Kaori Sakamoto’s triumph at Worlds. Photo-highlights from the women’s event

This was Kaori Sakamoto’s Season, no doubt about it: Olympic bronze medalist in Beijing and winner of the World title in Montpellier. The peak of her career so far – and such a promise for the years to come, with all the layers of certainty that comes with it.

Asked about it in Montpellier, in between the women’s short program and the free skate, choreographer Benoît Richaud described Kaori of the present as “a real artist, a master into choreography, skating skills, interpretation”. And, then, Benoît said simply: “For me, she’s just at the beginning. I think people started to realize what she can do, and the next four years can bring something very magical on ice”.

We fully share the trust, the promise, the potential that still lies beneath the surface.


2022 Worlds in Montpellier were, truly, a moment of grace for Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto.

Right from the start, from her incredible short program to music from the movie “Gladiator”, whose scores (80.32 points) had Kaori jump on her feet, with amazement, disbelief, in the Kiss and Cry. Her face, hands on her heart, to keep it in one place, said it all: That high the scores? That good she is?

That high. That good. And, hopefully, that would instill a lot of self confidence in Kaori as well.

And then, the magic of her “Woman” free skate – and the power she holds while skating, and keeping us all inside her palms. An electrifying performance that had us on our feet – the audience’s genuine reaction to the moment.


But 2022 Worlds were equally a moment for both Loena Hendrickx, who won a historical silver medal for herself and for Belgium (trusting the process and putting aside, all efforts combined, an injury bothering her during Worlds), and for the American teenager Alysa Liu, who was still speechless about the result half an hour later, in the press conference room.

A women’s event to put it in a frame – and one that we enthusiastically bring to life again through the tens of pictures taken at the time in Montpellier.

Be ready to relive the emotions – they will come back to you in waves.


Recap and selection by Florentina Tone
Photos by Alberto Ponti


2022 World Figure Skating Championships
March 21-27, 2022
Montpellier, France

Gold: Kaori Sakamoto, Japan
Silver: Loena Hendrickx, Belgium
Bronze: Alysa Liu, USA

The women’s podium at 2022 Worlds in Montpellier is the very definition of joy – see for yourselves. And so we’re starting with that, the happiness, the enthusiasm of the medalists: Kaori, Loena, Alysa smiling to their ears, and then laughing while discovering the flowers in the bouquets are edible :).

4th: Mariah Bell, USA
5th: Young You, South Korea
6th: Anastasiia Gubanova, Georgia
7th: Haein Lee, South Korea
8th: Karen Chen, USA
9th: Ekaterina Ryabova, Azerbaijan
10th: Nicole Schott, Germany
11th: Wakaba Higuchi, Japan
12th: Madeline Schizas, Canada
13th: Ekaterina Kurakova, Poland
14th: Olga Mikutina, Austria
15th: Mana Kawabe, Japan
16th: Niina Petrokina, Estonia
17th: Lindsay van Zundert, Netherlands
18th: Julia Sauter, Romania
19th: Alexia Paganini, Switzerland
20th: Lara Naki Gutmann, Italy

Did not advance to the free skating
25th: Jenni Saarinen, Finland

And now onto the event itself. Ready?

No doubt, “Gladiator” is a glorious short program for Kaori Sakamoto. And, also, a goosebump-giver of a program, one that the audience in Montpellier absolutely loved. Months later, we love it still.

Dive in. Kaori Sakamoto, living and breathing her “Woman” free skate in Montpellier.

Kaori’s biggest strength? “Her flow!”, choreographer Benoît Richaud says – and we got to experience it fully in this program.

Relief, gratitude – at the end of an electrifying free skate, that had people in the arena on their feet.

Coming to Worlds with an injury, Loena Hendrickx didn’t know what to expect. Well, that was a stunning short program from her in Montpellier.

Loena Hendrickx almost missed Worlds due to an administrative issue, and she almost missed Worlds due to her ongoing injury – and now she’s medaling at Worlds! People on their feet in Sud de France arena in Montpellier – she did it, won a historical silver medal for Belgium.

Alysa Liu is a bubble of joy and enthusiasm on the ice, while skating her gipsy dance in Montpellier. We love her charisma, her musicality.

Alysa Liu skating to one of our favorite pieces of music: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto – so rarely heard in a skating arena, and not at all easy to skate to. Nailing her triple Axel, what about that as a start? And the rest was just as impressive. People on their feet at the end, Alysa, hands on her head in disbelief. Oh, yes, she did that!

