17 February 2022
As expected, a Russian woman was standing at the top of the figure skating medal podium at the Olympic Games on Thursday night.
But it was not the Russian that most people expected.
Anna Shcherbakova, the overlooked world champion, completed a clean performance in her free skate at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing to win the gold medal. Her teammate Kamila Valieva, the gold-medal favorite, struggled and fell two times in her program to finish fourth.
"I still haven't realized that my Olympic Games have ended. I just know that I skated clean," said Shcherbakova, who was second behind Valieva after the short program. "I am so happy that I still haven't realized the result."
Valieva's failed drug test ahead of the Olympics – and the decision to permit her to compete – had become the main story of the Games.
The surprising results meant that a medal ceremony could happen. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced earlier this week that medals would not immediately be given to any of the winners if Valieva finished in the top three.
Shcherbakova, who is 17, landed two quadruple jumps to finish with 255.95 points. She narrowly beat another 17-year-old Russian, Alexandra Trusova, who landed five somewhat shaky quad jumps.
Trusova was not pleased with the judges, given the difficulty of her program. "I am not happy with the result," Trusova said. "There is no happiness."
Both Trusova and Valieva were crying uncontrollably after the competition ended.
Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, however, was happy. She finished in third place, just ahead of Valieva. The three Russian women had been widely expected to win gold, silver and bronze.
"I don't have the big jumps as others would have," said Sakamoto. "That meant I had to have perfect elements."
On Thursday night, she did.
Valieva left without a medal
The 15-year-old Valieva was heavily favored to win gold but she will leave the Games with no medal from the women's individual event and an investigation into her failed drug test to come.
She had tested positive for a banned heart medication at the Russian championships in December. But the result was not known until last week, shortly after she helped the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) win first place in the team event. That result is now in question. Medals for the team figure skating event still have not been given out.
Valieva was cleared to compete earlier this week by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The CAS ruled that she had protected status as a minor and would suffer "irreparable harm" if she was not permitted to compete.
Investigators will continue to look into the situation after the Olympics. The investigation is expected to center on the adults who oversee Valieva's training, including her coach and doctor.
Valieva has claimed the banned heart drug trimetazidine entered her system by accident. But the World Anti-Doping Agency issued a statement this week saying that her test sample also contained two other heart drugs. The other two drugs are not among WADA's banned substances. However, such results possibly damage the argument that the banned heart drug could have been taken by accident.
"You use all of that to increase performance," said U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart.
Valieva was inconsolable after her free skate Thursday. She did not speak to reporters after the performance.
Soon after Valieva left the event, workers began setting up for a flower ceremony that the IOC said would not take place if she had been in the top three. Medals will be given out to the winners Friday in a separate ceremony, which also would not have happened in Beijing had Valieva finished among the top three.
"I'm happy that there will be a ceremony, that we are going to get our medals," said Trusova, who refused to answer any questions about Valieva. "Of course, it will be extremely pleasant for me to receive my medal."
In the team skating event last week, the United States finished second behind the ROC. Their second-place finish could turn into first place, depending on the results of Valieva's investigation. They still have not received a medal of any kind.
American Karen Chen was one of the skaters who competed in the team event for the United States. She said Thursday, "It's unfortunate that we aren't able to get our medals."
I'm Ashley Thompson.
The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
podium - n. a raised platform for performer
quadruple - adj. four times in size or amount
positive - adj. showing the presence of a particular substance
status - n. a current state of someone
doping - n. the illegal use of a drug
sample - n. a small amount of something that gives you information about the thing it was taken from
inconsolable - adj. extremely sad and not able to be comforted
unfortunate - adj. not appropriate or desirable