How did three Russian teens – and training partners – become the world’s best figure skaters?

Anna Shcherbakova, Kamila Valiyeva and Aleksandra Trusova at the 2022 ISU European Figure Skating Championships.
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In what’s expected to be a groundbreaking display of technical ability, a young but mighty trio of Russian figure skaters are set to light up the ice at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Led by 15-year-old Kamila Valiyeva, 17-year-old reigning world champion Anna Shcherbakova and “Quad Queen” Alexandra Trusova, also 17, the Russian skaters are favored to sweep the podium in Beijing – just as they did at the 2021 World Championships – and continue a trend that began in 2014 when fellow Russian Adelina Sotnikova, then 17, captured gold in Sochi.

Since then, Russian teenagers have dominated the event, with two teens from the same Moscow rink – then-15-year-old Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva, then 17 – winning gold and silver in PyeongChang. And heading to China, that same rink is home to all three skaters representing the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). Also in common is their coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who is guiding Russian contenders in a third consecutive Games.

But it’s their jumping power that has elevated these skaters into the next stratosphere and iteration of the sport.

All three have the elusive “quad” in their arsenal. The quad – a four-revolution jump – was once considered a nearly impossible feat for women skaters and is only allowed in the free skate. Valiyeva is expected to do three in her free skate, while Trusova landed five clean quads at a national event in September.

While such feats ultimately pit these teammates and training partners against each other in competition, Valiyeva expressed a seasoned-competitor’s view after winning the Russian Championships in December: “Rivalry is always good, in all sports, and it probably pushes you forward.”

As the success of Tutberidze’s young students has skyrocketed, concerns have been raised about disordered eating within the Russian camp, especially after Yulia Lipnitskaya, a former student of Tutberidze who won team gold in 2014, opened up in 2017 about dealing with chronic anorexia.

How did Valiyeva, Shcherbakova and Trusova rise to the top?

Born in Kazan, Russia, Valiyeva began skating at 3 years old and taking ballet at age 5, and by kindergarten she said she knew she was destined to compete in the Olympics. Her love of ballet and other visual arts – especially painting – has influenced her skating, and she’s known as much for her artistry as her technical prowess.

Moscow-born Shcherbakova has also been skating singe age 3, when she followed older sister Inna to the ice rink. She burst onto the scene with a surprise win at the 2019 Russian Championships, but her last two seasons have been a mix of triumphs and health battles. Last year she recorded an impressive third consecutive win at Russian nationals, but a bout of pneumonia during the 2020-21 season and a fractured toe in June caused her to miss extended periods of training.

“You want to keep up with that level [of others] and continue staying in shape,” Shcherbakova said in December at nationals, flashing her determination to make up for lost time. “I will dedicate the maximum amount of training time for quad jumps and at the future competitions I will try to complete all the combination of jumps, making them more advanced.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2022 Winter Olympics Schedule – How to watch every women’s event

Trusova, who was born in Ryazan, Russia, first started skating at age 4, but she says it was watching fellow Russian skaters Sotnikova and Lipnitskaya compete at the 2014 Sochi Games that inspired her goal of competing in the Olympics. She’s blazed several “firsts” since then, becoming the first female skater to land a quad Lutz and a quad toe in competition as a junior, as well as the first to do two quads in one program. In her first senior season, Trusova became the first female skater to land three quads in a single program and the first to land a quad flip in competition.

Off the ice, this quad squad shares a common love of animals: Trusova is a dog mom to chihuahua Tina and miniature poodles Lana, Alita and Cruella – named after the movie soundtrack that serves as the music for her Olympic free skate; Shcherbakova says her cat Mafia rules the roost; and Valiyeva’s Pomeranian Spitz named Liova was a gift from her fan club.

Which Russian figure skater is favored to win gold in Beijing?

Leading into the Olympics, Valiyeva is undefeated in her first senior international season and won two of the toughest competitions – Russian nationals and European Championships in January – by record margins. She landed three quadruple jumps in the free skate in Tallinn, Estonia, totaling 259.06 points and setting a new record margin of victory. Valiyeva won by 21.64, besting the previous women’s record set by Medvedeva in 2017 (18.32 points).

This past fall, Trusova became the first woman ever to land five quads in a program, while Shcherbakova has the quad flip and quad Lutz in her repertoire.

“Without quads, you don’t have any chances to win competitions now,” said Shcherbakova last month via Olympics.com. “So I know that for me, it’s really important [to add more]. … My goal is to do not one quad [but] to work more on it and to show more quads in my program.”

MORE OLYMPIC FIGURE SKATING: Kamila Valiyeva becomes first woman to land quad at Olympics

Prior to the arrival of the powerhouse Russian trio, only a handful of names had even attempted the quad jump, with France’s Surya Bonaly leading the way 30 years ago at the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics. Bonaly landed an under-rotated quad attempt, which was not ratified, and no other woman has tried one at an Olympics since.

Expect that to change when the Olympic figure skating competition kicks off.

“It is going to be very difficult for female skaters who don’t have these quads to compete for a medal,” said NBC analyst and 1998 Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski. “No one inherently likes change, and this is going to be such a drastic change. I wonder, how are you going to balance what figure skating is — the balance between technical and artistic, which has been a problem in our sport forever. This a period of change.”

2022 Winter Olympics: Women’s Figure Skating Schedule

Following the team event at the start of the Olympics, the women’s figure skating competition gets underway Feb. 15.

Event  Date/Time (U.S. Eastern Time) Date/Time (Beijing, China)
Women’s Short Program 2/15/22 5:00 AM 2/15/22 6:00 PM
Women’s Free Skate 2/17/22 5:00 AM 2/17/22 6:00 PM

NBC Olympics researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.