In the end, she couldn’t handle the pressure.
The young Russian figure-skating sensation Kamila Valieva, at the center of a huge Olympic doping fight, lost out on the chance of a second gold medal at the Beijing Games with an error-strewn free skate that saw her twice tumble onto the ice and out of the medals.
The 15-year-old, who led Russia to the team event gold last week, before it emerged that she had failed a drug test, was last to skate after finishing at the top in Tuesday’s short program.
Valieva launched herself onto the ice to the strains of Ravel’s Bolero, knowing that she would have to skate at her absolute best to stay ahead of her teammate Anna Scherbakova, the 17-year-old world champion. She landed a quadruple Salchow and looked to be in control before a fumbled toe-loop.
Her nerves destroyed, her program fell to pieces, the young Russian falling from first spot to fourth and Scherbakova claiming the gold ahead of teammate Alexandra Trusova.
The result left Valieva in tears, her coaches doing their best to console her at rinkside.
But it also means that the International Olympic Committee could, after all, hand out the women’s figure skating medals in Beijing—although Trusova had to be cajoled onto the podium as the medalists were handed Olympic mascots before tomorrow’s formal medal ceremony.
After losing an appeal before an international arbitration panel, which decided that Valieva should be allowed to skate in Beijing despite testing positive for the angina drug trimetazidine, the IOC decide that Valieva’s results in Beijing would be provisional: no medals, no flowers, not even a replica Olympic torch for the young skater from Tatarstan.
Had she won gold, her name would have gone into the record books with an asterisk beside it, to make clear she could be stripped of any medals if anti-doping chiefs decide she has cheated deliberately.
First up from Russia’s “Quad Squad” was Trusova, the fiery 17-year-old who landed no fewer than five quad jumps, including a stunning quad lutz-triple toe-loop combination, to leapfrog past Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto.
At that point, a Russian sweep of the medals looked all but certain. Scherbakova skated with power, grace, and joy to go almost 20 points into the lead, although her free skate did not score quite as highly as Trusova’s.
With Valieva tumbling, Trusova claimed silver and Sakamoto, the 21-year-old from Kobe, took bronze.