There were the teenyboppers. And then there was the Empress.
Together, they tell the story of what you will see in the women’s event at the Olympics in Beijing next year: quads, triple Axels and youth – except for that upstart Empress.
The Empress is Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia, who hadn’t even made it out of her country to get to a world championship for six years. Now 24 years old, she defies the trend in the country and the odds. The winner, Anna Shcherbakova who turns 17 on Sunday, intended to do two of the most difficult quads (she fell on the first one, a Lutz, and tripled the second one, a flip in combination with a triple toe loop.) But she’s been through a long bout of what she called at first pneumonia, but was probably COVID.
She kept fighting until the end, finishing second in the free skate with 152.17 points and first overall with 233.17, which was 12.71 points ahead of Tuktamysheva with 220.46.
Alexandra Trusova, only 16, actually won the free skate with 152.38 points and took the bronze medal with 217.20, about three points behind Tuktamysheva. Trusova intended to do five quads in the free, and started off with a quad flip (on an uncertain edge), eked out a quad Lutz-triple toe loop , fell on a later quad Lutz that was underrotated, and launched into a crazy quad toe loop (two-footed) that lurched into an Euler and then a triple Salchow that was about a quarter turn short of rotation.
Still, the base value of what Trusova did was far higher than anyone else’s at 87.33 points, compared to Shcherbakova’s 72.18. The quad-hopper won the free skate with the help of a huge component mark, which doesn’t quite square with her lack of polish.
While Shcherbakova, skating to “The Home of Dark Butterflies,” earned 72.85, Trusova was right in with a group of others, with 66.34 points, awarded by judges from China, Czech Republic, Sweden, Russia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Denmark, United States and The Netherlands. One judge gave Trusova a mark as high as 9.25 for skating skills, another gave her 9.00. Shcherbakova, definitely the more lyrical, didn’t get a mark higher than 9.50 and there were only about three of those.
And then there was Tuktamysheva. She was already older than all of these podium peers when she won her world title in 2015. She doesn’t skate with speed. Her stroking is not all that pretty. Carolina Kostner, she is not. (Still, she got the third highest mark for components.)
But she doesn’t know quit and people love her for it. She disappears and reappears on the scene as successive generations of Russia hot-shots come and go. Tuktamysheva just never goes. She got COVID. She learned a triple Axel, and then put two in her program. She has landed a quadruple toe loop in practice but kept it out of her routine – so far.
She knows you need quads if you want to get onto the podium at the Beijing Games next year. You can’t leave home without it, especially if you seek gold. “Next year at the Olympics, it will be hard to fight for a medal, if only for the bronze,” she said. “The level of the ladies skating is so high and now aiming for the gold without a quad is impossible.
“I think during the year, even more girls will learn quads and the competition will be even tougher. There will be quads at the Olympic Games. The skating progresses as does the amount of the quads, like for the men.”
Even though Trusova, the head of the new generation of female quadmeisters, was asked if she thought it might be better to do a clean program with fewer quads, she seemed unrepentant. “I was coming here with this list [of quads], and I was not going to land even one quad less, under no circumstances,” she said. “My goal is five quads till I land them and we’ll see what then.”
And then there is Tuktamysheva, again. When she received her final score of 220.67 that put her ahead of Trusova, ensuring her a spot on the podium with two skaters to go, the tears came. “I didn’t want to think about the placement nor the podium when I was coming here,” she said. “But deep down, I was hoping that perhaps after all, I’ll medal. And when it happened, the emotions were incredible.
“I am so happy and am so in peace with myself now. I did all I could and am second.”
The silver medal will motivate her to keep working. She has no secret to her longevity and success. “I just deal with the situation and I want to continue developing just as the figure skating develops, not to be left out, to improve,” she said. “I don’t feel the responsibility as such, but I want to show the women in figure skating that everything is possible and that medal at worlds at the age of 24 is proof.”
Rika Kihira, the Japanese champion who is 18, had so many plans for her free program, done to delicate, beautiful piano music (“Baby, God Bless You” by Shinya Kiyozuka.) She had intended a quad Salchow, but did instead a triple Axel, or at least she planned to. It turned into only a double, and so it started. She under-rotated her second triple Axel, and fell on it. The points just drained away, with those first two elements.
There was another under-rotation at the end of a triple flip-Euler-triple Salchow. Another on a triple Lutz near She stumbled a bit as she landed a flying camel sin, she had a wobble on the step sequence. She did some good things, but finished only ninth in the free skate and seventh overall, after being second in the short program. “I’m sorry that it wasn’t able to happen,” she said.
The talk of the day was the effort by Karen Chen, who had won the bronze medal at the U.S. championships, but who was still named to the two-member US team going to Stockholm, when officials by-passed silver medalist Amber Glenn.
Chen had won the US title in 2017 when she was 17, and then won three US bronze medals since. Twice, she has finished fourth at a world championship, helping the United States get three spots for the 2018 Olympics. And now this time, she has done the same. Add her fourth place to U.S. champion Bradie Tennell’s ninth place, and the two of them have conjured up three spots for US women at the Beijing Games.
Still, under new rules that weren’t in place at the past Olympics, the third member of the team will have to go to a qualifying event at the Nebelhorn Trophy this fall to secure or confirm that third spot, as the International Olympic Committee tries to cut down numbers of athletes, and ensure that people who have really been in the trenches and have proved their mettle get to the Games, as opposed to one person just building up a pile of spots for others.
This new rule affected Canada this week, too. Canada’s No. 1 skater, Madeline Schizas and last year’s Canadian champion Emily Bausback were named to the Stockholm team. But when Bausback finished only 27th in the short program and failed to qualify for the long, it made Schizas’ job much tougher.
