Fred Kerley. Jacobs did show up for Thursday’s press conference. Lyles has a bye onto the world team in the 200m, but also wants to make the four-man U.S. team in the 100m. He ranks fifth among Americans by best time this season — 9.95.

Men’s 800m — 4:51 p.m. ET
The top five from the world championships are entered, led by Olympic and world champion Emmanuel Korir of Kenya. This event was in an international doldrums for much of the time since Kenyan David Rudisha repeated as Olympic champion in 2016, then faded away from competition. But the emergence of 18-year-old Kenyan Emmanuel Wanyonyi has injected excitement this season. Wanyonyi is the world’s fastest man this year. The second-fastest, Kenyan Wycliffe Kinyamal, is also in this field.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the TV window for the meet broadcast. The CNBC broadcast begins at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, not 3.

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