Figure Skating News: Valieva Falls, Shcherbakova Wins Gold

BEIJING — After a week of turmoil that rocked the Beijing Games, Kamila Valieva, Russia’s premier dancer in figure skating, showed up at t...


BEIJING — After a week of turmoil that rocked the Beijing Games, Kamila Valieva, Russia’s premier dancer in figure skating, showed up at the Olympic ice rink on Thursday with one heavy expectation: to win.

Gone is the 15-year-old girl holding a pastel stuffed rabbit or laughing with her Russian teammates. In a mostly black suit with fiery red gloves that popped out of her long arms, she began her performance to Ravel’s “Bolero” as if not a second of the doping row at the Games had fazed her, although that for the past week, she’s been the focus of it.

The Russians came to the Games hoping to win medals in women’s singles and continue the country’s recent dominance in the sport. The Russians had won the last two Olympic gold medals in the women’s event, and Valieva’s job was to maintain that streak as the country’s top skater, already considered one of the best of all time.

But after revelations that she had tested positive for a banned substance several weeks before the Games, rekindling suspicions about a country already sanctioned for doping violations, that task proved too much for her to handle.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Her Russian teammate Anna Shcherbakova, the reigning world champion, won the gold medal with a smooth and poignant performance, scoring 255.95 points. Her other teammate, Alexandra Trusova, won the silver medal with 251.73 points. Kaori Sakamoto of Japan won the bronze medal with 233.13 points, saying she was both surprised and delighted with the medal.

Valieva, once considered invincible at these Games, finished fourth on the podium with 224.09 points. She won the short program on Tuesday and led Thursday’s free program; after a disastrous sequence of falls and trips, she cried as she left the ice.

The turnaround erased any drama expected at a medal ceremony. Olympics officials had said that with unresolved questions about Valieva’s drug test, they would not award medals in case she won one, as they awaited a final decision in her case. The medal ceremony for the team event that Russia won last week, powered by Valieva’s remarkable performance, remains up in the air as the Americans and Japanese await silver and bronze.

After winning, 17-year-old Shcherbakova was in a light-hearted mood, expressing her excitement for her own triumph. “I just want to believe that I’m not dreaming,” she said.

Asked about Valieva’s situation, she referred to it without addressing it directly, saying she felt “this emptiness inside”.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

“I have mixed feelings, but I felt a lot of pleasure because I was at the right time and in the right place and I did the right things,” Shcherbakova said.

Trusova, also 17, was crushed after failing to win the gold medal. She was sure her icy, rocky performance on the “Cruella” soundtrack, in which she landed five quadruple jumps, landing three cleanly, was good enough to win.

After the results were released, cameras captured her crying and screaming in anger as she hesitated to return to the ice for a post-skating awards ceremony.

Later, she told reporters, her eyes rimmed red after crying, “I’m not happy with the result. There is no happiness.”

Russian coach Eteri Tutberidze ended the day with another success for her program which is one rink short in Moscow. With Shcherbakova and Trusova finishing one-two, it was the second straight time that Tutberidze’s skaters won gold and silver.

But here Valieva was expected to be her star student, and it all started like that.

In the team event, Valieva dazzled with her exquisite artistry and manual jumps, including two quadruple jumps in the free skate, making her the first woman to land a quad at the Olympics.

But on Thursday, when Russia expected a convincing win, Valieva stumbled. Again and again and again. The crowd gasped in unison.

Although Valieva landed her first jump, a quad salchow, she fell over two more jumps, looking disoriented as she struggled to straighten herself up. In a disconcerting and unusual performance, she made mistakes on almost every jump, including her normally high quadruple jumps which she usually lands so softly there is barely a sound.

The audience was so sorry for her that they started cheering her on. His coaches, watching from the rink, did not participate. Tutberidze shook his head and at one point stared at the ceiling as his prodigy bobbed across the ice. A TV feed showed her speaking sternly to Valieva, wet with tears, as she stepped out of the ice.

After completing their programs, both Shcherbakova and Trusova threw jubilant punches. At the end of hers, Valieva hit the air in frustration. For what seemed like an eternity, she skated on the ice with a look of disbelief, as if trying to figure out what had just happened. Some fans started chanting “Ka-mi-la!”

For the top three skaters, Valieva’s unexpected placement meant there would be a podium ceremony at the end of the evening, with medals awarded at a separate ceremony on Friday.

Shcherbakova, in her shimmering burgundy dress, posed for photos with the Russian Olympic Committee flag behind her. Valieva was nowhere to be found.

Valieva’s drug case continues.

It was discovered that she had had the banned heart drug, trimetazidine, in her system several weeks before the Olympics. Later, according to documents from her hearing with the referees this week, it was discovered that Valieva had two other drugs in her system. Both are used by athletes to increase endurance but are not prohibited.

Valieva was cleared to compete in the women’s individual event just a day before the short program began on Tuesday.

According to an interview on Russia’s Channel One, the state-run television channel, she said she hadn’t slept at all on Sunday night after spending seven hours at a hearing with a panel of arbitrators considering her participation in these Games. In the end, the jury decided that excluding him from the competition would cause him “irreparable harm”.

“I’m happy but emotionally I’m tired so it’s tears of happiness I think mixed with a bit of grief,” she told Channel One. “But surely I’m happy to be at the Olympics and trying to represent our country, and I hope I will fully concentrate and demonstrate my results.”

It had been her goal since she was just a young girl growing up in Kazan, a city about 450 miles east of Moscow. And that was what she saw as possible even in those early years of skating when she rose quickly in the sport, considered a natural.

Years ago, a tiny Valieva in a tiny white suit, straight out of “Swan Lake”, glided across the rink doing her little jumps and moving her body with flexible arm and leg positions. dancer rubber bands. Even at this age, she moved so gracefully towards the music that the notes seemed programmed into her DNA.

But on Thursday, she was a different Kamila Valieva, whose name will forever be synonymous with one of the greatest doping controversies in Olympic history – the exact opposite of a little girl’s dream.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

After learning she had finished fourth, Valieva, clutching her well-worn stuffed bunny, remained seated in the “kiss and cry” area, where skaters await their scores. And she sat and sat again, frozen, as her trainers flanked her.

Eventually she got up and disappeared behind a curtain and under the arena, with a coach – not Tutberidze – throwing an arm over her shoulder. Some Russian fans cheered her on as she left. With her head bowed, she walked past reporters waiting to speak to her.

Tutberidze’s other Olympians, like comets, all faded before a second Games, most gone after burning brightly, albeit fleetingly, in their success.

If history is any guide, other young skaters from Russia’s sports machine are ready to take their place.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Figure Skating News: Valieva Falls, Shcherbakova Wins Gold
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