The biggest questions in Olympic sports for 2023

Simone Biles, Suni Lee
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Burning questions in Olympic sports for 2023, when athletes start qualifying for the 2024 Paris Games …

How many Olympic all-around gold medalists will return?
Suni Lee
competed strictly in NCAA gymnastics since winning the Tokyo Olympic all-around, but she announced last month that this sophomore season will be her last for the Auburn Tigers. Lee plans to return to elite, Olympic-level gymnastics after this winter. She hasn’t announced her comeback meet, but she has plenty of time ahead of the most significant domestic competitions in August.

Meanwhile, Simone Biles said in September that she plans to be at the Paris Olympics. She just has to decide whether that will be as an athlete or a spectator. Biles hasn’t provided further updates since but, as of the third quarter of this year, was still getting drug tested. That’s significant because if Biles does not withdraw her name from the testing pool, she is excused from the six-month waiting period to return to competition for athletes who leave and then re-enter the testing pool.

Then there’s 2012 Olympic all-around champ Gabby Douglas. She last competed at the 2016 Rio Games, but reports — and a photo — from this fall indicated she has been training at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Texas, which produced Olympic all-around champions Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin and reigning U.S. all-around champion Konnor McClain. Douglas hasn’t commented publicly, and her representative said Wednesday there is nothing new to report.

What will Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone race?
For the first time, McLaughlin-Levrone has a bye into the world championships as a reigning gold medalist. That means she can race the 400m hurdles at August’s worlds in Budapest without entering the event at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July. Athletes with byes sometimes compete in other events at nationals. Mix that with her comments from this fall that she wants to add the flat 400m to her program — but not give up the hurdles, yet at least — and we have our burning question.

When McLaughlin-Levrone made those fall comments, no concrete decision had been made about a possible 400m/400m hurdles double bid in 2023 (or 2024). At worlds, the women’s 400m hurdles first round heats start 2 hours and 20 minutes before the women’s 400m semifinals. Top-level pros rarely race multiple times in one session in a distance longer than 200 meters at any meet.

The Olympic schedule is accommodating as ever for a possible women’s 400m/400m hurdles double in 2024 (no woman has ever earned a medal in both races at one Olympics or worlds). For the first time in Olympic history, none of the rounds of those races take place on the same day at the Games. But doing both through the finals would still be a challenge: racing six consecutive days at the Olympics (and a seventh day at the end if adding the 4x400m relay).

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Will Caeleb Dressel compete in 2023, and if so, when?
Dressel, who won five golds at the Tokyo Games, withdrew on unspecified medical grounds during June’s world championships after winning his first two finals. He hasn’t competed since and last provided an update on Sept. 4, saying he was happy, had not swum since worlds and missed swimming. He ended the social media post with the line, “I’ll be back.”

The next major meet is the U.S. Championships from June 27-July 1, the qualifying meet for the world championships in Japan later in July. In Dressel’s absence, Olympic 200m fly champion Kristof Milak became the new world champion in the 100m fly, where Dressel holds the world record. In the 100m freestyle, where Dressel had been the world’s fastest man outside of the super-suit era, 18-year-old Romanian David Popovici won the world title and then broke the world record.

Is Katie Ledecky headed for a Race of the Century?
Swimming worlds may also produce the most anticipated head-to-head-to-head race in 18 years. The women’s 400m freestyle could pit Ledecky (reigning world champion) against Australian Ariarne Titmus (reigning Olympic champion) and 16-year-old Canadian phenom Summer McIntosh. This year, Titmus broke Ledecky’s world record but skipped a showdown with Ledecky at the world championships in prioritizing the Commonwealth Games. McIntosh took silver to Ledecky at worlds, becoming the fourth-fastest woman in history.

The hype has been compared to the “Race of the Century,” when Michael Phelps, Aussie Ian Thorpe and Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband met in the 200m free at the 2004 Athens Games (won by Thorpe).

Will Mikaela Shiffrin break one of Alpine skiing’s historic records?
Shiffrin heads into 2023 in arguably her best form since her incredible 2018-19 season, winning her last four races across three different disciplines to reach 80 World Cup wins. She is two victories shy of Lindsey Vonn‘s female record and six away from Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record that has stood since he retired in 1989. Shiffrin getting to 87 would be the most significant accomplishment in American ski racing — outside of the Olympics — since her breakout world title at age 17 in 2013.

Shiffrin is 27 years old and expects to compete at least through the 2026 Winter Games. If she gets to 87 World Cup wins in 2023, having averaged about eight victories per season, you have to start wondering whether 100 is possible.

