Teen at Center of Doping Controversy Breaks Down, Other Skaters in Tears After Shocking Women's Event

Fifteen-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva grew visibly distraught after surprising errors kept her off the podium — while officials said they would not publicly celebrate her if she had won

This was not how women's figure skating was supposed to end at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

With a doping controversy clouding the second half of the individual event, on Thursday, organizers had already said they would not hold a medal ceremony if the presumed favorite, Russian skater Kamila Valieva, made it to the podium.

But she didn't. In her free skate on Thursday, Valieva made a number of uncharacteristic mistakes, slipping and falling all across the ice, and ended in fourth with 224.09 points. She had been in first after the short program but got 141.93 for her free skate.

That result left the anguished 15-year-old visibly distraught, breaking down in tears. She reportedly did not speak with the press afterward.

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While processing a thicket of feelings in the air at the rink — observers described shock, dismay, relief, anger and more — several of the other skaters were no less emotional after the end of their event.

Russian Olympic Committee teammate Alexandra Trusova, 17, and Japan's Kaori Sakamoto (who won silver and bronze, respectively) were both seen crying. Sakamoto, 21, at one point was nearly sobbing.

But their reactions were for very different reasons: Trusova with viscerally unhappy to come in second place despite her astonishing athletic ability to land quadruple jumps unlike any other women's skater on Earth.

Kamila Valieva
Russian Olympic Committee skater Kamila Valieva (center) reacts to her score after her free skate at the Beijing Winter Olympics. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

"I haven't been winning major events for three years. I always try to reach a goal, I always add more quads," Trusova told reporters, according to Reuters. "And when I get to that, I will win. This didn't happen, that's why I was upset."

Shortly after she finished her skate, she spoke even more bluntly. "Everyone has a gold medal, everyone, but not me. I hate skating. I hate it. I hate this sport. I will never skate again. Never," she said. "It's impossible. That's now how it should be."

According to NBC Sports, Trusova initially said she would not participate in a podium ceremony as the silver medalist.

Figure Skating – Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 13; reactions to kamila velieva
Skater Alexandra Trusova reacts to the women's individual event at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Olympic medalist and NBC commentator Tara Lipinski noted during the broadcast of the free skate that Trusova is well-known for her fierce competitive streak, having once said: "Winning is first place, anything else is losing."

Sakamoto, for her part, seemed to cry tears of joy for finishing in third.

"I don't have the big jumps as others would have, which is a big handicap," she told reporters after, the Associated Press reports. "That means I had to have perfect elements."

Meanwhile Anna Shcherbakova, also of the ROC, was blank-faced and distant immediately after emerging as the gold-medal winner, instead of Valieva. For several moments the 17-year-old remained alone in an off-rink area, seemingly lost in herself — or too stunned for feeling.

Figure Skating – Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 13; reactions to kamila velieva
Skater Kaori Sakamoto reacts to the women's individual event at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Valieva was thrust into the spotlight during these Games after it was revealed she had reportedly tested positive for the banned heart medication trimetazidine in December. Two other, not-banned heart medications were also found in her sample.

Ultimately, however, the Court of Arbitration for Sport determined she could keep competing, citing in part the fact that she was still a minor.

"The panel considered that preventing the athlete to compete at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm in the circumstances," CAS Director General Matthieu Reeb said in a statement, according to the AP.

Figure Skating – Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 13; reactions to kamila velieva
Skater Anna Shcherbakova reacts to the women's individual event at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Part of Valieva's attorney's argument in her defense was that the banned drug entered her body accidentally and likely belonged to her grandfather, as he takes trimetazidine, according to Russian website The Dossier Center, USA Today reported.

Outside medical experts told PEOPLE that seemed "highly unlikely" and that the use of the drug could have given her body a small but crucial improvement.

"Without a doubt, she would be an incredible athlete without any performance aid — and who knows if she's gotten any performance aid from these, if indeed she is taking them," Dr. Sean Heffron, a preventative cardiologist at NYU Langone's Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases, told PEOPLE. "But this is incredibly unfortunate to potentially influence her, and given her age, she's probably not making all these decisions on her own."

Lipinski echoed that on NBC during the event on Thursday.

"I can't imagine how tough this has been on Kamila and it makes me angry that the adults around her weren't able to make better decisions and guide her and be there for her, because she's the one now dealing with the consequences and she's just 15 and that's not fair," she said. "But again, that being said, she should not have been allowed to skate."

Womens figure skating
The Beijing Winter Olympic women's figure skating medalists (from left) after Thursday's free skate: Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova of the Russian Olympic Committee and Japan's Kaori Sakamoto. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

One thing that did go as expected was where the American ladies ultimately placed.

The three Team USA women's figure skaters again failed to medal, earning the seventh, 10th and 16th places after two days of competition.

Mariah Bell and Alysa Liu, both first-time Olympians, fared the best out of the American skaters. During her performance to "Hallelujah" by k.d. lang, Bell skated almost entirely clean though her lack of the most complicated technical elements held her back, ending with a free skate score of 136.92. After entering the free skate in 13th place from the short program, Bell, 25, finished in 10th place with a total of 202.30.

Liu, 16 — who led the U.S. skaters after the short program — skated to "Violin Concerto in D" by Tchaikovski. While she attempted the notoriously difficult triple axel, she under-rotated on the landing. But a buoyant skate otherwise put her in seventh place in the competition, with a free skate score of 139.45 and a total of 208.95.

Second-time Olympian Karen Chen, performing her free skate to "Butterfly Lovers" by Takako Nishizaki, continued to struggle in the individual event. After an earlier bright spot with her free in the team event, her final skate in Beijing was hamstrung by mistakes, including a fall on a jump. She ended in 16th, with a free score of 115.82 and a 179.93 total.

The women essentially repeated their showing in the 2018 Games, another weak year.

Alysa Liu
Skater Alysa Liu competes in the Beijing Winter Olympics. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

While U.S. figure skaters have historically been dominant in the women's individual event — earning about a third of the medals since the modern Olympics began more than a century ago — no American has made it onto the podium since 2006, when Sasha Cohen took silver in Italy. The last gold-medal winner was Sarah Hughes, in 2002.

Such a decline has been the subject of much scrutiny within the sport. Lipinski wrote in a New York Times column in 2018 about how it needed to be reworked to encourage female skaters to be more technically adventurous at a younger age, to keep pace with Japan, Russia and others.

The International Olympic Committee previously said that a medal celebration would be "inappropriate" with Valieva on the podium, amid the circumstances, despite the other athletes' non-involvement in the scandal.

To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Winter Olympics, now, and the Paralympics, beginning March 4, on NBC.

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