Disastrous free skate keeps Kamila Valieva out of Olympic medal position

In a stunning turn of events, Anna Shcherbakova of the Russian Olympic Committee won gold in women’s figure skating on Thursday, as the pressure of the last week amid a swirling doping controversy appeared to get to her teammate, Kamila Valieva.

Fellow ROC skater Anna Shcherbakova takes women's figure skating gold

Kamila Valieva of Team ROC, centre, reacts to her score with choreographer Daniil Gleikhengauz, right, and coach Eteri Tutberidze, left, after her crushing women's free skate at the Beijing Olympics in February. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

In a stunning turn of events, Anna Shcherbakova of the Russian Olympic Committee won gold in women's figure skating on Thursday, as the pressure of the last week amid a swirling doping controversy appeared to get to her teammate, and favourite to win, Kamila Valieva.

Valieva, skating last in the free skate because she led the competition after the short program, faltered in the free, including two falls, to finish in fourth place with a score of 141.93, for a total of 224.09, both well below her season's best. After her skate, she bent over and cried as she watched her Olympic dream, at least for these Games, slip away.

Shcherbakova, the reigning world champion, landed two quadruple jumps, a quad flip-triple toe loop combination and a quad flip on its own, during a clean program to finish with a season best free skate score of 175.75 and a season best total score of 255.95 at the Capital Indoor Stadium.

Anna Shcherbakova of the Russian Olympic Committee competes in the women's free skate during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games on Thursday in Beijing. She won the gold. (David J. Phillip/The Associated Press)

After her skate, Shcherbakova, 17, was still coming to terms with her win.

"Every interview you say I'm the Olympic champion and I don't understand that you're talking about me," she told the CBC's Elladj Baldé, giggling. "So I think I need some time to understand what happened."

Alexandra Trusova, Shcherbakova's teammate, finished in second place with two season's best scores: a free skate of 177.13 and a total of 251.73 after landing a remarkable five quad jumps. Kaori Sakamoto of Japan finished in third with a season best free skate of 153.29 and a season best total of 233.13.

Canada's Madeline Schizas moved up one place from the short program to finish in 19th with a total score of 175.56, well below her season best score of 192.14.

WATCH | Shcherbakova takes gold with beautiful skate in women's free program:

Oral History: Joannie Rochette, a skate for mom

1 year ago
Duration 8:15
Just days before she was to compete at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, Joannie Rochette lost her mother to a sudden heart attack. Still grieving her loss, the Canadian figure skater put on the performance of her life, winning an Olympic bronze medal.

Speaking to reporters after the competition, Trusova made it clear she was looking for a different result after a long program that was more technically demanding than the others.

"I am not happy with the result," she said. "There is no happiness."

Sakamoto, who does not have a quad in her arsenal, was pleased with her bronze medal.

"I don't have the big jumps as others would have, which is a big handicap," said Sakamoto. "That means I had to have perfect elements."

WATCH | Valieva struggles in free skates, finishes out of the medals:

Results provisional

The results of this event and last week's team figure skating competition are provisional, pending a full investigation into Valieva's failed drug test less than two months before the Games that only came to light last week. 

Indeed, 25 skaters went through to the free skate in the women's competition, one more than usual, to account for Valieva's expected finish in the top 24 and concern she could still end up being disqualified.

The failed drug test, which came back positive for trimetazidine — a heart medication — came to light days after Valieva, aged just 15, propelled the ROC to victory in the team competition and the medal ceremony was inexplicably delayed.

An emergency hearing last Sunday ended with the Court of Arbitration for Sport allowing Valieva to compete in Beijing pending the results of the investigation, in part because as a 15-year-old she is considered a "protected person" and thus subject to different rules than an adult athlete.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has also announced it will investigate Valieva's coach, Eteri Tutberidze, and her entourage in the lead-up to Beijing. Tutberidze, known for pushing her teenage charges to be the only women figure skaters to have quadruple jumps in their arsenals, which they perform with the added difficulty of their arms over their heads, also coaches Trusova and Shcherbakova. 

WATCH | Canadian Madeline Schizas finishes 19th in 1st Olympics:

Current and former skaters alike criticized the decision to allow Valieva to remain in the competition.

"Do I feel sorry for her? I don't think so. I wouldn't say so," Sakamoto said after her short program. "Of course, there were moments where I thought: 'What's going to happen? What's happening?"'

Former skater Adam Rippon, who now coaches American skater Mariah Bell, who had a stunning free skate to finish in tenth place, has been vocal on social media about his disdain for the decision.

"She had a positive test," Rippon said on Twitter of Valieva. "A slap in the face to every athlete who plays by the rules."

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee has decided that medals will not be awarded for events in which Valieva has ended up on the podium as the investigation into that failed test continues. After the women's competition, the medallists were given their mascots and stood atop the podium, but did not receive their medals on Thursday. That will come Friday.

WATCH | Oral History: Joannie Rochette, a skate for mom:

With files from The Associated Press

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