What a difference a year makes. In the world of skating, this is the start of a new Olympic quadrennium; many top competitors retired at the end of last season, their hopes either fulfilled or dashed. Russia swept the gold at the 2022 Europeans and won six Olympic medals in Beijing despite a doping scandal involving Kamila Valieva, the European women’s champion. By the time the World Championships started last March, Russia’s war against Ukraine was well under way, and the International Skating Union had barred Russian skaters from participating in any ISU–sanctioned events. That ban is still in effect.
Looking ahead to the 2026 Winter Olympics, all skaters are eager to make an early impression, but none more so than the Italians. (The Games will take place in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.) At yesterday’s pairs’ free skate at the European Championships in Espoo, Finland, Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii (gold) and Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini (silver) gave Italy its first medals in pairs since 2013—when Ghilardi and Ambrosini’s coach, Ondrej Hotárek, and his skating partner Stefania Berton won bronze.
Italy won another medal this afternoon, when Matteo Rizzo, in second place after the short program, maintained his position in the free skate. Frenchmen Adam Siao Him Fa and Kevin Aymoz remained in first and fourth, respectively, but Lukas Britschgi of Switzerland won bronze as Deniss Vasiljevs of Latvia moved from third to fifth place. After this morning’s rhythm dance, Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri are in first place, hoping to become the first Italians since their coach, Barbara Fusar-Poli, and Maurizio Margaglio to win Europeans. (Ice-dance fans will remember them from the 2002 Olympics, when Margaglio dropped Fusar-Poli at the end of their performance, causing them both to fall. She rose and glared at him for almost 30 seconds, earning the nickname Scary Babs on some figure-skating websites; but they also earned bronze—and on home ice, in Torino.) Rizzo’s teammate Daniel Grassl, the defending silver medalist, caused a controversy when he decided to prepare for Europeans with Eteri Tutberidze, Kamila Valieva’s coach, whose team is now based in Espoo. (“Sports is not politics,” he told the Italian broadcaster Rai, though the ISU decided otherwise last year.) After making several mistakes in his short program (choreographed by Jason Brown), he entered the free skate in eighth place.
At 2022 Worlds, Loena Hendrickx, so promising for so long, rose in the standings to win the silver (and became the first Belgian woman to medal at Worlds). She came to Espoo as a favorite for gold but now sits in second place, almost two points behind Anastasia Gubanova of Georgia. Kimmy Repond of Switzerland is now in third.
Most of the 2022 U.S. Nationals medalists retired or returned to school at the end of the season. Now, the only defending champions in San Jose for the 2023 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships are ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates, in first after last night’s rhythm dance. Their training mates Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, whom they narrowly defeated at Skate America in October, withdrew from Nationals less than two weeks ago, saying they had had “significant physical injuries that have led to challenges in our mental health and we feel it is in our best interest to prioritize this currently.” The entire pairs podium from last year—Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc; Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson; Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov—has retired, but the team that weren’t there are now world champions. Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, the 2021 champs, had to withdraw from Nationals last year when he tested positive for COVID-19 but were granted a bye to Worlds; they took it and became the first U.S. pairs team to win the world title since 1979, when Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner did it. They are back this season and in first place by more than 15 points after the short program.