Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto is doing her best to get in the way of what was long expected to be a historic podium sweep by the Russian Olympic Committee women’s figure skaters at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The highly anticipated women’s singles competition began with Tuesday’s short program, which was headlined by Kamila Valieva.
The 15-year-old ROC skater has made headlines through these entire Games — first as the fourth woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics, then as the first woman to land quadruple jumps at the Olympics (both in the team event), then for her Dec. 25 drug test that was positive for Trimetazidine that only came to light during these Games.
On Monday afternoon local time, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Valieva may continue to compete and roughly 32 hours she is in the lead halfway through the women’s singles competition.
Valieva made an uncharacteristic mistake on the takeoff of her opening triple axel and stepped out on the landing, putting her hand on the ice. Her score of 82.16 points is eight lower than what she earned in the team event short program.
Her teammate and the 2021 world champion, Anna Scherbakova, sits in second with 80.20 points. The 17-year-old was the only ROC skater who did not start her program with a triple axel attempt.
The final athlete to take the ice, 21-year-old Sakamoto wedged herself between the trio of Russian teenagers and after a clean performance to “Now We Are Free” from the movie “Gladiator” scored 79.84 points.
Aleksandra Trusova, the 2021 world bronze medalist, is back in fourth with a 74.60.
All three ROC skaters have quadruple jumps planned for their free skates on Thursday, meaning the ROC’s hopes for a podium sweep are still very much alive.
Of the 30 skaters who competed in the short program, 25 advanced to the free skate. That number is typically 24, but the International Olympic Committee and International Skating Union decided it would be increased by one if Valieva is among the top 24, since her appeal with the Russian Anti-Doping Agency is ongoing. The IOC also ruled that if Valieva is top three after the free skate, no flower ceremony or medal ceremony will be held for the event.
Alysa Liu leads the trio of American women in eighth place. With a score of 69.50, she is just over four points out from the top five.
Liu has been one to watch at these Games since not long after the PyeongChang 2018 Games ended. She became the youngest athlete to win the U.S. women’s singles title when she did so at 13 years old in 2019. Liu won a second title in 2020, and this season she is finally old enough to compete as a senior on the international stage.
Mariah Bell, who at 25 years old is the oldest U.S. woman to compete in the Olympic singles event in 94 years, sits in 11th after falling on her opening triple-triple and taking 65.38 points.
Returning for her second Olympic Games, Karen Chen — who was part of the U.S. team that placed second in the team event — fell on her triple toeloop late in her program, scoring 64.11 points for 13th place in the short.
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