What happens with Russian athletes?
Russians and Belarusians in most Olympic sports have been banned from international competition since the invasion of Ukraine 10 months ago. Olympic sports leaders have discussed since at least September how athletes who do not endorse the war could return in the future. The International Olympic Committee is not yet recommending the lifting of the bans, but did say it planned to explore the possibility of Russian athletes taking part in Olympic qualifying competitions in Asia rather than Europe.

A key sport is gymnastics. Russian gymnasts won men’s and women’s team gold at the Tokyo Games. As rules currently stand, Russians must compete at their continental championships this year (April for Europe, May or June for Asia) to remain eligible to qualify full teams for the Paris Games.

Will any U.S. beach volleyball gold medalist return?
The Olympic beach volleyball qualifying window runs from January 2023 into June 2024. It looks likely to start with no public word from reigning gold medalists Alix Klineman and April Ross on whether either will bid for the Paris Games. Klineman, 33, hasn’t competed since shoulder surgery last January. Ross, 40, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury.

“I’m weighing a lot of factors, a lot of life factors, a lot of, you know, opportunity factors,” Ross said earlier this month. “There’s a lot of things that are appealing to me at the moment, and I just have to decide which direction I want to go. But yeah, I still feel like I have a lot of good years of volleyball left in me.”

Kerri Walsh Jennings, the most decorated Olympic beach volleyball player with four medals (three gold), has been working out on Hermosa Beach with 2000 Olympic indoor teammate Logan Tom, according to videos posted by Buzzle this month. Walsh Jennings, 44, last played a tournament in June 2021, when she and then-partner Brooke Sweat were eclipsed for the second and last U.S. spot for the Tokyo Games. Walsh Jennings said last spring that she wanted Tom to be her new partner, then said in October that she should have an answer on her 2024 Olympic bid plans after the start of the new year.

The gold medalists have some time to deliberate, but probably need to return at some point in 2023 or risk falling significantly behind in qualifying for two Olympic spots. The U.S. has two strong, younger pairs in Sara Hughes and Kelly Cheng, who won the most recent top-level international event earlier this month, and Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, who won five times between the domestic AVP and international FIVB tours in 2022.

Stephen Curry, Steve Kerr
Will Stephen Curry join Steve Kerr at the 2023 FIBA World Cup? (Getty)

Which NBA superstars will suit up for USA Basketball?
The U.S. men’s basketball team may face a gigantic threat at the Paris Games (more on that in the next burning question), but first comes the quadrennial FIBA World Cup in August and September. Recall four years ago that the Americans, with just two reigning NBA All-Stars on the team and one player with Olympic experience, lost twice at the World Cup en route to their worst major tournament result ever — seventh place.

After Gregg Popovich coached the team to a bounce-back gold in Tokyo, Steve Kerr succeeded him as head coach. Grant Hill followed Jerry Colangelo as national team managing director. Will America’s best players sign up to travel around the globe — the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia co-host worlds — a month before NBA preseason training camps?

Which country will Joel Embiid play for?
The Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center, who was born in Cameroon, gained French nationality and U.S. citizenship this year, potentially making him eligible to represent any of those nations in international basketball. Embiid has not yet announced his choice, if he decides to play at all, but France’s GM expressed confidence last month.

If Embiid joins France, it could give the Olympic host country triplet towers with fellow 7-footers Rudy Gobert and Victor Wembanyama, an 18-year-old whom LeBron James described as a one-of-a-kind talent. That could pose problems for the U.S. Anthony Davis, who skipped the Tokyo Olympics, is the lone U.S. center to make an All-NBA first, second or third team in the last five seasons.

Can Kelly Slater qualify for Olympic surfing at age 51?
Many thought surfing’s debut in Tokyo was Slater’s only shot at the Olympics. He missed the team by one spot when it came down to the last event of yearlong qualifying. Then Slater came back in February to win the most prestigious contest in the sport — the Pipeline Masters — 30 years after he won it for the first time. Slater didn’t make the quarterfinals again until the season’s penultimate event — placing third at the 2024 Olympic venue in Tahiti — and finished ranked third among American men in world standings.

The top two American men in next year’s standings likely qualify for the Olympics. In a change from Tokyo, the U.S. has the chance to earn a third Olympic men’s spot if it wins the 2024 World Surfing Games. That spot can be filled via discretionary pick.

