Gold medal drama makes figure skating fun to watch

Jonah Newton, Reporter

THE OLYMPICS in Beijing have come to a close. Of course, these Olympics were not without high drama — look no further than figure skating.

15-year-old Russian athlete Kamila Valieva was at the center of yet another controversy in a sport littered with scandals over the years.

The skater tested positive for a banned drug last December, but this test result was not reported to the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) until after she had won gold for the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in the team event.

When the results of her drug test came to light the morning after the event, RUSADA suspended Valieva from further competition. That suspension was lifted due to her being a minor, and she was allowed to compete in the women’s individual figure skating event.

Valieva was by far the favorite to win gold, and she was in first place following the short program, in which she became the first female Olympian to land a quadruple jump. However, she did not fare so well in the free skate, the second of two events in the competition, and she ended up placing fourth.

The drama surrounding Valieva became the focus of the event, so much so that people forgot to recognize those who medaled. This was meant to be a moment of joy and glory for these athletes, and they were robbed of their deserved recognition.

Two of Valieva’s teammates (all with the same coach) were on the podium, with Anna Shcherbakova winning gold and Alexandria Trusova winning silver. Shcherbakova’s achievement was overshadowed by layers of scandal, while silver medalist Trusova vowed to never skate again.

It is tragic to see an event meant to recognize great athletic achievement turn into something so bitter.

I feel for Shcherbakova here. She was unable to fully celebrate her success knowing how her teammates felt. They were friends, and the immense amounts of pressure put on each of them by an arguably corrupt coach soured their relationships.

Few will remember Shcherbakova for winning gold. If anything, most people will remember Valieva, the 15-year-old who was pressured by those she trusted into taking illicit drugs.

In the men’s figure skating event, the focus was on two skaters. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu and Salt Lake City’s own Nathan Chen would battle for the gold medal.

In the 2018 Olympics, Hanyu triumphed while the then-18- year-old Chen finished fifth overall. But Chen was undefeated in each competition since then. Still, the question remained: What could he do on the world’s biggest stage?

I watched every skater in the short program. A surprise standout for me was a French skater who did a “Star Wars”-inspired routine, complete with air-light saber battle. I watched Yuzuru Hanyu’s short program and was sadly underwhelmed.

When Chen took to the ice, he opened with a quadruple jump, the first of four he would attempt that day. His technique was flawless. His outstanding athleticism obviously shone through, but what stuck out to me was his artistry. Chen’s critics have said he lacks artistry, but his dazzling short program blew me away. It made me feel deeply. I was simply watching a master at work.

I tuned in late on the night of the free skate. I went to check the results before 10:30 p.m. just before Chen’s skate. Immediately, I was filled with dread. Chen’s heartbreaking outing in the 2018 Olympics replayed in my head. In dreadful anticipation, I curled up into a ball and watched through my fingers as if I were watching a horror film.

But again, Chen was flawless. He skated to a selection of Elton John songs, and he was triumphant. He timed one of his signature quadruple jumps perfectly to the music, and that was the moment I knew that Salt Lake City’s Nathan Chen would win Olympic gold. And he did. Four years of pressure vanished off his shoulders. That night, he was a Rocket Man.