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Friday, April 19, 2024

What are the chances that Loena Hendrickx will become world figure skating champion?

Loena Hendrickx (24) is in the lead after the short freestyle at the Figure Skating World Championships in Montreal. Can she win the gold on Friday night after the free freestyle and write Belgian sports history? An analysis based on three questions.

How strong was Loena Hendrickx’s short freestyle?

In the run-up to the World Cup, it seemed Loena Hendrickx not at all optimistic: she suffered from decompression after her European title in early January. Her body and mind were very tired after a tough season. She suffered from physical aches and pains and had to reduce the hours of training. Yet Hendrickx appeared to be ready at the last training in Montreal. Perhaps because the preparation was so disrupted, she was more mentally liberated. The title with the greatest pressure, the one at the European Championships where she was ‘not allowed’ to lose, had already been won. At the World Cup it was mainly a matter of enjoying herself, she had told herself.

And that’s what Hendrickx did in the short freestyle. She achieved a score of 76.98 points, the sum of 41.20 for technique and 35.78 for components, a mix of presentation, composition and skating skills. In both parts, just below her best scores ever (41.65 at the European Championships 2022 for technique, 36.00 for components at the Grand Prix Skate America 2023), but together a new personal record in the short freestyle.

Hendrickx had the best score of all participants (76.98) in terms of technique, components (particularly her presentation) and total number. With a large margin over three competitors who finished close to each other in terms of points: 3.25 more than the American Isabeau Levito (73.73), 3.43 more than the South Korean Haein Lee (73.55) and – that is the biggest surprise – 3.69 points more then the two-time world champion and top favorite Kaori Sakamoto (73.29).

Levito also recorded a personal record, Haein Lee set her best score of the season, but Sakamoto performed well below her level. The Japanese was close to Hendrickx with her points for the components (35.58 vs. 35.78 for the Belgian), but made technical errors in her triple jumps and only scored 37.71 in that component. With a total score of 73.29, Sakamoto remained well below her personal best (80.32, 3.34 more than Hendrickx’s new record) and below her best season score (77.35, 0.37 more than Hendrickx in Montreal).

The top eleven at the Figure Skating World Championships after the free freestyle. Loena Hendrickx leads. Nina Pinzarrone, the other Belgian, is eleventh. © ISU

What are Hendrickx’s chances of winning gold?

Loena Hendrickx is in the lead for the first time in a global championship after the short freestyle. But that does not guarantee a world title. The long, free freestyle of four minutes usually yields almost double the points. The question is how much Hendrickx had to push herself physically and/or mentally in the short freestyle – afterwards she was also very emotional – and whether she can fully recharge on Friday. If so, can the Turnhout native surpass herself again or at least come close to her personal record in the long freestyle?

She set that record at the Italian Grand Prix in 2021 (145.53), but at the Grand Prix Skate America in October 2023, Hendrickx scored only 0.17 points fewer (145.36), including a personal best of 72.94 for the components. If she achieves a similar score again in Montreal or even a slightly better one, then the chance of a world title is more than realistic.

After all, Hendrickx has a lead of more than 3 points over Levito, Lee and Sakamoto. The American has never scored better than Hendrickx in the long freestyle, not this season (138.08) nor in her career (143.68). Levito did record a personal record in the short freestyle. If she continues that line, she can approach Hendrickx, but probably not enough to make up for her deficit of 3.25 points.

The South Korean once achieved a better long freestyle than the Turnhout (148.57, in April 2023), but has not yet come close to that score this season (126.02).

(read more below the tweet)

The greatest danger comes from Japan. Two-time world champion Kaori Sakamoto has a personal best of 155.77 (set at the 2022 World Championships) and totaled 151.00 at the Grand Prix Skate Canada in October 2023. That is more than ten and five points more than Loena Hendrickx’s best score ever. If the Japanese can erase her poor performance in the short freestyle in Montreal and reach her top level in the long freestyle, this could be enough to make up for her current 3.69 point deficit to our compatriot. And thus became world champion for the third time in a row. If Sakamoto performs below par again and Hendrickx is at her best, then the gold will probably be won.

How punishing would a world title be for a Belgian figure skater?

Never before has a Belgian woman won gold at a world championship in an Olympic winter sports discipline. A gold medal from Hendrickx would therefore be a first.

In the history of the Figure Skating World Championships, the women’s gold medal usually went to the US, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Russia and East Germany, countries with a much larger population than Belgium. For a world title for a figure skater from an even smaller country than Belgium, you have to go back to 1981, when the Swiss Denise Biellmann was the best in Hartford, America. And in 1971 and 1972, Austrian Beatrix Schuba won gold twice.

It must be noted that the Russian girls, who dominated figure skating until 2022 with even better scores than Hendrickx and Sakamoto, have been excluded from competition for two years due to the war in Ukraine.

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