Kamila Valieva stumbles and finishes fourth in women’s figure skating
By Juliet Macur
Kamila Valieva, Russia’s figure skating star and the favorite to win the women’s individual event by far, stunningly faltered several times on the ice Thursday, handing a victory to a Russian teammate after days of controversy over a doping scandal.
Considered by many to be one of the greatest figure skaters in recent history, Valieva, 15, slipped or fell at least four times as she skated to “Bolero.” She wept as she left the ice and finished fourth, the result avoiding the question of whether the outcome of the doping investigation would deny her a medal had she finished in the top three.
Her teammate, Anna Shcherbakova, with a nearly flawless performance, won with a score of 255.95. Another Russian, Alexandra Trusova, was second (251.73) and Kaori Sakamoto of Japan was third (233.13). Valieva’s score of 224.09 left her in fourth place.
It was a result as stunning as her previous performance in the Games and in international competitions.
Going into the event, Olympics officials took the extraordinary step of deciding that they would not award medals if Valieva finished in the top three after she was found to have had a banned drug in her system several weeks before the Olympics.
But at the end of the night, the flower ceremony — in this case, athletes are handed a toy panda that is the mascot of the Games — went off, a veneer of normalcy capping a week of turmoil in the sport.
Shcherbakova leapt into the air, arms aloft, as she accepted her souvenir. Trusova appeared dejected at first, was slow to join the ceremony and later looked stricken and rattled, her eyes wet, as she spoke softly to reporters in Russian. She took deep breaths and looked toward the floor as she walked away.
“I am not happy with the result, that’s why I was angry,” she said later. “I was disappointed.”
Shcherbakova said she had always dreamed of winning.
“Today,” she said, “I did it. I feel this feeling, and that was my goal, I think.”
She brushed aside the whirlwind of the week, saying she never thinks about “negative moments.” She went on: “I know that they are always around us, but that’s OK.” She added that she could “see everything,” but that the most important thing she could do was to skate.
She said she was happy about her victory, but added: “On the other hand, I feel this emptiness inside.”
“To be honest, I was very surprised that I won bronze,” she told reporters. “I am simply quite happy for now.”
A medal ceremony for the three women will take place later.
But the medal ceremony for the team event that Russia won on the strength of Valieva’s performance was postponed indefinitely after her positive test from a urine sample she gave in December was made public last week. The United States won silver; Japan, the bronze.
Valieva was cleared to compete in the women’s individual event just a day before it began with the short program Tuesday. According to an interview on Russia’s Channel One, the state-run TV station, she said she had not slept at all Sunday night after spending seven hours in a hearing with a panel of arbitrators considering her participation in these Games. In the end, the panel decided that barring her from competition would cause her “irreparable harm.”
“I’m happy but emotionally I’m tired, so this is tears of happiness, I think, mixed with a bit of sorrow,” she told Channel One. “But I’m surely happy to be at the Olympic Games and to try to represent our country, and I hope I will fully focus and demonstrate my results.”
Valieva came into the free skate in the lead after scoring 82.16 points in the short program. Shcherbakova, the current world champion, was second, with 80.20 points.
The Russian skaters began with a huge advantage. The base values for their free skate performances were so high that they could make mistakes and still separate themselves from most of the pack.
One particular skill that tallied lots of points was their quadruple jumps, which only a dozen women have landed in international competition. The quad is worth so much that it is hard for skaters without one to keep up. In last week’s team event, Valieva became the first woman to land a quadruple jump in the Olympics.
But her stumbles Thursday were enough to send her score below Sakamoto’s and keep her off the podium, even though Sakamoto did not have a quad in her repertoire.