An emotional Kamila Valieva launched her bid for Olympic figure skating gold after a court cleared her to compete despite a positive drugs test.
All eyes were on the Russian 15-year-old as she stepped on to the ice for a two-minute 40-second routine where the focus was briefly on her skating and not the doping scandal around her.
She stumbled on a jump, had tears at the end but went top with 82.16.
She then left the ice to face the inevitable cameras and questions.
Valieva, whose continued presence at the Games was proving divisive among her fellow competitors and beyond on Tuesday, will return on Thursday for the free skate that will decide the medals.
Not that there will be any medals or a medal ceremony that day if she finishes in the top three, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) having decided it wants to wait until the outcome of an anti-doping investigation into Valieva’s positive test for trimetazidine, which is used in angina treatment.
IOC official Denis Oswald said earlier in the day that the Russian had argued her positive drugs test was because of contamination with her grandad’s medicine.
Valieva is being allowed to compete at Beijing 2022 after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) ruled on Monday that a provisional suspension should not be re-imposed.
She discovered a week ago that she had failed a drugs test but then successfully appealed against a Russian Anti-Doping Agency decision to impose a provisional suspension.
That decision was upheld by Cas after appeals by the IOC and others.
Emotions come to surface after turbulent week
The first time we saw this routine of Valieva’s at these Games was just over a week ago – we oohed and ahhed over a flawless performance that fell just shy of her own world record score.
Her music of choice, In Memoriam by Kirill Richter, is in memory of her grandma who died in 2019. Now it felt like it could also be in memory of a happier time before an apparent mix-up with her grandad’s heart medication.
And it was far from the perfect display we had seen as the Russian made a mistake on her opening triple axel. That said, she also boasted the same sublime spins and step sequences that had made her the pre-Games gold-medal favourite.
But it was at the end of the routine that the strain of the past week was visible, with Valieva hunching over and fighting back tears before leaving to wait for her score in the aptly named ‘kiss and cry’ area.
No other topic of conversation
It was inevitable for the other competitors that the day was never going to be about their Olympic debuts, their season’s bests or even their mistakes.
Their moment on the big stage became all about what they thought about the fact they were knowingly competing against someone who had failed a drugs test when they and their coaches walked past the waiting reporters.
Adam Rippon, coach of US figure skater Mariah Bell, said it was “shocking” and “disappointing” that Valieva was being allowed to compete.
“I don’t think, in the history of the Olympics, somebody with a positive test has been allowed to compete,” he told BBC Sport.
“I think it ruins the integrity of the Olympics. I think a lot of people at home are left scratching their heads, knowing that there’s someone with a positive test out there.
“I think, on top of it, it’s so layered because I think all of our hearts are breaking that this is a 15-year-old girl. It’s a really sad situation for her and it’s a sad situation for all of the competitors here in this event.”
British skater Natasha McKay, who finished 28th and does not qualify for the free skate, said it was “not a level playing field”.
“In figure skating, and every sport, it should be a level playing field. We don’t get the opportunity here, but that’s the decision they’ve made and we have to stick with that,” McKay said.
“I feel sorry for anyone who gets on the podium here. They won’t be able to get that experience of being on the podium.”
But Valieva also had her supporters, with Ukrainian Anastasiia Shabotova saying: “They are just talented and work hard. No-one should have an issue about that.
“I hope that she wins, finishes in the top three. Even if no-one receives a medal, everyone will still know who has won.”
Roxsnews Sources: BBC