After Kamila Valieva’s fall to fourth place, figure skaters get an unexpected medal ceremony


BEIJING — Suddenly, just after 10 p.m. Thursday, a dozen diligent Olympic workers appeared on the ice and started doing something unexpected. They put up a light blue tarp that people could walk on the ice. Then they set up a podium in the middle of the tarp.

It was a logistical upheaval.

No one expected a post-event presentation for the top three in the women’s figure skating competition at the Beijing Olympics – not in the arena where medalists receive trinkets and recognition right after they skate, nor on the place of the medals where the medals go out the following evening. The International Olympic Committee had taken the unusual step of forgoing such customs because one of the medalists was certainly Kamila Valieva, who had built up a lead in Tuesday’s short program and skated under a cloud of doping that became the main story of these Olympics.

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Yet a messy skate of the 15-year-old later, the whole event was suddenly turned upside down, and here are two women and a man, walking along the tarp, the women as attendants wearing traditional Chinese clothes, and the man in an overcoat with a hairy hood. It was Jan Dijkema from the Netherlands, president of the International Skating Union, and he was about to present these panda trinkets.

Valieva, the likely gold medalist, wasn’t even a medalist. She had gone from first to fourth. Alexandra Trusova, whose daring program involved five quadruple movements, had moved from fourth to second. Anna Shcherbakova had gone from second to first. And one of the most stunned souls on the rink, Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, remained third even after the magnitude of Trusova’s performance.

“To be honest, I was very surprised to win bronze,” Sakamoto would later say. “I’m just happy enough for now.”

Instead of being a fourth finalist resigned to waiting for decisions on Valieva to see if she would reach bronze, Sakamoto had become the fourth Japanese woman to win an individual Olympic medal in figure skating, after silver medalist Midori Ito in Albertville. 1992, gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa at Turin 2006 and silver medalist Mao Asada at Vancouver 2010.

She had done this 16 years after being in kindergarten watching Arakawa and putting this report on her wall. No one expected all of this to become news. “After Anna skated,” Sakamoto said of the second-to-last competitor and eventual gold medalist, “I couldn’t imagine that I would be the bronze medalist.”

So, after the three medalists were introduced to the small, dispersed Chinese audience – “Please welcome the winners of the women’s figure skating singles!” – all three skated, did somersaults and hand signals, something they never expected to do.

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Then, standing behind the podium, they got their individual presentations before speaking. Sakamoto beamed positively. Trusova didn’t, having felt irritated by the judgment after her spectacular performance to the music of “Cruella”. Shcherbakova looked delighted and waved both hands, although later she would speak of an “empty”.

“I’m not here, frankly,” the Russian skater told a press conference.

A medal ceremony would be announced, scheduled for Friday at 7:45 p.m. Beijing time. After Dijkema and the assistants left the ice, the three women took the top step of the podium together before skating around the arena to pose for photos, with Trusova in black, Shcherbakova in purple and Sakamoto in blue. Soon Sakamoto was alone with a Japanese flag and a photographer yelling from the top of the bleachers, “Take off your mask!

In an unclear week and event there would be medals, although some in the arena no doubt noted that the Russian skaters who finished first, second and fourth all work with the same coach under further investigation, Eteri Tutberidze .

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“Well,” said Trusova, “I’m glad there’s a ceremony, that we’re going to receive our medals. Of course, it will be extremely pleasant for me to receive my medal.

She just doesn’t agree with the color of her medal, thinking her competition’s ambition deserved the gold. In the men’s competition, American Nathan Chen also landed five quads, which was enough for the top spot on the podium last week. Trusova’s post-event complaints were reportedly picked up on Russian TV on a night out that just couldn’t help but address the distress.

“I’ve already answered that,” she said at the press conference, referring to earlier interviews. ” I did what I could. I am not satisfied with the result. That’s why I was angry. I was disappointed. For the first time, I skated with the five quads. I waited a long time for this moment, and it worked.

It turned out that she already had a jewel with an upcoming medal. No one expected her or any medalist to leave town with either.

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