Figure skating for women at the Olympics was the opposite of heartwarming


Kamila Valieva cries after finishing fourth in the women's free skate.

Kamila Valieva cries after finishing fourth in the women’s free skate.
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The scene after the end of the women’s free skate on Thursday was difficult to watch – tears, screams and heartache from the Russian athletes expected to take the podium, their Olympic experience destroyed by a doping scandal in which the 15-year-old star of the country was involved , Kamila Valieva.

Valieva took the lead in the free skating portion of the competition after a stellar short program that was followed by days of controversy that ended in the Court of Arbitration for Sports deciding she could compete – a decision that sparked even more controversy. The stress clearly hit her: the ROC star fell twice during the free skate and dropped to fourth place. She left the ice in tears and was immediately admonished by her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, for her mistakes.

IOC President Thomas Bach, whose public missteps have been adding up during these Olympics, disapproved of the coach’s response. In a press conference early Friday, he said“When I then saw her being received by her closest entourage, with such, at first sight, an enormous coldness, it was horrifying to see this. Instead of comforting her, instead of trying to help her, you could feel this chilling atmosphere, this distance.”

That seemed to be the general feeling, as the first-place medalist, ROC skater Anna Shcherbakova, sat alone on the side of the rink, and silver medalist Alexandra Trusova cried out crying that she hated the sport and would never skate again after she got it. hadn’t failed. win gold despite her record number of quadruple jumps, shouting, “Everyone has a gold medal and I don’t.” After winning gold, Scherbakova told the press: “On the one hand I feel happy, on the other hand I feel this emptiness inside.” Japanese speed skater Kaori Sakamoto took home the bronze.

This train wreck of a moment, nauseating and unsettling but impossible to deviate from, concludes a controversial and heartbreaking Olympics. The illusion of Olympic normality and excitement that the hosts and the IOC worked so hard to maintain is over – it has been completely shattered. Figure skating is one of the most popular sports during the winter games, and to have this confusion and stress every moment not only for the young Valieva but also for her teammates and competitors has made it horrible and saddening to watch.

The Olympics love a good story – a comeback, a win against all odds, or something like that. Look at the Miracle on Ice in 1980, or Kerri Strug’s vault on a broken foot in 1996. And there’s been controversy before — Russia joins as ROC after state-sponsored doping scandal, other athletes have lost medals for the Using PEDs, Tonya Harding hired someone to literally attack Nancy Kerrigan. We’ve taken a look behind the curtain at the insane pressures these athletes face and how far they are willing to go to win gold at any cost.

But now it feels like the curtain is being pulled down completely. It started with the revelation that American gymnasts had been mistreated for decades, both physically by Larry Nassar and verbally by the Karolyis—every summer games, the gymnasts were America’s sweethearts and received special attention in the 2010s. Then the greatest gymnast of all time dropped out of the Olympics for mental health reasons. Many people may be willing to fire the Russians for creating high pressure situations for their athletes, but it’s not just the Russians.

The Valieva doping scandal is just one part of a global culture that places young girls and women in mentally and emotionally painful situations. Valieva faces a possible permanent ban from the sport, her competitors may never feel like they really earned their medals, and none of these athletes are 18 years old yet. They are children. And even adults are suffering the effects of this pressure — take Mikaela Shiffrin and NBC’s bizarre coverage of her sitting alone in tears after a DNF, three of which she had this Olympics. The stories collapse in on themselves.

Some have suggested that raising the minimum age for figure skating, from 15 to 17 or 18, could alleviate some of the problems that have surfaced. Figure skating and gymnastics, both individual sports that favor young women of short stature, have caused serious body image problems and eating disorders in their young athletes, among other mental health issues that many have come forward to talk about after retiring from the sport. .

There’s just a bad aftertaste to this whole situation, and with the coach’s response that Bach commented on, there doesn’t seem to be much support for these young athletes being wringer on an international stage. It’s all very sad for the girls involved, and you have to wonder how much longer the Olympics can go on as they exist in their current form – their image of feel-good, friendly international competition no longer really applies.

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