Women’s Figure Skating Olympic Preview: Valiyeva cleared, quads will reign

Kamila Valiyeva leads the women's figure skating after the short program at the 2022 Winter Olympics
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UPDATE: Reigning world champion Anna Shcherbakova won the women’s figure skating Olympic title while Kamila Valiyeva placed fourth. Shcherbakova was joined on the podium by silver medalist and compatriot Aleksandra Trusova and Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, who won bronze.


The women’s figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics gets underway on Tuesday, Feb. 15, with the short program (5am ET), and will conclude on Thursday, Feb. 17, with the free skate (5am ET). Here are a few of the biggest storylines ahead of the competition.

Russian figure skater Kamila Valiyeva allowed to compete

In the last week, the biggest storyline of the women’s figure skating competition – perhaps even the 2022 Winter Olympics – became whether 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valiyeva would be allowed to compete.

After a historic performance in the team event – in which she became the first woman to land a quad in Olympic competition – it was revealed that Valiyeva failed a drug test taken on Dec. 25, the result only emerging last week. Russia’s anti-doping agency (RUSADA) suspended her, and then lifted the ban. In response, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and International Skating Union (ISU) sought to have her suspension reimposed.

Following an expedited hearing process, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) cleared her to compete in Beijing. However, it is still possible that Valiyeva will be stripped of her team gold medal – as well as any result she achieves in the individual women’s event – once the full case has been heard. As a result, the IOC has said it will not hold a medal ceremony for the women’s team event should Valiyeva win a medal (which she is favored to do).

Valiyeva is not the only Russian figure skater expected to contend

Entering the 2022 Winter Olympics, the trio of Russian athletes  – competing under the name Russian Olympic Committee (one of the sanctions from a state-sponsored doping program) – was favored to sweep the podium. In addition to Valiyeva, there is 17-year-old reigning world champion Anna Shcherbakova and “Quad Queen” Alexandra Trusova, also 17. All three athletes are coached by the controversial Eteri Tutberidze.

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

Meet the U.S. women figure skaters at the 2022 Winter Olympics

The American women are led by two-time Olympian Karen Chen, 22, who finished 11th at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, after which she took a season away because of injury. Chen won the U.S. title in 2017 and 2018, and last year she matched her best finish at worlds with a fourth-place finish.

At age 25, Mariah Bell is making her Olympic debut in Beijing, where she’ll be the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles competitor since 1928. Last month, Bell captured her first U.S. national title in her ninth appearance and propelling her onto her first Olympic team. Bell recorded the highest scores among U.S. women on the Grand Prix circuit this season, even without a triple-triple combination.

At 16, California native Alysa Liu is the only teenager on the U.S. figure skating team, and her Olympic debut in Beijing will also mark her first appearance in a major senior international event. While Liu previously competed quads and a triple axel, those jumps have become more difficult for her in recent years.

Other contenders to watch in women’s figure skating

Japan’s three-skater contingent of Sakamoto Kaori, Higuchi Wakaba and Kawabe Mana are expected to turn in top performances in the short program and could make up half of the final free skate group, which features the top six competitors. Other skaters who could breakthrough to that final group include Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx, who finished fifth at the 2021 World Championships, and South Korea’s You Young, who won gold at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne.

Additionally, Higuchi and Kawabe have the elusive triple Axel, which only three women have successfully landed in a previous Olympics (Japan’s Midori Ito in 1992, Japan’s Mao Asada in 2010 and 2014, and American Mirai Nagasu in 2018). ROC’s Valiyeva and Trusova and South Korea’s You also are expected to perform the trick, along with American Liu.

MORE FIGURE SKATING COVERAGE: Why aren’t there more Black figure skaters at the Winter Olympics?

How does the women’s singles figure skating competition work?

The women’s competition features a maximum of 30 skaters. Countries qualified spots via the 2021 World Championships last March and September’s Nebelhorn Trophy, an annual international senior event held annually in Oberstdorf, Germany.

The maximum number of skaters a country can have is three, and four countries qualified more than one spot including the Russian Olympic Committee, Japan and the U.S. with three, South Korea with two, and 19 other countries earning one each.

The women’s competition kicks off Tuesday, Feb. 15, with the short program, which last two minutes, 40 seconds (plus or minus 10 seconds). During the short program, each skater must perform seven required elements. While 24 skaters would typically advance, that number will be 25 skaters in Beijing – as a result of Valiyeva being cleared to compete. In the free skate on Feb. 17, each program can last four minutes each (plus/minus 10 seconds). The free skate allows for more flexibility with elements.

For each part of the competition, skaters earn a “total elements score” (TES) and a factored program component score (PCS), which are added together to reach the total segment score. TES is based on the quality and difficulty of the jumps, spins and steps, while the PCS rates the skater’s artistry and overall performance.

2022 Winter Olympics: Women’s Figure Skating – Short Program Start List

1 – UKR – Anastasiia SHABOTOVA
2 – FIN – Jenni SAARINEN
3 – AUT – Olga MIKUTINA
4 – JPN – Mana KAWABE
5 – NED – Lindsay van ZUNDERT
6 – SWE – Josefin TALJEGARD

BREAK
7 – AUS – Kailani CRAINE
8 – GBR – Natasha McKAY
9 – GEO – Anastasiia GUBANOVA
10 – USA – Mariah BELL
11 – CAN – Madeline SCHIZAS
12 – CHN – ZHU Yi

BREAK
13 – CZE – Eliska BREZINOVA
14 – EST – Eva-Lotta KIIBUS
15 – BUL – Alexandra FEIGIN
16 – BLR – Viktoriia SAFONOVA
17 – GER – Nicole SCHOTT
18 – SUI – Alexia PAGANINI

BREAK
19 – KOR – KIM Ye-Lim
20 – JPN – HIGUCHI Wakaba
21 – POL – Ekaterina KURAKOVA
22 – USA – Alysa LIU
23 – BEL – Loena HENDRICKX
24 – AZE – Ekaterina RYABOVA

BREAK
25 – USA – Karen CHEN
26 – ROC – Kamila VALIYEVA
27 – KOR – YOU Young
28 – ROC – Alexandra TRUSOVA
29 – ROC – Anna SHCHERBAKOVA
30 – JPN – SAKAMOTO Kaori

Women’s Figure Skating Schedule

Women’s Figure Skating Date / Start Time (U.S. Eastern Time) Date / Start 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

How to Watch Women’s Figure Skating at the 2022 Winter Olympics:

  • Peacock will be the streaming home of the 2022 Winter Olympics. Live streaming coverage and full replays of every event will be available on Peacock’s premium tier. Click here to watch.
  • You can also stream events via NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app.
  • Games will also air on NBC, USA Network, and CNBC. Preliminary TV listings can be found here and the most up-to-date schedule with TV and streaming info can be found here.

You can also keep up-to-date on how to watch every women’s and mixed gender event using On Her Turf’s official guide to the Winter Games.

NBC Olympics researcher Sarah Hughes and On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi contributed to this report. 

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

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.”