Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva shrugged off her Olympic doping scandal on Tuesday to dominate women’s competition with a moving performance that put her ahead in the hunt for a gold medal that is unlikely to be awarded at the Beijing Games.
The 15-year-old fought back tears as she completed the 2 minute 40 second routine, watched by millions around the world, her music nearly drowned out by the clatter of cameras. No medals will be awarded at the Winter Games for the women’s event if Valieva finishes in the top three of the two-day competition, which resumes Thursday.
The teenager, who was cleared to compete by the sport’s highest court despite testing positive for a banned heart drug, will not have her case resolved until after the Beijing Games. Valieva tested positive at her national championships on December 25, but the result was not revealed until February 8, having already competed in the Beijing Games in the team event.
Earlier on Tuesday, an Olympic official said Valieva’s defense was that there had been a mix-up with her grandfather’s heart medication. The teenager’s case has sparked uncomfortable questions about figure skating and whether or not the minimum age for competitors – 15 – should be raised.
American Mariah Bell skated in the women’s singles on Tuesday and, stepping off the ice, swept the competing minors onto the biggest stage. “I absolutely believe there should be an age limit,” said the 25-year-old.
“I know for me, personally, I know that when you grow up a lot of changes happen. There are minors competing…that’s a whole other thing.” The nine skaters who represented the United States and the seven who competed for Japan in the team event will return home without receiving their medals because of the Valieva drug case. The United States finished behind the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) with Japan third.
“My heart goes out to the rest of my teammates and I hope we find a way to celebrate together,” said American ice dancer Madison Hubbell. On Tuesday night, Valieva was scheduled to perform three high-flying triple jumps, but she stumbled on the first triple Axel. Her score of 82.16 was lower than the score of 90.18 she had obtained in the team event.
Still, that was enough to put her ahead of fellow Russian Anna Shcherbakova, the world champion, in 80.20 and third-placed Kaori Sakamoto of Japan in 79.84 going into Thursday’s free skate. CHINA WINS
American-born Chinese figure skater Zhu Yi did not qualify for the free skate but was cheered by fans in her hometown when she returned to the ice with a smile on Tuesday. After her error-filled performance lifted China from fifth to third in the team event, Zhu became the target of online criticism for her performance, as well as for being selected over to another Chinese skater.
“I guess it was a bit of redemption,” Zhu said Tuesday. “I think I skated a lot better than the team event. I feel more comfortable and I’m trying to enjoy the game, that’s why I smiled.” Teenage sensation Su Yiming treated himself to his 18th birthday by claiming gold in the men’s Big Air snowboard event, marking China’s first ever Olympic title in snowboarding and his sixth gold medal in Beijing .
“I have many different dreams, but today’s gold medal is the biggest dream I’ve ever had since I was young,” Su said after his podium finish. Another hometown favourite, Eileen Gu, had her sights set on winning another gold medal in Beijing after her previous triumph in the Big Air, but ended up taking silver in the women’s freeski slopestyle.
The Chinese ‘Snow Princess’ gave it her all early on, landing a clean and controlled first run, but hit the deck on her second try, forcing her to sit on her skis to breathe. The crash put pressure on Gu ahead of her third and final race and although she clocked 86.23, it wasn’t enough to beat Mathilde Gremaud’s best of 86.56, with Estonian Kelly Sildaru taking the bronze with 82.06. (Additional reporting by Hritika Sharma, Ian Ransom, Krystal Hu, Winnie Zhou, Marie Saito, Iain Axon, Joseph Campbell, Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Leela de Kretser and Pritha Sarkar)
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