Had Bausback qualified and earned 16 points, Schizas would have had to only finish in the top 12 to allow Canada to keep its two spots, although a skater other than Schizas would have to go to Nebelhorn to secure the second spot.
However, Bausback’s non-qualifying points are 18, which meant that Schizas had to finish in the top 10 to do the same job. As it was, Schizas, competing at her first world championship and only her second international competition, finished 13th in the free – meaning that Canada will get only one spot at the Olympics next February. (If Keegan Messing, as a lone entry, earns Canada two spots for the Olympics on Saturday, another Canadian skater will have to go to Nebelhorn and confirm that second spot.)
Despite being such a newcomer, Schizas was magnificent, landing a triple Lutz – double toe loop (she intended a triple toe loop), four other triples, with a level four on her layback spin. She got an under -rotation call on a double loop that was at the end of a three-jump combination.
Schizas finished 14th in the free and 13th overall. Kaetlyn Osmond was eighth at her first world championship and 11th at her second, before she won in 2018. Schizas plans to go after the triple Axel and put it in a short program to up her base value.
“I’ve learned a lot this week about competing at an [ISU] championship, which is obviously something I’ve never done,” she said. “I think I had really high expectations, especially after the [ninth place] short program, knowing that I wanted to be in the top 10 to help Canada keep a second spot for the Olympics Games.
“I was really prepared for this event and I think that’s what enabled me to skate as well as I did. I’ve learned a lot about how hard it is to keep going through the week and how to manage the pacing of such a long event.”
Trusova wasn’t the only skater to make a remarkable rise up the ranks between short and long programs. So did Belgian Loena (pronounced LOO-nah) Hendrickx, who sat 10th after the short, skating appropriately enough to “It’s all Coming Back to Me Now,” especially since she took most of the 2019-20 season off with a back injury.
With her free program in Stockholm, to “Fever,” she finished fourth with a brilliant effort, (big triple Lutz with arms up-triple toe loop, triple flip, huge triple Lutz, triple flip-double toe loop – double loop with her arms above her head in all segments, a triple Salchow and lots of elements at level four.) Her free score was 141.16, bettering her previous high point by about nine points. Overall, she had 208.44 points, only .19 points behind Karen Chen, leaving the Belgian in fifth place overall. Loena had the third highest technical mark: 74.53.
“I wanted to achieve what I did tonight: skating clean because in training, I did do a lot of clean programs, so I wanted to be as good as I am in practice,” she said. “I think I proved it.” She was greeted off the ice by her brother, former figure skater Jorik Hendrickx, who now also works as her coach.
The Japanese skaters had a tough go in the free skate, but Kaori Sakamoto finished fifth in the free, probably undermarked, and sixth overall. Her only flaws were a turn between her triple flip – triple toe loop and an incorrect entry into a triple Lutz in her powerful Matrix routine. Her most astonishing was her opening double Axel with its soft landing and long running edge. She finished with 207.80 points. “As for the score, it is what it is,” she said. “I feel that the error I the Lutz I the short program and the free program were a big blow. Up until now, I think I might have gotten 150 [in the free], but I’m 15 lower [with 137.42]. I guess that happens, and I’m still a little bit frustrated, but this is the kind of thing I need to experience, so I will accept it.”
The saddest tale of all was of the Tiny Queen, Satoko Miyahara, a former world silver and bronze medalist, who finished 16th in the short program and 19th in the free to be 19th overall with 172.30 points.
“I was so disappointed and upset and sad and after the short program, I couldn’t really change my mind,” she said. “But I realized it’s not gonna be good if I’m too sad, so I focused on my free program and just wanted to do what I can do.
“There are a lot of things to work on, but mainly I need to work on my technique and also change my mentality to be more confident.”
She’ll return to Japan first, where she has Stars On Ice shows in the offing, and would really like to go back to Canada, where she intended to train with Lee Barkell. Barkell pumped his fist against his heart a couple of times before Miyahara went onto the ice, and had another dismal day, doubling jumps, going to her knee on another and falling on her first triple-triple combo.
One thing about the IJS system, it can put people like unheralded Olga Mikutina of Austria up where she belongs. She finished seventh in the free skate, just ahead of US champion Bradie Tennell, and eighth overall with an excellent triple Lutz – triple toe loop. She finished with no negative GOE or flaws. The Ukrainian-born daughter of a hockey player, she had few international results, other than Junior Grand Prix, to hang her hat on. She finished 18th at the world junior championship in 2019, and was to have made her debut at the Montreal worlds last year, but it was cancelled.
“I was very excited,” she said. “Somehow I was able to loosen up in my program and show what I do in training. It was my best performance, my best score here, and I’m very happy.”
Tennell, rarely inconsistent, and such a force when she won her national title in January, couldn’t get her feet under her and was cited for three under-rotations, on the back end of her Lutz-toe loop combo, on another triple Lutz comb, and on a triple flip.
“The entire competition did not go nearly according to plan,” she said. “I am very disappointed with my skates. It’s not what I have been training for. I have been training clean programs every day, short and long, so coming here for these performances, very disappointing especially in such an important competition.
She did have an excuse: Her right landing boot broke on the first or second day after she arrived in Stockholm. And she didn’t have another to replace it. The boots were only about a month old.
“These things happen and there is nothing you can do,” she said. “You step on the ice and do your best.” The area that broke was the outside support area along the ankle. “If the boot broke before I came to Stockholm, I could fix it,” she said.
Thankfully, the U.S. had brought along Chen, who bubbled: “I was in shock for sure,” she said, learning that she had got US its three Olympic spots. “The situation, [with three competitors left to skate” wasn’t looking that great. I was really happy and felt a lot of emotions and I have no regrets, regardless if we had secured two spots or three. I was just proud of myself for delivering two really great programs.”