OSAKA: Russia’s Anna Shcherbakova competes in the women’s free skating during the ISU World Team Trophy figure skating event in Osaka yesterday. — AFP

OSAKA: World figure skating champion Anna Shcherbakova helped Russia win the World Team Trophy in Osaka yesterday – then gave Japan’s antivirus measures the thumbs up ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. Shcherbakova topped the women’s free program with a score of 160.58 to lead Russia to its first title at the biennial six-nation competition, ahead of the US and Japan. The World Team Trophy is being held in Japan less than 100 days before the start of the coronavirus-delayed Tokyo Games, which were again cast into doubt this week over virus fears.

A senior Japanese politician said Thursday that cancelling the Games remains a possibility, as the country deals with a surge in infections. But Shcherbakova said she was “not scared” during her time in Osaka, and that coming to Japan was “a great joy”. “Japan has very stringent antivirus measures in place,” said the 17-year-old, who had previously been infected with the virus. “Abiding by the rules is something I’ve become accustomed to, so there was no problem.”

Organizers insist the Games can be held safely, and have released virus rulebooks to allay public fears. Athletes will not be required to quarantine or be vaccinated, but will have to limit movements and be tested regularly. Several test events set to involve overseas athletes and officials have been postponed in Japan in recent months. But American skater Bradie Tennell said she felt the World Team Trophy had “run so smoothly”.

“I think Japan has done a wonderful job with this competition,” she said. “So, no, I haven’t felt anything other than really happy to be here, and really grateful.” Around 3,000 fans-half the venue’s capacity-were allowed into the event each day, although cheering was strictly forbidden.

‘Safe and secure’

US President Joe Biden on Friday gave his backing to Japan’s efforts to hold a “safe and secure” Olympic Games this year after talk of cancelation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, meeting Biden as the US president’s first foreign guest, said his country was listening to experts and doing its “utmost” to prepare for the Tokyo Games. “They are doing everything possible to contain infection and to realize safe and secure games from scientific and objective perspectives,” Suga told a joint news conference.

“I expressed my determination to realize the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games as a symbol of global unity this summer, and President Biden once again expressed his support,” the prime minister added. A joint statement afterward said that Biden “supports Prime Minister Suga’s efforts to hold a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer.”

“Both leaders expressed their pride in the US and Japanese athletes who have trained for these Games and will be competing in the best traditions of the Olympic spirit,” the statement said. The Tokyo Games are due to open in July, with only Japanese spectators in the stands, after already being postponed by a year due to the pandemic. Uncertainty about their viability has grown amid rising virus cases.

Organizers said Friday that they scrapped another leg of Japan’s Olympic torch relay — the third leg to be affected by a surge in infections — and that a BMX Freestyle test event scheduled for April 24 and 25 would now be postponed.

 

First time

Russia won the World Team Trophy for the first time, with the title already in the bag by the time Shcherbakova began her free program. Russian skaters were banned from competing under their country’s name and flag at the world championships in Sweden last month because of a doping dispute. The ban will also apply at next year’s Beijing Olympics. But it was not in place at this week’s event, and team captain Elizaveta Tuktamysheva said hearing the national anthem on the podium was “a great moment”.

“We were so happy because we had a Russian flag here, and that means a lot,” she said. Russia finished on 125 points, ahead of the US on 110 and Japan on 107, with Italy, France and Canada bringing up the rear. Shcherbakova, who also won the women’s short program, finished the free program ahead of Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto in second on 150.29 and Tuktamysheva in third on 146.23.

Russia’s Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov won the pairs free program with a score of 151.59. Mishina and Galliamov, who also won the world title last month in Sweden, finished top in the short program the previous day. “We’ll have to prepare a new program, then we’ll take a little time off to rest,” said Mishina. “Then we’ll go into the specifics together with the coach on how to prepare for the Olympic season.” — AFP