Olympics-Figure skating-Valieva tumbles to fourth as Russian team mate Shcherbakova wins gold
By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Chang-Ran Kim and Julien Pretot
BEIJING (Reuters) -Russian teenage figure skater Kamila Valieva tumbled to fourth place in the women's singles event on Thursday, yielding to the pressure of a doping controversy that has rocked the Beijing Games.
In a final twist that ensures a medal ceremony will go ahead on Friday, Valieva's compatriots Anna Shcherbakova claimed the gold medal and Alexandra Trusova took the silver, while a beaming Kaori Sakamoto of Japan claimed the bronze medal.
After stumbling to the ice more than once, 15-year-old Valieva gave one last forced smile to the judges and masked her face with her hand as she skated head down towards the exit with her supporters shouting "Molodets!" "Molodets!" (Bravo, bravo).
The skating prodigy, favourite for gold ahead of the Games, had been hoping to shut out the noise of a doping scandal after testing positive for a banned substance in late December, news of which only broke on Feb. 8 - a day after she helped the Russian Olympic Committee win the team competition.
Decked out in a sparkling black and red dress and bright red gloves, she kept her composure for 30 seconds and landed her opening quadruple Salchow jump.
But she then faltered after a triple Axel and made a number of uncharacteristic stumbles after that in a free skate routine set to Maurice Ravel's "Bolero".
After coming to a stop, she threw one hand forward in open frustration at a performance that was nowhere near her usual high standards, and ended almost 50 points below her own world record score on 224.09.
Shcherbakova claimed gold with a total score of 255.95 ahead of Trusova on 251.73. Japan's Sakamoto scored 233.13.
In the stands, loud cheers and applause had greeted Valieva's arrival on the ice, and her fans chanted her name after her stumble - while the camera shutters went into overdrive.
Valieva was left sobbing in the "kiss and cry" area after her performance, while her coach Eteri Tutberidze, who also trains Shcherbakova and Trusova, underlined the pressure the teenage skaters are under.
"Why did you let it go? Explain it to me, why? Why did you stop fighting completely? Somewhere after the axel you let it go," Tutberidze demanded of the distraught Valieva.
"This is a moment where you genuinely have to say - that poor kid. She should not have ever been put in this position," former U.S. skater Ashley Wagner wrote on Twitter.
"She shouldn’t have been out on that ice, she shouldn’t have been put in a position where she became the face of a problem bigger than her."
In a high-octane routine, Valieva's team mate Trusova, the 2021 world championships bronze medallist, attempted five quads to the soundtrack of "Cruella" and the Stooges's "I Wanna Be Your Dog" for a season's best free skate score of 177.13.
Fellow 17-year-old Shcherbakova's free skate was not as powerful, but the world champion skated with accuracy as she landed two quads early in her programme.
"I’m glad I managed my nerves and worries and showed my maximum at the right time and place," said Shcherbakova, whose heart went out to Valieva.
"Of course I was very worried about her during the skate because from the first jump it was clear that the skate was not doing great. I really understand what an athlete feels in those moments."
Shcherbakova, Trusova and Sakamoto came back for the podium ceremony, staying on the ice for several minutes to soak up a moment they probably thought was not going to happen.
"I wasn't expecting to place in the top three so I’m just overjoyed," said a delighted Sakamoto.
The medal ceremony will take place on Friday at 1945 Beijing time (1145GMT).
Valieva tested positive for a banned heart drug after the national championships on Dec. 25 but the result was not revealed until Feb. 8. She was eventually cleared to compete in the women's single event by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Monday.
She came into Thursday's skate as the hot favourite and it was expected that the medal ceremony would not go ahead because of the unresolved doping case.
Valieva is one of the youngest athletes to have a positive test revealed at the Olympics, prompting questions about the role of the adults around her and the continuing scourge of Russian doping in international sport.
It has also fueled a debate over raising the age limit for figure skating.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Chang-Ran Kim and Julien Pretot; Additional reporting by Krystal Hu; Editing by Leela de Kretser, Ken Ferris and Hugh Lawson)
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