Friday , September 30 2022

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva leads short program at Beijing Winter Olympics

After days of being at the center of global controversy, Kamila Valieva finally took the ice for her short program at the Olympics on Tuesday in Beijing and earned the top score of the day, despite an uncharacteristic stumble on the landing of her triple axel.

At the end of the performance, Valieva, who previously said she was “tired emotionally,” looked upwards and began to cry, as if the magnitude of the last several days was finally hitting her.

With cameras focused on her every moment before she competed — and the debate about her inclusion dominating the coverage and broadcast conversation — Valieva’s score of 82.16 put her in the top spot entering Thursday’s free skate.

The Russian 15-year-old was cleared to compete by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Monday after testing positive for the banned heart drug trimetazidine in December. The decision received outrage in the skating community, including from those competing on Tuesday who were asked about the situation following their own performances.

“It’s obviously a very touchy subject,” said American Mariah Bell, who is in 11th after Tuesday’s skate. “I can only speak for myself, but I advocate for clean sport. I think that is the whole idea of the Olympics and our careers in general. I know for me, I can come here in the midst of all of this, but I am really proud of my career.”

Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir, Adam Rippon, Yuna Kim and Evan Lysacek were among the former skaters to speak up about their displeasure following the announcement of the decision.

“Athlete[s] who violate doping cannot compete in the game,” Kim, the 2010 Olympic gold medalist, posted on Instagram. “This principle must be observed without exception.”

Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, echoed their sentiment in a statement.

“Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field,” Hirshland wrote. “Unfortunately, today that right is being denied. This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia.”

Due to Valieva’s permitted inclusion, there will be no medal ceremony if she were to place in the top three. The team event, in which Valieva helped lift the Russian Olympic Committee to gold, also still has yet to have such a ceremony. The International Olympic Committee said it will “organize dignified medal ceremonies once the case of Ms. Valieva has been concluded.”

Subsequently, 25 skaters, as oppose to the traditional 24, will advance to compete in Thursday’s free skate portion. All three American skaters — Bell, Karen Chen and Alysa Liu — qualified, with Liu (eighth) leading the way. Both Bell and Chen had falls in their routines.

Valieva and Russian teammates Anna Shcherbakova, the 2021 world champion, and Alexandra Trusova were widely expected to sweep the podium at the start of the Games and currently hold three of the top four spots on the leaderboard. All three have the ability to execute quad jumps, and are the only women competing with such a capability. Such jumps aren’t allowed for women in the short program, but the trio will likely all show off their skills during the free skate.

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto currently sits in third. Wakaba Higuchi, her teammate who became the fifth woman in Olympic history to successfully land a triple axel during her short program, is in fifth place.

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