The top two women from the Beijing Olympics, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, won't be at the world figure skating championships this week in Montpellier, France. Neither will Kamila Valieva, the fourth-place finisher whose positive doping result casted a shadow over the entire Winter Games.
Or the silver medalists in ice dance and the silver and bronze medalists from the pairs competition, either.
That's because all of those Russian skaters have been banned from competing by the International Skating Union, which followed the precedent set by other sports governing bodies following the country's invasion of Ukraine. Figure skaters from Belarus also are barred from the competition beginning Wednesday because of its alliance with Russia.
“This is a very delicate and tricky thing to navigate,” said American ice dancer Evan Bates, who along with Madison Chock helped the U.S. win the team silver medal before finishing fourth in their competition at the Beijing Games.
Incidentally, they're still awaiting that Olympic medal because of the doping investigation involving Russia.
“Obviously in the sports world, being that there is state funding for an Olympic sport like figure skating, you can understand why they might have some ramifications for what's going on,” Bates continued, “but I think there is a point where it becomes tricky, where we have a blanket ban on all Russians or Russian artists or Russian people are paying the price for their leader. I can't speak for the Russian people but I'm sure they're not 100% all in favor of what's happening.”
Regardless, the decision leaves the world championships — which tend to be somewhat diminished in status in an Olympic year anyway — without five of the 12 medalists in individual competitions simply because of their nationality.
That includes pairs silver medalists, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, and the bronze medalists, Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, along with dance silver medalists Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov.
At last year's worlds, athletes from Russia won six of the 12 medals up for grabs.
“What is happening right now is devastating," Chock said of the ongoing conflict, "and I just think of all our Ukrainian friends who just had the biggest highlight of their life, and they go back to a war-torn country and it just breaks my heart.”
Ukraine has qualified Ivan Shmuratko for the men's competition at worlds, along with pairs skaters Sofiia Holichenko and Artem Darenskyi and the dance team of Oleksandra Nazarova and Maksym Nikitin. But given the situation at home, it was still unclear the day before competition in France whether any will be on the ice this week.
“It's really difficult when we condemn people based on where they come from and some factors that are out of their control," Bates said. “With the predicament the world is in, you know, the sort of mashing up of politics and sports, it's very difficult to kind of detangle everything that's gone on. And I think especially this particular world championships — it's not a doping case. This is a political issue and another thing in my career I haven't really seen or experienced before.”
The Russian and Belarusian athletes won't be the only ones missing from worlds, though.
Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen withdrew because of an injury while the Chinese team declined to send any athletes in part because of the pandemic, which means Olympic pairs champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won't be there.
In fact, the top six finishers in the pairs competition from Beijing are not competing in France. And the only Olympic gold medalists are ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who will be competing in front of a home crowd.
They'll be heavy favorites when competition begins Wednesday. But otherwise, the medal race is wide open and could feature some young and up-and-coming athletes who are poised to break onto the world stage.
That includes 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin, who could be the heir apparent to Chen heading into the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina, and 21-year-old Camden Pulkinen, a former junior national champion.
“It will be different,” U.S. skater Mariah Bell admitted, “but it's exciting that there are opportunities to bump up. But I'm not thinking about it too much. I've been in so many different situations where there's so much going on around me and I need to focus on myself and my skating and do the best I can. That's literally all I have control over."
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