It may have ended in tears but controversial Russian teenager Kamila Valieva is still in sight of another Beijing Olympic gold after topping the women’s figure skating short program.
The enormous pressure and scrutiny on the 15-year-old at the centre of the latest Olympic doping scandal appeared to finally take its toll on Tuesday night.
She stumbled on her opening triple axel and left the ice in tears after her routine, barely holding it together while she awaited her scores.
She wound up earning 82.16 points, more than eight off her own world record, but more than enough to top the field.
Russian teammate Anna Shcherbakova, the reigning world champion, was second with 80.60 points followed by Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto (79.89pts).
Russian Alexandra Trusova (74.60pts) was fourth.
The three Russians, all coached by the embattled Eteri Tutberidze, are trying to deliver the second podium sweep in Olympic figure skating and the first in the women’s competition.
The free skate which will decide the medals is on Thursday night.
Valieva is the clear favourite but if she finishes in the top three, no medals will be awarded, with the podium put on hold until the full investigations into the Russian’s doping case have concluded.
The International Olympic Committee, concerned that she could still be banned after a full doping case, said it would instead “organise dignified medal ceremonies” in the future.
The teenager, who was cleared to compete by sport’s top court despite testing positive for a banned heart drug, will not have her case resolved before the Beijing Games end.
Valieva tested positive at her national championships on December 25 but the result was not revealed until February 8, after she had already competed at the Beijing Games in the team event, winning gold.
An Olympic official said on Tuesday Valieva’s defence was that there had been a mix up with her grandfather’s heart medication.
The teenager’s case has prompted uncomfortable questions about figure skating, and whether or not the minimum age for competitors – 15 – needs to be raised.
“I absolutely believe that there should be an age limit,” said American Mariah Bell who skated in the women’s singles on Tuesday.
The nine skaters who featured for the US and the seven who competed for Japan in the team event will go home without receiving their medals because of Valieva’s drug case.
The US finished behind the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) with Japan third.
“My heart goes out to the rest of my teammates and hopefully we’ll find some way to celebrate together,” US ice dancer Madison Hubbell said.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Valieva should be allowed to compete while anti-doping officials conduct a full investigation, in part because she is a minor and is subject to different rules from an adult athlete.
“I wish it was a level playing field and it’s not, but they’ve made a decision they’ve made and I can’t do anything about that,” British skater Natasha McKay said.
Valieva and her teammates are trying to extend an era of Russian dominance in Olympic women’s figure skating after Adelina Sotnikova won at the 2014 Sochi Games and Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva had a one-two finish four years later.