When it was all done, after the storms and bile and falls, so many falls, a broken child hid her face in her arms and wept. Kamila Valieva had lost and was lost.
Fourth place. Is it the worst place? Maybe. Or possibly that goes for simply being here, in this arena, under those lights and after that hearing and so many questions. What happened to her? What did they do? Why?
Perhaps we will find a few answers in time. Possibly we won’t. But what we know is that a 15-year-old with all of the world records in her hands was buried on Thursday night by the weight of a global scandal on her shoulders.
Russian Kamila Valieva competed in the free skate amid uproar over her failed doping test
It drilled her into the ice, not once but twice. Heavy falls, both after her signature quad jumps, to go with stumbles, slips and mis-steps, totalling her worst score for the free skate in more than two years – 141.93, more than 50 off her unprecedented best.
So a day that started with her in first ended off the podium, and all to the undulating rhythms of Ravel’s Bolero.
We know that tune well at home – it was Torvill and Dean’s when they scored those perfect numbers.
To think, they called Valieva ‘Miss Perfect’ not so long ago; they call her other things now, and whatever we know about Russian doping, and because of it, this was above all a tragedy. A sporting murder of an innocent by serial offenders? We’ll see.
Whatever the roots, Valieva cried and staggered her way to the gate. As she left, one of the mysteries of this piece, her formidable coach Eteri Tutberidze, was waiting. ‘Why did you let it go?’ she asked, according to the translation of Russian media. ‘Explain to me, why. Why did you stop fighting? You let it go. Why?’
The 15-year-old Russian left the ice in tears after her error-strewn performance performance
And why, once more, is as big a question as the what in all this.
Why, with a skater considered the greatest in history, would it be necessary? Why would she, a child, need a banned angina medication, and two others? Why take the biggest talent a sport has seen and feel the need to give it a nudge? And why, when these charlatans repeatedly bring the wrong bottles, do they keep getting an invite to the party?
We couldn’t put any of this to Valieva, because when she was free of Tutberidze, she passed through the interview areas without comment. No blaming her for that, this so-called ‘protected person’ whose interests were apparently being served by the Court of Arbitration when they issued their reprieve on Monday.
Their fear was that a suspension would do ‘irreparable harm’; alas, they tagged the fish and released it straight into a boiling pot.
Valieva finished fourth in free skate after an error-strewn performance as the world watched
But at least the International Olympic Committee didn’t have to go through with their plan of scrapping the medal ceremony. That and an asterisk were their solution if Valieva had finished in the top three.
Instead, it was filled by her team-mates, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, and Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto in bronze.
This being figure skating, there was drama in all of that, too. Trusova, an undiscovered gem to those of us who only drop in every four years, had been remarkable.
She attempted five quads, even more than Valieva, and loaded with attitude, the red-haired woman of 17 nailed them all. When Shcherbakova, same age but more reserved in routine and style, pulled off a flawless performance, Trusova flew into a stunning rage.
The 15-year-old figure skater is at the centre of the latest Olympic doping scandal
‘I hate, hate, hate,’ she said, before telling her Russian entourage that she wouldn’t attend the medal ceremony.
‘I won’t go there, I don’t understand. I hate. Leave me alone. I won’t go on the ice again.’
Tutberidze tried to have a word, but was shunted aside.
‘I will never go on the ice again in my life,’ she was heard saying via the broadcast in Russia.
‘I hate this sport, I hate it! You can’t do it this way. You can’t do it this way. Everyone has a gold medal, but not me.’
By the time she attended the press conference she had calmed down, but still objected to the scoring and seemed irked in disclosing how Tutberidze had suggested she simplify her routine. ‘My coach said maybe four quads and I said no. I said five. And I am more than happy I did five.
‘I am not happy with the result and that is why I was angry and disappointed.’
Fellow Russian Anna Shcherbakova won gold ahead of Alexandra Trusova and Kaori Sakamoto
As for any thoughts on her junior colleague, Valieva, gone and silent? She would not comment. Nor would Shcherbakova, who is now the world and Olympic champion.
‘I feel a lot of pleasure,’ she said. ‘This is what I work towards every day. I feel happiness and also an emptiness inside somehow.’
She didn’t expand on that last part, but perhaps we can guess. Her sport is a hard one. Busting a gut and ankles and knees and tear ducts is the standard price of admission, let alone to the top step.
In another year, Shcherbakova would get greater billing in these pages and others for her efforts. In another year she would be the story all on her own.
But not in the Games of the asterisk. Not in the lee of a massive storm and the little girl lost in the middle of it. A depressing tale, really.
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