BEIJING (AP) — Anna Shcherbakova won a stunning gold medal in women’s figure skating at the Beijing Games on Thursday night, relying on her experience to deliver a clean performance, while Russian teammate Kamila Valieva tumbled out of the medals in a mistake-filled end to her controversial Olympics.
Shcherbakova performed a near-flawless free skate to leap over the 15-year-old Valieva, the leader after the short program, who threw up her arms in resignation and disgust after her program. Russian teammate Alexandra Trusova leaped to silver with her quad-packed program while Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto held onto the bronze medal.
Valieva, the center of the latest Russian doping scandal, was left sobbing in the kiss-and-cry area after her scores were read. She was heavily favored to win the gold medal but is headed home with nothing from the women’s program and still faces investigation for a positive drug test.
Moments after she walked off, workers began setting up for a flower ceremony that the International Olympic Committee said would not take place if Valieva was in the top three. Medals will be handed out Friday at a ceremony that would not have occurred in Beijing if Valieva had reached the podium.
Valieva tested positive for a banned heart medication at the Russian championships in December, but the result was not revealed until last week, shortly after she helped to win a team gold medal that is now also in doubt.
She was cleared to compete earlier this week by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled that she had protected status as a minor and would suffer “irreparable harm” if she was not allowed to perform. The court did not rule on the full scope of the case, leaving that anti-doping investigators.
The court’s decision has cast a polarizing shadow over one of the marquee events of the Winter Games.
“Do I feel sorry for her? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t say so,” Sakamoto said after her short program. “Of course, there were moments where I thought: ‘What’s going to happen? What’s happening?’”
Valieva has claimed the drug triggering her positive, trimetazidine, entered her system by accident. But the World Anti-Doping Agency filed a brief stating that two other substances she acknowledged taking, L-carnitine and Hypoxen — though both legal — undercut the argument that a banned substance could have been ingested in error.
“You use all of that to increase performance,” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said.
In the meantime, IOC President Thomas Bach tried to appease angry American skaters by offering Olympic torches to those who helped win their team silver medals, The Associated Press learned late Wednesday. The torches are meant to serve as holdover gifts while the world awaits the resolution of Valieva’s doping case.
“It’s unfortunate that we aren’t able to get our medals,” said Karen Chen, who competed in the team event for the U.S. and finished 16th in the women’s program Thursday night. “I have yet to see the torch, but once that is like given to us, I think it will be such a special moment that we will cherish forever.”
As the doping case unfolded around her, Valieva tried to go about her business as usual, taking part in every practice on her schedule. And though she looked calm and cool during a run-through for her short program, the first cracks began to appear when she skated off the ice and broke down in tears — even though she was leading the event.
The collapse came with the eyes of the world watching Thursday night.
Valieva was shaky on an opening quad salchow, then stepped out on a triple axel and fell altogether on a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination. She fell again on her other quad toe loop, preventing her from completing a high-scoring combination, and spun out on another jump late in the program — though by that point, her fate was sealed.
The calamitous program only made Shcherbakova’s just before it look better.
With the fewest quads of the three Russian women, the 17-year-old world champion instead captured the gold medal with back-to-back clean programs. She was flawless in her short program and, beginning with a quad flip-triple toe loop, peerless in her free skate, making her the third straight Russian to stand atop the Olympic podium.
Just not the one that everyone was expecting.