Figure Skating News: Valieva Falls, Shcherbakova Wins Gold

Kamila Valieva, the Russian star at the center of a doping scandal, knew immediately that everything had gone wrong.

Her program over, her Olympics over, Valieva broke her last pose with a dismissive wave of her right hand. By then, she was already holding back tears. Those would seriously come soon enough – the bitter, disappointing and emotional end to more than a week of whispers and innuendo that followed the revelation that she had tested positive for a banned drug.

The women’s free skate promised to be one of the most watched events of the Games. But few could have expected its astonishing outcome.

For more than a week, 15-year-old Valieva had been buried under an avalanche of distractions: the integrity of her achievement and her skills were being challenged, as were the character of the adults around her.

She had walked on the ice with the same face she wore all week in Beijing: almost expressionless, doing her best to block out all outside distractions, or at least not recognize them. Now that her free program was over, she buried her face in her hands.

As the crowd responded with their loudest applause of the night, her blank expression returned. After a few mixed waves, she left the ice to be greeted by her coach, Eteri Tutberidze. They didn’t kiss.

“Why did you give up? Tutberidze asked in Russian in one scene broadcast on live television. “Why did you stop fighting? Explain to me, why? You let him go after that axel. Why?”

Valieva did not respond.

Moments later, waiting for Valieva’s scores, Tutberidze put his arm around the teenager’s shoulders. Valieva then put on a mask, but that did nothing to mask her disappointment. The scores confirmed the worst: the best skater in the world, who had finished the short program in first place, had fallen completely off the podium, her dreams shattered in a series of unusual stumbles and falls.

Several of the Russians were then in tears, and behind masked faces, outbursts of anguish erupted as team officials tried to calm the devastated skaters. “I hate that!” “I don’t want to do any figure skating with my life!” “Everyone has a gold medal and I don’t!”

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Valieva’s two Russian teammates, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, seemed to be struggling to process the news that they had won gold and silver medals, their personal moments of triumph marred by the chaotic scene. Shcherbakova seemed unwilling – or unable – to celebrate. Trusova appeared, at least initially, to say she didn’t want to take part in the victory ceremony. Bronze medalist Kaori Sakamoto of Japan was also crying at the time, her achievement producing its own outpouring of a very different emotion: joy.

All three would eventually come out for the ceremony, shortly after Valieva’s final skate. Shcherbakova leaped into the air with her arms raised as she accepted her stuffed animal keepsake, which winners receive as a placeholder until the medal ceremony the following night.

“I felt a lot of pleasure because I was at the right time and in the right place and did the right things – that’s the most important thing,” Shcherbakova said. But she quickly added, “On the other hand, I feel this emptiness inside.”

On NBC, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir called the scenes at the end of the competition “heartbreaking” and “devastating”, and clarified, over and over again, as they waited for Valieva’s scores, that they thought that it had been unfair – to Valieva, to other skaters, to viewers around the world – for the 15-year-old to compete, and especially under the crushing weight of scandal and expectations and everything.

“She shouldn’t have been allowed to skate in this Olympic event,” said Lipinski, a former gold medalist in the event. She added that it made her angry that the adults around Valieva hadn’t “made better decisions”.

“It’s not fair,” Lipinski said as the sobs played out onscreen, for a 15-year-old who had dealt with it all.

Fellow actor Johnny Weir posted a video to his Instagram story shortly after the broadcast ended, calling the night “the most bizarre and heartbreaking event I’ve seen in my entire life.”

“I hope it never happens again,” Weir said.

Adam Rippon, who coaches American Mariah Bell, who finished 10th, used a swear word on Twitter to describe the chaotic end of the competition. And on Russian state television, commentator Andrei Zhuranko thundered: “Sports officials, you have smashed the most talented figure skater in the world.”

Ivan Nechepurenko, Ilya Gurevich and Ilaria Parogni contributed reporting.

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