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 “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.

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.