The absence of Russian and Chinese athletes sets the stage for figure skating worlds like no other
Between Russian skaters banned from international competition due to the invasion of Ukraine, China not signing any skaters and a host of other withdrawals, the 2022 World Figure Skating Championships will be unlike any other we have had. never seen.
“Every world championship after the Olympics is missing top-level skaters,” said Dylan Moscovitch, a retired Olympic pair skater and co-host of CBC Sports’ That Figure Skating Show. “But the fact that the Russian team won‘t be there will be something to remember. It’s a unique time in figure skating, that’s for sure.
“It’s the most interesting world championship I can remember.”
The championships will take place March 21-27 in Montpellier, France. Three of the four Olympic champions from last month’s Beijing Games are not competing, and none of the reigning world champions will take to the ice either.
WATCH | Vanessa James, Eric Radford on the absence of Russian and Chinese skaters:
Women and couples most affected
The women’s and pairs events will be the most affected by the absences of the Russian and Chinese skaters.
In pairs, Russia and China are easily the best teams in the world. Olympic silver medalist Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, as well as bronze medalists Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, will not be allowed to compete. There will also be no Chinese skaters entered, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong.
This means the pairs event will take place without the top five Olympic teams, opening up an opportunity for American teams like Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier as well as Japanese duo Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara.
In ice dancing, the absence of reigning world champions Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katasalapov, and their teammates Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin will leave a big gap in the top five, giving the top American teams as well as Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier an even better chance of getting on the podium.
The men’s event is also hit by absences, but more by significant withdrawals of other skaters than competitors from Russia and China. Defending world and Olympic champion Nathan Chen and two-time Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu are not competing due to injury.
WATCH | Chen wins Olympic gold under pressure:
How do absences change worlds?
“It’s unfortunate that the Russian athletes won’t be there,” Canadian pair skater Eric Radford, 37, told CBC Sports. He and his partner Vanessa James live and train in Montreal and are heading to Montpellier to compete in their first world championships together. “I feel sorry for them.
“I know they have worked very hard this season to put in some great performances.”
James, 34, shares Radford’s sentiments but at the same time supports banning Russian and Belarusian athletes. Both maintain, no matter who competes in France, that they will focus on themselves with the aim of skating two clean programs. And with the top pair teams, the chances of them stepping onto the podium have increased exponentially.
“It’s kind of funny because when you go to the world championships or the Olympics there’s like a wild card and now there’s three or four,” James said. “So it’s anybody’s game.”
WATCH | James and Radford compete in Beijing:
And that, in Radford’s view, is the flip side of this situation and makes it an exciting opportunity.
“It makes it a whole new competition,” he said. “Almost everyone who steps onto the podium would be brand new world medalists.”
That same sentiment suggests that those who aren’t the strongest in the field could find themselves world medallists. But James and Radford believe a medal in France has the same value despite the hole left by Russia and China.
“There will be people who will say ‘Oh, whoever wins the world championships is not a real world champion because the best skaters aren’t there,'” Radford said. “But I also think that each competition is its own entity despite the reasons why other athletes are not there.
“Nothing should be taken away from whoever stands on top of that podium. In my mind, and hopefully in the minds of many other people, they are world champions.”
Even if the best in the world will not be at these world championships, their absence leaves room for other developments.
Plus, without the Russians, the women’s event won’t just be about landing a triple Axel or a quad to rack up maximum technical points, bringing the event back to basics. This allows athletes like 18-year-old Canadian Madeline Schizas to shine brighter and set the tone for her new Olympic quadrennial.
“It’s a huge opportunity for new skaters to solidify themselves at a new level in the event going forward,” Moscovitch said. “It will be interesting to see what these skaters do with [the opportunity]but it is undeniable that there is more to gain.”