BEIJING — A Russian woman was standing atop the figure skating podium at the Beijing Games on Thursday night.
It just wasn’t the one anyone expected.
Even the fact that there was a podium was a surprise.
Anna Shcherbakova, the overlooked world champion, delivered a clean performance in her free skate at historic Capital Indoor Stadium to win a stunning gold medal, while teammate Kamila Valieva — at the center of the latest Russian doping controversy — tumbled out of the medals altogether with a mistake-filled end to her Olympic dream.
“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.”
Controversial Scoring by Judges
Shcherbakova landed both of her quads to finish with 255.95 points, edging out another teammate, Alexandra Trusova, who landed five somewhat shaky quads of her own. Trusova finished four points back in second place but wasn’t pleased with the judges, especially given the difficulty of her program.
“I am not happy with the result,” said Trusova, who, like Valieva, was sobbing after the scores were read. “There is no happiness.”
Kaori Sakamoto of Japan was happy. She took bronze to break up an expected Russian sweep of the Olympic podium.
“I don’t have the big jumps as others would have, which is a big handicap,” said Sakamoto, who doesn’t have a four-rotation quad in her arsenal but hit the cleanest triple axel of the Olympics. “That means I had to have perfect elements.”
She did Thursday night, too. Just like Shcherbakova.
Winner Skates Simple but Flawless Routine
With the fewest quads among controversial coach Eteri Tutberdize’s “Quad Squad,” the 17-year-old Russian instead relied on back-to-back clean programs with peerless artistry and unmatched skill. It culminated in her free skate Thursday night, when Shcherbakova landed her opening quad flip-triple toe loop combination and never looked back.
She followed Adelina Sotnikova and Alina Zagitova in giving her nation three consecutive gold medals in women’s figure skating.
“The importance of this is so huge that I cannot fully understand it yet. At the moment I have only felt the happiness from the fact that I was able to do everything I am capable of in my program,” Shcherbakova said. “I still haven’t realized that the competition has finished and this is the result. I haven’t understood what has happened.”
Valieva Crumbles in Spotlight
Meanwhile, Valieva was inconsolable in the kiss-and-cry area. The 15-year-old phenom was heavily favored to win gold but is headed home with nothing from the women’s program and a looming investigation into her positive drug test.
Valieva was shaky on an opening quad salchow, then stepped out on a triple axel and fell altogether on a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination. Valieva fell again on her other quad toe loop, keeping her from completing that combination, and spun out on another jump late in the program — though by that point, her fate was sealed.
She did not speak to reporters after a performance that made Shcherbakova’s look even better.
Moments after Valieva departed the arena, workers began setting up for a flower ceremony that the International Olympic Committee said wouldn’t take place if she was in the top three. Medals will be handed out Friday in a ceremony that also would not have occurred in Beijing had Valieva reached the podium.
“I’m happy that there will be a ceremony, that we are going to get our medals,” Trusova said. “Of course, it will be extremely pleasant for me to receive my medal.”
Valieva had tested positive for a banned heart medication at the Russian championships in December, but the result was not revealed until last week, shortly after she helped to win a team gold medal that is now also in doubt.
She was cleared to compete earlier this week by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled that she had protected status as a minor and would suffer “irreparable harm” if she was not allowed to perform. The court did not rule on the full scope of the case, though, leaving that to anti-doping investigators in the future.
The court’s decision cast a polarizing shadow over one of the marquee events of the Winter Games.
“Do I feel sorry for her? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t say so,” Sakamoto said after her short program. “Of course, there were moments where I thought: ‘What’s going to happen? What’s happening?’”
Shiffrin’s Olympics: 5 Individual Races, No Medals, 3 DNFs
There was simply no way to predict this. Not for anyone, including Mikaela Shiffrin herself.
That the American skier would go 0 for 5 in individual races at the Beijing Olympics, leaving without a medal from any and with a best showing of ninth place, was hard enough to imagine beforehand.
That she would not even manage to finish three of those events — the three that are her best, including Thursday’s Alpine combined — was among the most surprising developments of the entire 2022 Games.
“I’m certainly questioning a lot,” Shiffrin said. “I’m really disappointed. And I’m really frustrated.”
She arrived in China as one of the biggest stars of ski racing — or any sport. Owner of three Olympic medals: two golds, and a silver. Six world championship golds. Three overall World Cup titles.
Still, the 26-year-old from Colorado just never displayed her enviable technique and talent or big-moment gumption at the National Alpine Skiing Center in the brown, craggy mountains of Yanqing zone about 55 miles (90 kilometers) northwest of central Beijing.
“This is incredibly difficult for her as a person,” U.S. head women’s Alpine coach Paul Kristofic said. “We had big expectations coming here, and it hasn’t gone the way we hoped, of course.”
Canadian Women Edge US for Hockey Gold
Marie-Philip Poulin reminded everyone of her Captain Clutch reputation. And Canada regained its place atop the women’s hockey world.
It was only fitting that Poulin delivered at a time her team needed it most by scoring twice, including her third Olympic gold-medal clinching goal, in Canada’s 3-2 win over the defending champion United States at the Beijing Games on Thursday.
After winning gold in her first two Olympics, Poulin learned to appreciate how significant capturing her third was, coming four years after losing it to the Americans at the Pyeongchang Games.
“I just got shivers,” she said.
“That 2018 was very hard, very, very hard. And I think when you take some time to reflect on what you need to do better as a team and personally,” Poulin added. “We did that and I’m very happy that we’re resilient and we’re able to put that back in the past and win that gold today.”
Ann-Renee Desbiens stopped 38 shots and Sarah Nurse had a goal and assist in a game where the Canadians built a 3-0 lead and hung on for the win. Nurse set the single Olympic tournament record with 18 points.
The Canadians finished 7-0 by showcasing a dynamic, deep, and relentless offensive attack to capture their fifth Olympic title in seven tournaments, with four coming against the Americans in what has been one of the sports’ fiercest and longest-running rivalries.