PANORAMA: Sakamoto wins women’s figure skating Worlds; Vancouver pols fight over 2030 OWG vote; IIHF to review pro-Russian acts of its ex-President!

Dominant: Japan's 2022 World Champion Kaori Sakamoto (Photo courtesy International Skating Union)

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Plus: Athletics: Want to host the 2024 World Athletics Relays? = Figure Skating: Cain-Gribble better; announcers excused after vulgar comments = Football: U.S. men’s team depleted, but can just about clinch World Cup berth Sunday = Skiing: More retirements, including two from U.S., in cross-country skiing = SCOREBOARD: Cycling: van Aert and Balsamo win Belgian weekday classics ●

Key status updates on the urgent stories in Olympic sport:


No event at the 2022 ISU World Championships was more shaken by the exclusion of Russia than the women’s competition. Russian women had been 1-2 at the Beijing Winter Games and had swept the 2021 Worlds podium. But in 2022, what mattered was who was on the ice in Montpellier, France.

In the final group, American Alysa Liu stood fifth after the Short Program (71.91), but starred in the Free Skate, scoring 139.28 to total 211.19 and take the lead with four skaters left. She remained in front after Korea’s Young You scored 132.83 and ended up at 204.91.

Fellow American Mariah Bell, 10th at Beijing, was next, in third after the Short Program (72.55). Her Free Skate was considered just behind Liu – 136.11 – and she fell behind her U.S. teammate with a final total of 208.66, standing second.

Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx was fifth at the 2021 Worlds and eighth at Beijing (206.79)and was ready for her moment in the spotlight, scoring 142.70 to leap to the top of the standings and assure herself not less than the silver medal at 217.70.

That left Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, the Beijing bronze medalist, 21, and the clear leader after the Short Program, scoring 80.32 to 75.00 for Hendrickx. Sakamoto completed her routine with grace and style, incorporating six triple jumps, scoring a season’s best of 155.77 to clinch a runaway gold medal at 236.09, an impressive margin of 18.39 points.

It’s Sakamoto’s first Worlds medal, after a fifth in 2019 and sixth in 2021. It’s the first win for Japan since 2014 (Mao Asada). For Hendrickx, she won Belgium’s first-ever women’s Worlds medal.

Liu – still just 16 – was seventh in Beijing, scored her first Worlds medal in her first appearance and has a bright future ahead. She’s the first U.S. women’s Worlds medal winner since Ashley Wagner’s silver in 2016.

There were also historic performances in the Ice Dance Rhythm Dance, where Olympic champs Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France won at 92.73, the best score ever!

They were trailed by the Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, both scoring lifetime bests of 89.72 and 87.51 points, respectively.

The championships continue through Sunday.


● XXVI Olympic Winter Games: 2030 ● A political fight has started in Vancouver about its bid for the 2030 Olympic Winter Games, as City Council member Colleen Hardwick has asked for a referendum on the bid effort.

This may actually have little to do with the bid at all, as Hardwick is running for Mayor in October. Kennedy Stewart, the sitting Vancouver Mayor, tweeted back a four-part reply:

● “@CllrHardwick’s action violates the signed agreement between the governments of Vancouver and Whistler with the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Lílwat upon whose unceded lands our cities are built. 1/4″

● “City Council approved a formal Memorandum of Understanding to work in partnership with host First Nations to explore how the 2030 Winter Olympics might become the world’s first reconciliation games. 2/4″

“The MOU is a critical component of our [United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] obligations – now formalized in provincial law – as it outlined a clear process for all to follow in good faith which, at it’s conclusion, includes council voting on a recommendation and may still involve community votes. 3/4″

● “I will not second this motion. I urge other councillors to consider what supporting
@CllrHardwick’s decision to essentially tear up our MOU says about their own commitments to reconciliation. 4/4″

Hardwick’s motion will be debated on the 29th.

A recent possible bid by another former Olympic Winter Games host city in Canada – Calgary – was ended by a referendum on a bid for the 2026 Games, losing 43.6-56.4% in November 2018.

● Athletics ● Interested in hosting the 2024 World Athletics Relays?

The event will be a direct Olympic qualifier for the Paris Games, but it isn’t free. There is no fee for hosting the event, but direct costs are projected at $3.5-4.0 million U.S. for the organization and staging of the races across three days. Local-organizer revenues are limited to ticket sales, domestic sponsorships in available categories and government and private donations.

Interested parties must submit a form to World Athletics by 1 June 2022.

● Figure Skating ● After three falls during her Pairs Short Program at the World Championships and being taken to a hospital for further oversight, U.S. Pairs star Ashley Cain-Gribble appears to be doing much better. U.S. Figure Skating tweeted:

“Update from #WorldFigure: @icegirlash was released from the hospital overnight and is resting at the official hotel.

“Sending our best wishes to Ashley for a quick and full recovery!”

Announcers are taught early on to never assume that their microphone is off. British commentator Simon Reed, working with fellow Briton Nicky Slater on the International Skating Union’s broadcast of the 2022 World Championships, forgot this rule at the end of Wednesday’s Pairs Short Program.

Surely assuming his mic was off, Reed referred to former two-time Worlds Pairs champ Megan Duhamel, “that bitch from Canada.”

