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Olympics | Figure Skating

Kamila Valieva, figure skater at the center of Olympics controversy, in first after women’s short program

Kamila Valieva scored 82.16 for her short program on Tuesday.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

BEIJING — Kamila Valieva skated off the Olympic ice with the lead in the women’s short program and tears in her eyes.

They were not tears of joy.

The enormous pressure and scrutiny on the 15-year-old Russian dynamo, who is at the center of the latest Olympic doping scandal, appeared to finally get to her Tuesday night. Despite an incredible performance by the standards of just about anyone else, Valieva could hardly hold it together while she awaited her scores.

She wound up earning 82.16 points, more than eight off her own world record, but more than enough to top teammates Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova as they go for a Russian sweep of the podium.


Valieva did not speak afterward, walking through the mix zone of reporters in stoic silence. The Russian Olympic Committee also declined to bring her to the news conference, which is required only for medal rounds, and when asked about the scandal, Scherbakova said: “I will not say anything about this situation.”

“Whether it is fair, I am not quite sure,” said Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, who sits in third place. “I would like to refrain from answering that question. Right now I would just like to focus on my own performance.”

Shcherbakova, the reigning world champion, was second with 80.60 points after a clean program. Sakamoto’s score of 79.89 points broke up the “Quad Squad” with Trusova, who fell on her opening triple axel, in fourth with 74.60.

“I think that everything was like always, like every competition,” Shcherbakova said. “I didn’t feel anything different from other competitions, and it was really controlled (and) focused.”

The trio of Russian women, all coached by the embattled Eteri Tutberidze, are trying to deliver the second podium sweep in Olympic figure skating and the first in the women’s competition. The free skate is Thursday night.


The three US women advanced to the free skate but struggled to break into medal contention in an event that has been overshadowed by the latest Russian doping scandal.

Alysa Liu was the only American breaking into the top 10, in eighth.

“I don’t know how anybody else skated. I only know how I skated. Again, it’s disappointing. I hope that they skated well. And if not, then I guess we’re in the same boat,” said Karen Chen, who came in 13th. “We’ve just got a focus on delivering a more solid long program.”

Liu skated a more conservative program, downgrading her planned triple axel into a double in order to land a cleanly.

Though Liu was all smiles during the program, she said it was a struggle to switch to a new coach late in the season. She shouted out her former coach for helping her with her choreography.

“The change was really recent so it was a hard change, of course, for me,” Liu said. “I’m just really glad I get to show his choreography. Hopefully I did it justice.”

Fellow American Mariah Bell, in 11th, also had a shaky performance. Both she and Chen fell.

“I have very mixed emotions about it. I’m bummed with the mistake on that element,” Bell said. “I think it cost me quite a bit of points, but I’m happy with how I came back with everything else. And ultimately, I just really enjoyed skating on Olympic ice.”


Chen’s tumble left her sobbing after she exited the rink, an upsetting turn after an uneven team event showing and a disappointing appearance at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.

“I’m super disappointed about my skate. I know I’m capable of much better than that. And to not deliver that is, again, just like very disappointing,” Chen said. “I can’t find a better word to describe how I’m feeling right now. I definitely just have to put that behind me and focus on the long program.”

Chen will leave Beijing without the silver medal she won in the team competition because of the IOC’s decision to wait to present the medals until the longer-term investigation of Valieva’s doping case to play out.

Though Chen’s hardware could get upgraded to gold if Valieva is ultimately disqualified, it still means no Olympic celebration here in Beijing.

“I really was looking forward to be on the podium with my teammates and just sharing that moment, and I’m sure I’m not the only one that felt that way,” Chen said. “But what can we do? It’s out of our control and, whatever it is, we just got to go with it and go with the flow. … I think once that everything is over, we’ll definitely try to find a way to celebrate.”

For the last week, Valieva’s positive drug test from an event in December has shrouded the competition in controversy.

The test was flagged by a laboratory in Sweden for a banned heart medication but only emerged last week, after her two brilliant performances in the team competition helped win gold for the Russia Olympic Committee.


The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Valieva should be allowed to compete while anti-doping officials conduct a full investigation — in part because she is a minor and is subject to different rules from an adult athlete.

Lawyers for Valieva also “brought some doubts about her guilt,” veteran IOC member Denis Oswald said Tuesday. Russian lawyers speculated that the sample may have been contaminated by medicine her grandfather was taking.

In her only comments since the drug test surfaced, Valieva told Russian state broadcaster Channel One on Monday night that “these days have been very difficult for me. I’m happy but I’m tired emotionally.”

Valieva said the entire process had taught her that adult life “can be unfair to some extent.”

Others pointed out that the real unfairness came in Valieva performing despite a positive test for a banned substance.

“I can only speak for myself and that I advocate for clean sporting,” said Mariah Bell, who along with U.S. teammates Alysa Liu and Karen Chen advanced to the free skate. “That’s the whole idea of the Olympics and our careers, in general.”