The eyes of the sporting world were fixed on Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium on Tuesday evening.
- Valieva is skating as a result of a CAS ruling due to the timing of the revelation of her positive test and due to her being a minor
- The Russian nearly fell on her opening triple axel in her short program
- She leads the rankings going into the free skate
On another day – in a parallel universe perhaps — they might have been there to see one of the most talented 15-year-old skaters of all time perform in the individual short program purely for her obvious and undeniable sporting ability.
Instead, most were there for the biggest story of these Games – a figure skating competition irreparably compromised in as far as no medals will be awarded at these Games should the subject of the drugs controversy finish in the top three.
Kamila Valieva, under the most intense speculation from just about every person in attendance, received a huge cheer when she glided onto the ice, but she is no longer the carefree superstar of last Monday’s team’s event.
In fact, she looked extraordinarily stressed, drained by the spotlight that has been focused on her since Tuesday, something she admitted on Monday to Russian TV station, Channel One.
She stumbled on the triple axel, a move she’d normally perform in her sleep – she nailed a quadruple in the teams event, after all – but otherwise put together a clean but unspectacular run to get a huge score of 82.16 and the lead.
Her ROC teammate Anna Shcherbakova sits second on 80.20, with Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto in third with 79.84.
Valieva did not look relieved by the high score, the relatively clean run.
Instead, she looked drawn out as she clutched a teddy bear, her coach beside her, as she awaited her score.
The whole scene served as a painful reminder of her juvenility.
Her position at the apex of the field heading into Thursday’s free skate will only heighten the interest and speculation in a case that will drag on well after the conclusion of the Games, which is when RUSADA are set to investigate the case.
Valieva had tested positive for a banned substance on December 25 but her test result was not revealed until February 8, after Valieva had competed in the team event at the Winter Games.
Earlier on Tuesday, Reuters reported that an Olympic official said Valieva had argued that her positive drug test was caused by a mix-up with her grandfather’s heart medication.
Denis Oswald, the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) permanent chair of the disciplinary commission, also said in a press conference that Valieva’s B sample had yet to be tested.
Valieva was allowed to compete at these Games after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) allowed her to compete on the grounds of the “serious issues” of the “untimely notification” of the results of her positive test from the lab in Sweden, her status as a minor and that banning her from competing at the Games would “cause her irreparable harm”.
The IOC, International Skating Union (ISU) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) however, wanted her banned.
As a result of the WADA ruling, the IOC added an extra competitor to the competition and said that should Valieva win the women’s programme, there would be no medal ceremony.
Fellow skaters react
Inevitably, almost every skater was asked about the presence of Valieva in the mix zone after their performance
Most kept shtum about the situation.
Eliska Brezinova of the Czech Republic said: “I have nothing to say about this, and I’m just happy they let one more skater to go.”
Canada’s Madeline Schizas said: “It’s not my place to comment on whether it’s fair or not.”
Others were a touch more forthcoming.
“I don’t know enough about the situation to really have a fair perspective about it,” Australia’s own Kailani Craine said.
“All I know is what I’m doing, and I’m very proud to skate out there today, and be a clean skater, even though I did not skate clean,” she said, in reference to her fall which meant she finished 29th and out of contention for Thursday’s free skate.
Some were more opinionated still.
“I don’t know all the facts about it, so I’ve tried to focus on what I can do good for skating and how to put a positive thing into these Olympics,” Josefin Taljegard of Sweden said.
“Of course, it’s difficult to decide because I don’t even know if she tested positive in both tests or anything. I hope the leaders of this investigation do what they should do. Time will tell.
Estonia’s Eva-Lotta Kiibus: “I am not here right now to comment, but doping is doping, so I do not see there are any ways to decide. If it is positive it is decided.
“It is how it is. Should someone who tested positive be allowed to compete? No.”
And finally, the USA’s Mariah Bell questioned whether Valieva skating would tarnish the sport.
“It’s obviously a very touchy subject. I can only speak for myself, but I advocate for clean sport,” Bell said.
“I think that is the whole idea of the Olympics and our careers in general.
“I have been and will always be an advocate for clean sport.”