Russian teenager Kamila Valieva shocked the figure skating world by stumbling into fourth place in the women’s single event on Thursday in the wake of her doping controversy, ensuring the medal ceremony at the Beijing Games will go ahead.
Her compatriot Anna Shcherbakova claimed the gold with a total score of 255.95 ahead of fellow Russian Alexandra Trusova with 251.73. Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto came third with 233.13.
Valieva finished with a total score of 224.09, her hand masking her face after one last forced smile to the judges as she skated head down towards the exit with her supporters shouting “Molodets!” “Molodets!” (Bravo, bravo).
The 15-year-old, wearing a sparkling black and red dress as well as bright red gloves, kept her composure for 30 seconds.
Valieva landed the opening quad, but faltered after her triple Axel, the first of a number of uncharacteristic stumbles in the free skate routine to Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero”.
She threw her right hand forward in frustration after ending a four minutes and 15 seconds routine that was nowhere near her usual high standards – a massive 48.62 below her world record.
In the stands, loud cheers and applause greeted her arrival on the ice. Fans chanted her name after her stumble as the camera shutters went into overdrive.
Valieva was hoping to shut out the doping scandal and legal arguments to deliver the performance of a lifetime to Ravel’s “Bolero”, to which she has given a new lease of life.
It seemed like the brush of her blade on the ice would silence the critics as the teenager landed a quadruple Salchow 30 seconds into her programme.
But what followed was far from perfect.
Her hand touched the ice after she landed a triple Axel and it was the first of many mistakes that left her sobbing in the ‘kiss and cry’ area after a disappointing performance.
‘Poor kid’ “This is a moment where you genuinely have to say – that poor kid. She should not have ever been put in this position,” former U.S. skater Ashley Wagner wrote on Twitter.
“She shouldn’t have been out on that ice, she shouldn’t have been put in a position where she became the face of a problem bigger than her.”
In a high-octane routine, Valieva’s team mate Trusova, the 2021 world championships bronze medallist, attempted five quads to the soundtrack of “Cruella” and the Stooges’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog” for a season’s best score of 177.13.
Fellow 17-year-old Shcherbakova’s free skate was not as powerful, but the world champion skated with accuracy as she landed two quads early in her programme.
Shcherbakova, Trusova and Sakamoto came back for the podium ceremony, staying on the ice for several minutes to soak up a moment they probably thought was not going to happen.
Valieva tested positive for a banned heart drug after the national championships on Dec. 25 but the result was not revealed until Feb. 8, the day after she helped the Russian Olympic Committee win the team competition.
Valieva was only cleared to compete in the women’s single event by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Monday.
She came into Thursday’s skate as the hot favourite and it was expected that the medal ceremony would not go ahead because of the unresolved doping case.
Valieva is one of the youngest athletes to have a positive test revealed at the Olympics, prompting questions about the role of the adults around her and the continuing scourge of Russian doping in international sport.
It has also fueled a debate over raising the age limit for figure skating.