Normally, you’d have a white dove on a blue sky – and there you have Mariah Bell in her French Blue dress, flying on the white surface of the ice; and the two are really similar: such a beautiful, flowing performance from Mariah; and that spiral towards the end was such a highlight.

Mariah Bell’s skating is balm for the soul. She had to fight for some of the landings, but that was just a beautiful, beautiful skate.

There’s this air of utter sophistication surrounding Young You – and this short program suits her like a glove.

A wonderful performance from the wonderful skater that Young You is. To iconic music, embodying its character to the fullest. Young You is skating big.

Anastasiia Gubanova: a feather in the air. A feather with a stunning flying technique. And a posture so beautiful that a ballerina would be envious.

Haein Lee becoming one with the ice in her “Ave Maria” short program at Worlds. And her skating is so generous – it was a gift she gave us all.

Haein Lee can’t retain her enthusiasm during her free skate – you hear her shouting after some of the final landings. She’s her bigger supporter, one could say. No – she has tons of people supporting her, because there’s such an amazing quality in her skating. And that skate, to meaningful music, was just something else! Plus: she had a season she can be extremely proud of.

Apart from that nemesis of a Loop, it was a determined, fiery short program from Karen Chen in Montpellier.

Karen Chen skating to “Butterfly Lovers” is always very special. We’ll keep in mind her Charlotte spiral, her Ina Bauer – and her beautiful storytelling qualities.

Such a beautiful skate from Nicole Schott in Montpellier – really letting that tango breathe, and shine, as it deserves.

Nicole Schott skating in the last group at Worlds? Oh, yes – we’ve been waiting for that, and now she has the maturity, the confidence to skate to her qualities. Literally flying, exhaling power on Ezio Bosso’s music.

Indecision with the triple Axel, but this short program, to Your Song, is such a beautiful vehicle for Wakaba Higuchi. While skating, she really looks like a flower opening up to the sun.

The amount of love Wakaba Higuchi received from the crowd in Montpellier was just incredible – and how can you not love Wakaba? She’s a brilliant skater, a fighter through and through. These Worlds were not her best – but the season has been long and energy-consuming.

Madeline Schizas skating to “Dulcea şi tandra mea fiară” in the short program – and beautifully embodying the layers of “Madama Butterfly” by Puccini in her free skate.

Imagine we hadn’t seen Ekaterina Kurakova on the international stage – we’re so lucky that we do: she is such a talent, such a performer!

And she really brings to life Benoît Richaud’s choreographies, while his choreographies brings the best out of her.

Composition-wise, performance-wise, Olga Mikutina’s short program to “Nocturnal Serenade” has been one of our very favorites the entire season; choreo. by Rostislav Sinicyn.

Skating to “Primavera” and “Experience” by Ludovico Einaudi in her blue-layered long program in Montpellier.

Ah, the beauty and the intricacies of this short program skated by Mana Kawabe to music by Max Richter and Antonio Vivaldi; program choreographed by Cathy Reed.

This was Mana Kawabe’s only second season in seniors, and her first proper one, with many competitions attended – and she really made a name for herself when qualifying for the Olympics and Worlds. And we’ll definitely hear her name more in the following years – she is a talent.

“Je n’attendais que vous”: Niina Petrokina skating her short program in Montpellier

Niina Petrokina has such an engaging type of skating – and she is floating, she is. Or, better said, she is riding the waves: she’s fast, she’s enthusiast, and her joy while skating is absolutely palpable.

Lindsay van Zundert while skating her short program to “11 Past the Hour” by Imelda May; a program that suits her beautifully, choreographed by Benoît Richaud.

Ah, these have been dream-Worlds for Romania’s Julia Sauter – she has been a revelation to many, in both segments of the event, and she finished the competition in Montpellier on the 18th place. Short program to “I Can’t Go On Without You” and free skate to “Me Before You”.

Alexia Paganini skating to Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” in Montpellier

The butterfly that Lara Naki Gutmann is. Skating to “Elizabeth” and “Maria and the Violin’s String” in the short and to “Scheherazade” in the free

Jenni Saarinen during her “Clair de lune” short program

The action from “Kill Bill”, as brought to life, through skating, through costume, by Léa Serna in Montpellier

[Photos by Alberto Ponti/Montpellier, France]

TO FOLLOW: Men’s event at 2022 Worlds