For some reason the women’s free skate was scheduled to air at 4am my local time, so I woke up to the news that Valieva had placed 4th. None of the think pieces I’d read over the past couple of days (and it feels like I literally read them all) even contemplated Valieva not winning a medal. It seemed so far outside the realm of possibility that when I saw the standings this morning my immediate reaction was to assume that she must have thrown the competition. Perhaps her coaches or even government officials recognized that a months long delayed medal ceremony would only uncover deeper issues within Russian skating and their sports infrastructure as a whole, so they told her not to land her jumps hoping the scandal would go away. It seemed more likely to me that a conspiracy was happening than for Valieva not to place in the top three.
All of the footage from the rink was embargoed in the US until this evening when it was shown during primetime, so even though I knew the outcome I still wanted to see how we got there. Here are my thoughts watching the women’s free skate with their final standings added after:
American Karen Chen had another rough skate to cap off her Olympics. She was part of the team skate so she will (eventually) get a silver or gold medal depending on what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decides to do about Russia. She placed 16th overall.
Fellow American Mariah Bell had a beautiful skate and I’m so proud of her. Her song was Hallelujah sung by K.D. Lang. She held on to those landings and while they were not perfect she got her moment on the ice. Her coach Adam Rippon was losing his mind every time she skated past and the camera picks up him saying “I need a drink” when she’s done. She finished 10th. Hallelujah indeed.
Korean Yelim Kim is lovely in red. She smiled a few times during her routine which is apparently such a rarity that Johnny and Tara wouldn’t stop brining it up. They are also obsessed with telling us that Kim decided to try skating after watching Yuna Kim win gold for South Korea in Vancouver 2010. She came in 9th.
Back to the Americans with 16 year old Alysa Liu. She lands a triple axle, and I love that she is in a blue version of Tuesday’s red dress. She’s still adorable and placed 7th.
Young You from Korea did a lovely skate to the Les Mis soundtrack. They really need to be quiet about Yuna Kim it’s weird at this point. Johnny just called her a surly competitor and I can’t believe he’s allowed to say that. She placed 6th.
Japan’s Higuchi is skating to The Lion King soundtrack and unfortunately fell early in her routine. This costume is my favorite of the evening and even though she fell she really powered through and delivered. She placed 5th.
Russian Trusova is skating to Cruella deVille, I’m not sure if this is a reworking of the original 101 Dalmations or from the new Cruella movie. Either way it takes guts to celebrate the villain when Russia is in deep water (on many fronts). Oh damn, Johnny just said she makes zero effort in artistry and Tara says she doesn’t even pretend to care about the lyrical aspect only the points from jumps. That’s way harsh Tai. She landed 5 quads in this routine which is insane. Despite her lack of artistry, or maybe because of it, she came in 2nd.
Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto looks FANTASTIC. She’s skating to a spoken word track from a documentary called Women and it’s very different. I feel like it would be so irritating to practice to this not-quite-song but she’s selling the experience. It was a very moving and emotive skate. She clinches 3rd.
Russian Scherbakova’s routine only had 2 quads but her whole skate is significantly more artistic. She does a beautiful job but it feels like we’re all just waiting to see what Valieva will do. Shockingly, she earns 1st.
Valieva is last to go since she finished 1st during Tuesday’s short skate. She goes down on the triple axel and then three more times on other jumps. This will sound insane considering the havoc she has been subjected to, but there is no joy in this routine. It is still artful and she is the full package as a skater, but this is a trainwreck. She just crumples in on herself at the end and there is no longer any question in my mind of whether she purposefully lost. That was the performance of a young girl (15!) caving under not just Olympic pressure but now political and legal scrutiny. She is in tears coming off the ice and Johnny, who is fluent in Russian, lets us know her coach is already correcting and being critical of the performance. I don’t like that NBC has a camera in her face for this, it’s a bad look trying to crowd into her space. Valieva places 4th.
All hell has broken loose
Sakamoto cant believe she’s medaled and is sobbing. Scherbakova looks shell shocked and so lost. She just won the Olympics and she’s standing alone to the side almost like an afterthought. Trusova is angry and crying, it seems she thinks she should have been 1st because her routine had 5 quads. Tara and Johnny can’t handle what they are watching. I can’t handle what I’m watching. A crying Valieva is ushered out and thankfully she does not have to talk to reporters. Cut back to Sakamoto weeping tears of joy and exhaustion and Trusova crying and actively hiding from the camera (seriously NBC give them space). A journalist just asked Scherbakova if she had mixed feelings about her win and her response is ‘no only joy’. She’s clutching a teddy bear that is wearing a headband that matches her outfit and it’s the most normal thing I’ve seen on my screen in the last ten minutes.
In the end there is a medal ceremony but more importantly there must be accountability for what just happened. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Valieva should compete despite a positive drug test because pulling her from competition would cause her “irreparable harm”. It’s hard to process what I just saw and not think that this was a worse experience. Valieva is an unfortunate casualty of multiple broken systems and I hope a serious investigation is conducted and those responsible are held accountable. On that note, here are the champions: