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
Getty Images
1 Comment

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
4 – JPN – Mana KAWABE
5 – NED – Lindsay van ZUNDERT
6 – SWE – Josefin TALJEGARD

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

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

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

25 – USA – Karen CHEN
26 – ROC – Kamila VALIYEVA
27 – KOR – YOU Young
28 – ROC – Alexandra TRUSOVA
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.