The short program, as it turned out, had not ended with the Russians dominating and setting themselves up to sweep the medals, as was widely expected. Alexandra Trusova, the third Russian skater and one who is especially known for her jumps, was fourth after falling on her triple axel. She said she didn’t know what went wrong. In training in Moscow, she added, she had landed the jump again and again.
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“I don’t know what I expected, but I imagined it would be somehow different,” she said. “After I fell off the axel jump, the rest I did easily.”
After her performance, Trusova sat stone-faced in the area where skaters wait for their scores, as if it hadn’t even registered yet that she could score 74.60 points and sit just off the medals stand as the women go into the free skate.
Shcherbakova, the reigning world champion, didn’t want to talk about medals — “It’s early to speak about the medals” — but she is in position, certainly, to lay claim to one after landing her double axel and three triple jumps, and checking off skill after skill with determination.
“I realized how important this skate was and I tried to pay attention to every detail,” she said.
When asked about Valieva and the doping test that has cast a shadow over the event, Shcherbakova said she would not comment on it. Valieva did not speak to reporters at all, walking past them and then skipping a news conference after the event.
Sakamoto acknowledged that there were times when she wondered what was going to happen with Valieva, but as with most skaters here she said she needed to try to block it out if she was going to skate her best.
“I’m not really focusing on those matters,” she said. “I need to focus on me.”
If Valieva goes on to win or place in the top three in this event, there will be no medal ceremony for any of the medalists, nor even a ceremony where they are awarded stuffed Olympic panda mascots, because her doping case remains under investigation. Already, medals for the team event Russia won last week, when it beat the United States and Japan, are on hold until her case is resolved.