Will the 2030 Winter Olympic and Paralympic host be decided?
The IOC announced earlier this month that the 2030 host is no longer expected to be decided before next fall, citing wider discussions into the future of the Winter Games, including the effects of climate change and the possibility of rotating the Games within a pool of hosts.

Previously, Salt Lake City, Sapporo, Japan, and Vancouver were confirmed as bids. Then in October, the British Columbia government said it would not support a Vancouver bid, a major setback, though organizers did not say that decision ended the bid. Then last week, Japanese officials announced a pause in the active promotion of the Sapporo bid that may include a national survey asking the public whether it wants to host the Games.

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials have said Salt Lake City is a likelier candidate for 2034 than 2030 — with Los Angeles already hosting the 2028 Summer Games — but could step in for 2030 if asked.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Kelly Slater was fifth among Americans in 2022 and made one quarterfinal. He was third with two quarterfinals.

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Ilia Malinin eyed new heights at figure skating worlds, but a jump to gold requires more


At 18 years old, Ilia Malinin already has reached immortality in figure skating for technical achievement, being the first to land a quadruple Axel jump in competition.

The self-styled “Quadg0d” already has shown the chutzpah (or hubris?) to go for the most technically difficult free skate program ever attempted at the world championships, including that quad Axel, the hardest jump anyone has tried.

It helped bring U.S. champion Malinin the world bronze medal Saturday in Saitama, Japan, where he made more history as the first to land the quad Axel at worlds.

But it already had him thinking that the way to reach the tops of both the worlds and Olympus might be to acknowledge his mortal limits.

Yes, if Malinin (288.44 points) had cleanly landed all six quads he did instead of going clean on just three of the six, it would have closed or even overcome the gap between him and repeat champion Shoma Uno of Japan (301.14) and surprise silver medalist Cha Jun-Hwan (296.03), the first South Korean man to win a world medal.

That’s a big if, as no one ever has done six clean quads in a free skate.

And the energy needed for those quads, physical and mental, hurts Malinin’s chances of closing another big gap with the world leaders: the difference in their “artistic” marks, known as component scores.

Malinin’s technical scores led the field in both the short program and free skate. But his component scores were lower than at last year’s worlds, when he finished ninth, and they ranked 10th in the short program and 11th in the free this time. Uno had an 18.44-point overall advantage over Malinin in PCS, Cha a 13.47 advantage.

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As usual in figure skating, some of the PCS difference owes to the idea of paying your dues. After all, at his first world championships, eventual Olympic champion Nathan Chen had PCS scores only slightly better than Malinin’s, and Chen’s numbers improved substantially by the next season.

But credit Malinin for quickly grasping the reality that his current skating has a lot of rough edges on the performance side.

“I’ve noticed that it’s really hard to go for a lot of risks,” he said in answer to a press conference question about what he had learned from this competition. “Sometimes going for the risks you get really good rewards, but I think that maybe sometimes it’s OK to lower the risks and go for a lot cleaner skate. I think it will be beneficial next season to lower the standards a bit.”

So could it be “been-there, done-that” with the quad Axel? (and the talk of quints and quad-quad combinations?)

Saturday’s was his fourth clean quad Axel in seven attempts this season, but it got substantially the lowest grade of execution (0.36) of the four with positive marks. It was his opening jump in the four-minute free, and, after a stopped-in-your tracks landing, his next two quads, flip and Lutz, were both badly flawed.

And there were still some three minutes to go.

Malinin did not directly answer about letting the quad Axel go now that he has definitively proved he can do it. What he did say could be seen as hinting at it.

“With the whole components factor … it’s probably because you know, after doing a lot of these jumps, (which) are difficult jumps, it’s really hard to try to perform for the audience,” he said.

“Even though some people might enjoy jumping, and it’s one of the things I enjoy, but I also like to perform to the audience. So I think next season, I would really want to focus on this performing side.”

Chen had told me essentially the same thing for a 2017 Ice Network story (reposted last year by about his several years of ballet training. He regretted not being able to show that training more because of the program-consuming athletic demands that come with being an elite figure skater.

“When I watch my skating when I was younger, I definitely see all this balletic movement and this artistry come through,” Chen said then. “When I watch my artistry now, it’s like, ‘Yes, it’s still there,’ but at the same time, I’m so focused on the jumps, it takes away from it.”

The artistry can still be developed and displayed, as Chen showed and as prolific and proficient quad jumpers like Uno and the now retired two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan have proved.

For another perspective on how hard it is to combine both, look at the difficulty it posed for the consummate performer, Jason Brown, who had the highest PCS scores while finishing a strong fifth (280.84).

