Olympic Free Skate Controversy

Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old Russian Olympic Committee figure skater favored to win the gold medal, did not make the podium during the women’s free skate, yet was still allowed to compete amidst a drug scandal. Two other ROC athletes, Anna Scherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, earned gold and silver respectively, but the athletes seemed less excited about their wins than expected.

Valieva was the last athlete to compete on the night of the women’s free skate. Her performance was atypical for her usual standard, with her taking many tumbles on elements that would normally be easy for her. Silver medalist Trusova gave a technically perfect performance, crammed with difficult components that she executed well, albeit sacrificing artistry. Gold medalist Scherbakova had the opposite, giving a beautifully choreographed show with mostly musical factors mixed with some technicalities.

However, after the competition, camera footage showed Valieva breaking down after placing fourth, with many of the ROC coaches coming to comfort her as she was escorted out of the rink. Trusova was shown visibly crying, saying “I can’t see this, I won’t see this,” to her coach, and refusing to stand on the podium to receive her medal.

It was revealed that Trusova was unhappy with her silver medal win, but she did end up standing next to her teammate in the medal ceremony. Meanwhile, Scherbakova stood silently by herself after her win, with the only person to congratulate her initially being Japanese bronze medalist Kaori Sakamoto. Scherbakova also took to the ice to receive her gold medal.

Valieva had taken the lead following the women’s short program, and many expected her to take home the gold in the women’s free skate. However, it was revealed that Valieva had tested positive for the banned substance trimetazidine, a drug which allows more blood flow to the heart, back in December. Despite this, the young skater was still permitted to compete in the games, with the condition that if Valieva were to make the podium, there would be no ceremony for any of the medalists. Naturally, many athletes were displeased with the decision, particularly Sha’Carri Richardson, a track star who had been banned from the Tokyo Summer Olympics after testing positive for marijuana before the games.

Announcer Tara Lipinski noted the pressure put on Valieva may have contributed to her lackluster performance. Either way, the teenage figure skaters of the ROC showcased some of the more brutal sides to the sport and the Russian skating system as a whole during the Beijing Winter Olympics, and many are waiting to see what the future holds for these young athletes.