After Russia ban, world figure skating medals up for grabs

FILE - Nathan Chen competes in the men's free skating program during the figure skating event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, in Beijing.  Nathan Chen withdrew from the world championships on Wednesday March 16 due to what he called a

FILE – Nathan Chen competes in the men’s free skating program during the figure skating event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, in Beijing. Nathan Chen withdrew from the world championships on Wednesday March 16 due to what he called a “nagging injury” he suffered after winning the Beijing Games. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

PA

The top two women of the Beijing Olympics, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, will not be at the world figure skating championships this week in Montpellier, France. Neither was Kamila Valieva, the fourth whose positive doping result cast a shadow over the entire Winter Games.

Or the silver medalists in the ice dance and the silver and bronze medalists in the pairs competition.

This is because all of these Russian skaters were banned from competition by the International Skating Union, which followed the precedent set by other sports governing bodies after the country invaded Ukraine. Belarusian figure skaters are also barred from competition from Wednesday due to its alliance with Russia.

“It’s a very tricky and difficult thing to deal with,” said American ice dancer Evan Bates, who along with Madison Chock helped the United States win team silver before finishing fourth in their competition at the Beijing Games.

Moreover, they are still waiting for this Olympic medal because of the anti-doping investigation involving Russia.

“Obviously in the sports world, given that there is public funding for an Olympic sport like figure skating, you can understand why they might have ramifications for what happens,” Bates continued, “ but I think there comes a time when it gets tricky, when we have a blanket ban on all Russians or Russian artists or Russians pay the price for their leader. I can’t speak for the Russian people, but I’m sure he’s not 100% in favor of what’s going on.”

Either way, the decision leaves the world championships – whose status tends to be somewhat diminished in an Olympic year anyway – without five of the 12 medalists in the individual competitions simply because of their Nationality.

This includes couples silver medalists Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and bronze medalists Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, as well as dance silver medalists Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov.

At last year’s world championships, Russian athletes won six of the 12 medals up for grabs.

“What’s happening right now is devastating,” Chock said of the ongoing conflict, “and I’m just thinking of all our Ukrainian friends who just had the biggest highlight of their lives, and they’re going back to a war-torn country and it just broke my heart.”

Ukraine has qualified Ivan Shmuratko for men’s competition at the world championships, along with pair skaters Sofiia Holichenko and Artem Darenskyi and the dance team of Oleksandra Nazarova and Maksym Nikitin. But given the situation at home, we still did not know on the eve of the competition in France if there would be any on the ice this week.

“It’s really difficult when we condemn people based on where they come from and certain factors that are beyond their control,” Bates said. “With the predicament the world is in, you know, the kind of mixing of politics and sports, ‘It’s very difficult to sort out everything that’s happened. And I think especially of these world championships in particular – it’s not a matter of doping. It’s a political issue and another thing in my career that I’ve never really seen or experienced before.”

However, Russian and Belarusian athletes will not be the only ones absent from the world championships.

Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen withdrew due to injury while the Chinese team refused to send athletes in part because of the pandemic, meaning Olympic pair champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won’t be there.

Indeed, the first six of the Beijing couples competition do not compete in France. And the only Olympic gold medalists are ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who will compete in front of a local audience.

They will be big favorites when the competition begins on Wednesday. But otherwise, the medal race is wide open and could feature promising young athletes who are on the verge of breaking onto the world stage.

That includes 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin, who could be Chen’s heir apparent heading into the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina, and 21-year-old Camden Pulkinen, a former junior national champion.

“It will be different,” admitted American skater Mariah Bell, “but it’s exciting that there are opportunities to work. But I don’t think about it too much. I’ve been in so many different situations where it’s There’s so much going on around me and I have to focus on myself and my skating and do my best. That’s literally all I have control over.”

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Naomi C. Amerson