Figure skaters to watch as Olympic individual program begins

Alysa Liu (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The women’s individual figure skating event gets underway on Tuesday amid the controversy over Kamila Valieva’s return to Olympic competition this week.

Valieva was cleared to participate despite testing positive for a banned substance in December. The Russian skater wouldn’t receive a medal, however, if she were to finish among the top three this week; the International Olympic Committee said it plans to withhold the medal ceremony until her case is resolved.

While Valieva is the gold-medal favorite, and the Russians will aim to sweep the Olympic figure skating podium for the first time in history, there are others to keep an eye on as the singles short program begins Tuesday.

Alysa Liu

At just 16 years old, Liu makes her debut in Beijing after she was too young to qualify for PyeongChang. She was the youngest woman to ever win a U.S. national championship, at 13 years old in 2019, and she defended her title a year later. The first American woman to land a quad lutz in competition and the first woman in the world to land a quad and triple axel in the same program in competition, she’ll look to unseat the Russians and bring home gold for Team USA.

Mariah Bell (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Mariah Bell

Mariah Bell headlines Team USA’s contingent of figure skaters after placing first at the national championships in early January. At 25, she is the oldest U.S. women’s singles skater since 1928. She has been skating this year to her “Hallelujah” 2020 short program, which helped her secure the national championship. After placing 11th in the competition at the 2018 Olympics, Bell will look to cap a successful season in Beijing this week.

Anna Shcherbakova

Scherbakova put together the best free skate routine of her international career at the European Championships, with a personal-best score of 167.38 points. The 17-year-old is the reigning world champion and currently ranked No. 1 in the world. She’ll compete this week alongside her Russian teammates, Valieva and Aleksandra Trusova. Barring Valieva’s disqualification once her case is settled, Russia could become the first country to sweep a singles figure skating podium at an Olympics.

Loena Hendrickx

The Belgian figure skater dazzled in the short program at the European Championships, placing second before two falls in the free skate caused her to drop to fourth overall. At the 2021 World Championships, she finished fifth overall to qualify for her second Olympics. A top upset candidate, Hendrickx will look to improve upon her 16th-place finish in PyeongChang in 2018.