Olympic Figure Skating: Women’s Short Program Results
BEIJING — The applause started slowly, just simple applause, before a handful of applause rained down on the lonely, so lonely, teenage skater at center ice.
This young girl, 15-year-old Russian Kamila Valieva, had survived a week of accusations, insinuations and legal arguments after discovering that she had tested positive for a banned drug several weeks before the Games Beijing Olympics. She was cleared to skate just one day before the start of the women’s figure skating short program.
On Tuesday, with fans in the arena clearly supporting her, Valieva was finally back at the main rink to do what she came to do. Those who know her best say she is so good and easy-going that she seems born for events like this.
With long, beautiful lines and the sublime grace and agility of a prima ballerina, Valieva – for a few moving and sad minutes – floated through most of the routine she performed for “In Memoriam” in a hushed arena. She stumbled on her opening jump, a triple axel, which she had trouble with during practice earlier in the day. But in her flowing purple princess dress, she got back into character and continued her leaps and roars, as if the mayhem of the past week had never happened.
As soon as the final note sounded, however, she returned to the real world. The teenager who often carries around a pastel stuffed bunny struggled to hold back tears.
Just as many expected to compete at these Olympics, Valieva finished first in the short program because her technique is classic and she moves to the beat of the music with every inch of her body. With 82.16 points, she leads the field in Thursday’s free program. The combined score of the short program and the free skate will determine the winner.
Gold, however, may have to wait: Olympic officials have already announced that they will not award any medals in the event if Valieva finishes in the top three, saying they will wait to do so until to have his doping case resolved.
Valieva’s Russian teammate Anna Shcherbakova scored 80.20 to finish in second place. In the surprise of the evening, Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto finished third, with 79.84 points.
As it turned out, the short program didn’t end with the Russians dominating and set to sweep the medals, as was widely expected. Alexandra Trusova, the third Russian skater and best known for her jumps, finished fourth after falling on her triple axel. She said she didn’t know what was wrong. During training in Moscow, she added, she had landed the jump over and over again.
“I don’t know what I expected, but I imagined it would be somewhat different,” she said. “After falling off the axel jump, I did the rest easily.”
After her performance, Trusova sat face to face in the area where the skaters wait for their scores, as if she hadn’t even registered that she could score 74.60 points yet and sat right next to the medal stand as the women enter the free skate.
Shcherbakova, the reigning world champion, wouldn’t talk about medals — “it’s early to talk about medals” — but she’s certainly in a position to claim one after landing her double axel and three triple jumps, and ticking off skill after skill with determination.
“I realized how important this skate was and tried to pay attention to every detail,” she said.
Asked about Valieva and the doping test that cast a shadow over the event, Shcherbakova said she would not comment on it. Valieva didn’t speak to reporters at all, walking past them and then skipping a press conference after the event.
Sakamoto acknowledged that there were times when she wondered what was going to happen with Valieva, but like with most skaters here, she said she had to try and block him if she wanted to skate her best.
“I don’t really focus on those issues,” she said. “I have to focus on me.”
If Valieva wins or places in the top three of this event, there will be no medal ceremony for any of the medal winners, or even a ceremony where they receive stuffed Olympic panda mascots, because her case of doping remains under investigation. Already, the medals for the team event that Russia won last week, when they beat the United States and Japan, are on hold until their case is resolved.
Valieva would normally be subject to more drug tests at the Olympics, having been one of the top finishers in the team event. The International Olympic Committee has also said that Russian athletes, due to the country’s scandal-ridden past, face “heightened tests”. But he did not specify how this is done.
Critics including 2018 Olympic medalist Adam Rippon and NBC commentators Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski have suggested that Valieva’s presence in the women’s event ruined it, both marring the integrity of the event and the Olympic experience for all skaters, all of whom must now compete as one of the biggest scandals in recent Olympic history unfolds around them.
“It’s a joke, now it’s a joke,” said Rippon, a former Olympian who coaches American Mariah Bell, before the short program. “I don’t know how anyone looks at this without saying in the back of their mind, ‘This girl, whatever medal she wins, she will most likely be stripped.’ What’s the point of having an event like this?”
South Korean Yuna Kim, 2010 Olympic champion, posted on his Instagram page that she also disagreed with Valieva continuing to compete in the Games.
“An athlete who violates doping cannot participate in the game,” Kim wrote. “This principle must be respected without exception. The efforts and dreams of all players are equally valuable.
The top American in the short program was Alysa Liu, who finished eighth after a clean and energetic program. Bell was next, in 11th place. Karen Chen, in her second Olympics, dropped to 13th after falling on her triple loop and carefully getting up to complete her program. Chen finished fourth at the world championships last year.
Bell also had a fall in her short program. Afterwards, in response to questions about Valieva and the doping case, she said she wanted to focus on her skating. But she said the cancellation of the medal ceremony for the team event was upsetting.
Bell, 25, was not chosen to compete in the team event and instead cheered on her teammates from the stands as they played. The United States won the silver medal while the Russians took the gold.
“Obviously I feel sad for my teammates,” Bell said. “It seems wrong to punish people who did things the right way.”
Daniel Victor, Alan Blinder and Tariq Panja contributed reporting.