Since Brown dropped his Sisyphean attempts to do a clean quad after 26 tries (20 in a free skate), the last at the 2022 U.S. Championships, he has received the two highest international free skate scores of his career, at the 2022 Olympics and this world meet.

It meant Brown’s coming to terms with his limitations and the fact that in the sport’s current iteration, his lack of quads gives him little chance of winning a global championship medal. What he did instead was give people the chance to see the beauty of his blade work, his striking movement, his expressiveness.

He has, at 28, become an audience favorite more than ever. And the judges Saturday gave Brown six maximum PCS scores (10.0.)

“I’m so happy about today’s performance,” Brown told media in the mixed zone. “I did my best to go out there and skate my skate. And that’s what I did.”

The quadg0d is realizing that he, too, must accept limitations if he wants to achieve his goals. Ilia Malinin can’t simply jump his way onto the highest steps of the most prized podiums.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to

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Shoma Uno repeats as world figure skating champion; Ilia Malinin tries 6 quads for bronze


Japan’s Shoma Uno repeated as world figure skating champion, performing the total package of jumps and artistry immediately after 18-year-old American Ilia Malinin attempted a record-tying six quadruple jumps in his free skate to earn the bronze medal.

Uno, 25 and the leader after Thursday’s short program, prevailed with five quad attempts (one under-rotated) in Saturday’s free skate.

He finished, fell backward and lay on home ice in Saitama, soaking in a standing ovation amid a sea of Japanese flags. Japan won three of the four gold medals this week, and Uno capped it off with guts coming off a reported ankle injury.

He is the face of Japanese men’s skating after two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu retired in July and Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama missed most of this season with leg and ankle injuries.

“There were many shaky jumps today, but I’m happy I was able to get a good result despite not being in a good condition these past two weeks,” Uno said, according to the International Skating Union (ISU). “I know I caused a lot of concerns to everyone around me, but I was able to pay them back and show my gratitude with my performance today.”

Silver medalist Cha Jun-Hwan became the first South Korean man to win a world championships medal. Cha, a 21-year-old who was fifth at the Olympics, had to change out broken skate boots before traveling to Japan, one year after withdrawing from worlds after a 17th-place short program, citing a broken skate boot.


Malinin, ninth in his senior worlds debut last year, planned the most difficult program of jumps in figure skating history — six quads, including a quad Axel. Malinin is the only person to land a quad Axel in competition and did so again Saturday. He still finished 12.7 points behind Uno and 7.59 behind Cha.

Malinin had the top technical score (jumps, spins, step sequences) in both programs, despite an under-rotation and two other negatively graded jumps among his seven jumping passes in the free skate.

His nemesis was the artistic score, placing 10th and 11th in that category in the two programs (18.44 points behind Uno). Unsurprising for the only teen in the top 13, who is still working on that facet of his skating, much like a young Nathan Chen several years ago.

“After doing a lot of these jumps — hard, difficult jumps — it’s really hard to try to perform for the audience,” said Malinin, who entered worlds ranked second in the field by best score this season behind Uno.

Chen, who is unlikely to compete again after winning last year’s Olympics, remains the lone skater to land six fully rotated quads in one program (though not all clean). Malinin became the youngest U.S. male singles skater to win a world medal since Scott Allen in 1965. He was proud of his performance, upping the ante after previously trying five quads in free skates this season, but afterward weighed whether the risk was worth it.

“Sometimes going for the risk, you get really good rewards, but I think that maybe sometimes it’s OK to lower the risks and try not to take as much risk and go for a lot cleaner skate,” he said. “I think that’ll be beneficial to do next season is to lower the standards a bit.”

Malinin was followed by Frenchman Kévin Aymoz, who before the pandemic was the world’s third-ranked skater behind Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu, then placed ninth, 11th and 12th at the last three global championships.

Jason Brown, a two-time U.S. Olympian, was fifth in his first international competition since last year’s Olympics. He was the lone man in the top 15 to not attempt a quad, a testament to his incredible artistic skills for which he received the most points between the two programs.

“I didn’t think at the beginning of the year that I even would be competing this year, so I’m really touched to be here,” the 28-year-old said, according to the ISU. “I still want to keep going [competing] a little longer, but we’ll see. I won’t do promises.”

Earlier Saturday, Madison Chock and Evan Bates became the oldest couple to win an ice dance world title and the second set of Americans to do so. More on that here.

World championships highlights air Saturday from 8-10 p.m. ET on NBC, and the NBC Sports app.

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