Kaori Sakamoto skates to world gold as Russia’s ban opens the door to new stars

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto on Friday added the world figure skating title to her Olympic bronze medal, capitalizing on the absence of banned Russian rivals following the invasion of Ukraine.

21-year-old Sakamoto scored 236.09 points with Belgian Loena Hendrickx (217.70) winning silver and American Alysa Liu bronze (211.9).

At last month’s Beijing Olympics, Russia won gold and silver thanks to Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, while European champion Kamila Valieva finished fourth after spending the Games embroiled in a drug dispute.

Crying Sakamoto improved his personal bests in both the short and free program in Montpellier.

Sakamoto’s victory in Montpellier makes her the sixth Japanese woman to win a world singles title and the first since Mao Asada did so in 2014.

The victory is the culmination of a season in which Sakamoto also won the NHK Trophy, his second national title and his Olympic bronze.

“It was really difficult to train before the World Cup. I was tired and on the verge of exhaustion after the Olympics, but most of us were in the same situation, ”Sakamoto said.

“The hard training I have had in the past has helped me to endure during this competition.”

Hendrickx, meanwhile, became the first Belgian figure skater to be on the world podium.

Olympic medalist Kaori Sakamoto performs in the women’s free skating event at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Montpellier, Southern France on Friday. | AFP-JIJI

Belgium have only won three world medals in figure skating – the previous two came in pairs in 1947 and 1948.

At just 16, Liu is also the first world medalist, one month after seventh place in the Olympics.

For Russian skating, Friday marked the end of an era of domination.

Since 2015, with the exception of 2018 and the cancellation of the 2020 event due to the pandemic, Russia has won a gold medal in the women’s competition every year.

The Russian skaters also took the podium at the 2021 World Championships and the European Championships in January this year.

New Olympic champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron got their bid for the fifth ice dance world title with a perfect start on home ice, setting a world record in the rhythmic dance section.

The French dancers were greeted with a standing position in Montpellier, weeks after earning their first Olympic gold in Beijing.

Papadakis and Cizeron, whose future remains uncertain after this Olympic season, have improved their previous world record, set in Beijing, by more than two points with 92.73 points.

“We really had a lot of fun out there,” Cizeron said after their hip hop and blues skateboarding.

“The fact that our friends, our parents, our fans are there to support us really warms our hearts. This is one of the reasons we wanted to come. Especially after the matches almost behind closed doors, it’s really nice. “

Entering Saturday’s free dance final, the French led two US dance pairs Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (89.72) and Madison Chock and Evan Bates (87.51). The three couples train together in Montreal.

Up for grabs for Papadakis and Cizeron, also five-time European champions, there is a fifth world crown that would lead them in front of the French legends Andree and Pierre Brunet, four-time world champions and two-time Olympians between 1926 and 1932 .

It would also bring them closer to the record of six world titles achieved by Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexandr Gorshkov competing for the Soviet Union between 1970 and 1976.

“It’s fabulous … after winning gold at the Olympics, competing at home at the world championships,” said their coach Romain Haguenauer.

“It’s a perfect scenario for a perfect ending, if it’s the end,” he added.

In a time of misinformation and too much information, Quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By signing up, you can help us make the story right.