Duhamel was among many who have criticized past comments by Reed and Slater; the ISU was instantly, overwhelmingly, embarrassed, and stated on Thursday:

“There is no place for harassing and abusive language or remarks and behaviour in sport and our society. The ISU took instant action with its service provider to suspend both commentators with immediate effect and neither will cover any future Figure Skating events for the ISU.”

Duhamel, who is also working as a television commentator at the World Championships in Montpelier, France, tweeted: “I have received personal apologies from Simon Reed and the ISU president and I don’t think a public apology is necessary at this point. I appreciate and respect their apologies.”

● Football ● The U.S. men have never won a FIFA World Cup qualifying match at Mexico’s Estadio Azteca, going 0-5-3 prior to last night’s 0-0 draw. On that basis, earning a point for the tie was a worthwhile result, but there is more to do.

The U.S. sits second to Canada – 25 points to 22 – and ahead of Mexico (also 22 points) on goal differential, with two matches left: Sunday in Orlando vs. Panama (18 points) and Wednesday in Costa Rica (19), the two teams trying to chase qualifying positions.

Panama has played inconsistently, beating Jamaica (3-2), but losing to Mexico and Costa Rica (both 1-0) and playing to 1-1 ties with Honduras and in a January friendly with Peru. A win on Sunday would give the U.S. 25 points, eliminating Panama and clinching World Cup qualification if Costa Rica ties or loses to sixth-place El Salvador.

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter will have to shuffle his line-up again, as defender DeAndre Yedlin and forward Tim Weah received yellow cards in the first half, meaning they are suspended for the Panama game. The American men were already short four starters because of injuries, and defender Reggie Cannon was out for Covid.

● Ice Hockey ● In what can only be considered an astonishing turn of events, the International Ice Hockey Federation announced on Thursday:

“The IIHF Council also decided to refer IIHF Life President Rene Fasel to the Ethics Board for review, following reports of his involvement with Russia and the [Kontinental Hockey League] as well as public statements made about the war.

“The IIHF has referred this matter to the independent Ethics Board in order to determine whether Fasel’s actions have violated the IIHF Integrity Book. The IIHF Ethics Code, which is an integral part of the IIHF Integrity Book, requires ‘[a Life President to] conduct themselves in accordance with the principles of dignity, integrity, loyalty and responsibility in all relations of a competitive, economic, social (including social media) and moral nature.’ The IIHF Integrity Book is applicable specifically when a Life President is acting within the scope of his duties for the IIHF or whenever his conduct reflects upon the IIHF or might otherwise undermine the objectives of the IIHF.”

Fasel (SUI), was IIHF President from 1994-2021, and has long been seen as favoring Russian interests. He denied a report from earlier this month that he had been hired as an advisor to Russia’s KHL, generally seen as the second-best league in the world.

The IIHF Council also referred the “Russian Ice Hockey Federation to the Ethics Board for review, due to reports that the RIHF allegedly sent instructions to Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) teams to take demonstrative actions in support of the Russia-Ukraine war.”

The Ethics Board will determine whether the cases will be forwarded to the IIHF Disciplinary Board for possible sanctions. Wow.

● Skiing ● The retirement announcements continue in cross-country skiing, already including Olympic stars Therese Johaug (NOR) and Dario Cologna (SUI).

Other saying goodbye to the World Cup circuit include Swede Charlotte Kalla, 34. Across 17 seasons, she won 59 World Cup medals, including 12 wins. She owns nine Olympic medals, including golds from 2010 (10 km Freestyle), 2014 (4×5 km) and 2018 (15 km Skiathlon). She won 13 World Championships medals, including victories in 2011 (Team Sprint), 2015 (10 km Freestyle) and 2019 (4×5 km).

Kalla said her decision to retire came only in the final weeks of the season, explaining “The curiosity about life outside of elite sports weighs heavier than what a continued investment would entail.”

Also moving on is American Caitlin Patterson, 32, who joined the World Cup circuit in 2012 and was a 2018 Olympian. She competed in 89 World Cup races, with a best of fourth in the 15 km Skiathlon at the 2017 test event in PyeongChang (KOR). She also had five top-10 finishes in relay and team events.

FIS lists fellow American Katharine Ogden as also retiring, at age 24. Her best World Cup finish was 18th in the 10 km Freestyle in Toblach (ITA) in January 2021.


● Cycling ● The UCI World Tour is in full swing now, with the seven-stage Volta Ciclista a Catalunya continuing through Sunday and the one-day Classics races ongoing in Europe.

In Spain, there has been a new leader after each of the five stages so far, with Portugal’s Joao Almeida holding just a one-second lead on Colombia’s Nairo Quintana and seven seconds on teammate Sergio Higuita (COL).

Friday saw the 64th edition of the E3 Saxo Bank Classic in and around Harelbeke (BEL), with home favorite Wout van Aert thrilling the crowd with a win in a breakaway duel with France’s Christophe Laporte, both from the Jumbo-Visma team. They both covered the hilly, 203.9 km course in 4:38:04 and broke away with about 42 km left and were never headed.

Swiss Stefan Kung led a group of finishers in third, 1:35 behind the top two.

In the UCI Women’s World Tour race on Thursday, the Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne – from Brugge to De Panne in Belgium – Italy’s Elisa Balsamo won her second straight major trophy with her final sprint in 3:52:11 for the flat, 162.8 km course.

Balsamo edged a mass of riders right behind her, with the top 19 all within three seconds. Dutch star Lorena Wiebes was second and Marta Bastianelli (ITA) was third.

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