Figure skaters still have Olympic dreams despite Kamila Valieva controversy
Wein and his ice dancing partner, Angela Ling, recall the joy and optimism of learning to skate when they were 4 years old. After a good session, their lifelong dreams of competing in the Olympics didn’t seem so far away. Wein and Ling, one of the nation’s top young pairs, continued to aim for the sport’s biggest stage even as their perception of Olympic figure skating changed this winter.
“It’s not pretty,” said Wein, who along with Ling qualified for the junior world championships in Bulgaria later this year. “You don’t want the potential next generation to see that and kind of be alienated from the sport and kind of repelled by some of the things that are going on.”
Wein, 20, and Ling, 17, will continue to pursue the Olympics, but fear the controversy could discourage skaters from taking up the sport. They visited the rink on their only day off this week to provide the kids with the fun and encouragement that allowed their passion to blossom.
The Games officially ended with the closing ceremonies on Sunday, but across the country American skaters are still flocking to local rinks. training for local, regional and national competitions; and hoping that they could one day perform on the biggest stage in the world.
At the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, 11-year-old Emelia Nemirovsky was on the ice practicing triple jumps with one of her trainers. The banners of 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski and 2014 Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White hung overhead as Nemirovsky glided down the ice.
Nemirovksy’s mother and grandmother, who are both Russian, put her on the ice and started teaching her to skate when she was just 4 years old with a chubby face. Now the sixth-grader trains 16 hours a week at the club and is part of the United States National Figure Skating Development Team at the intermediate level.
“I love looking forward to the Olympics,” she said. “The skaters really push me and want me to achieve this goal.”
She watched every moment of this year’s competition, studying the routines and dissecting how the skaters moved with the music. She had never seen anything quite like the women’s free skate, in which Valieva struggled under crippling pressure and joy was sucked out of the arena.
“It was a disaster, honestly,” she said. “It’s not something you want to admire.”
Women’s competition in Beijing has been a particularly hot topic in skating clubs, with much of the discussion focusing on the role of coaches and Valieva’s vulnerability.
“Normally figure skating isn’t like that,” said Erin Biederman, 14, of Franklin, Michigan. “In competitions, it’s normally very favorable.”
Even with all the drama swirling around this year’s competition, Biederman, who is striving to qualify for the U.S. National Junior Championships, said it hasn’t changed his attitude towards the sport or of its objectives.
“I still want to go to the Olympics,” she said.
The Winter Games represent the culmination of a journey, which includes years of training, competition and perseverance. The process is difficult for every skater. In 2018, Ling, originally from Ontario, posted her profile on a skating website looking for a dance partner. She was willing to move anywhere to pursue her Olympic dreams; she eventually found Wein and settled in Rockville.
As the pair rose through the ranks, no detail, on or off the ice, was too small. Coaches scrutinized their diets, knowing that a single mistake could end their Olympic goals. They were therefore particularly frustrated that Valieva had been allowed to compete after testing positive for a banned substance.
But after seeing Valieva place fourth and cry as the coaches berated her, Wein and Ling were struck by the pressure she was carrying. Ling also felt concerned as she saw the medal-winning Russians – Anna Shcherbakova (gold) and Alexandra Trusova (silver) – express their displeasure.
“You don’t want younger kids to see that, like, ‘Oh, they won the Olympics, but they’re still upset.’ So what should they expect?” Ling said. “None of it was good. There are a lot of problems in skating. But this one really pushed him, and people pushed him. seen and are upset about it. Hopefully some things will change.
Sunday is usually the day Wein and Ling get away, but the pair arrived early at the rink for an 11 a.m. session. They carried clipboards full of paperwork as they led a group of 25 youngsters through beginner skating lessons. When Wein and Ling asked the children to skate backwards, most crossed the ice. But one boy kept falling until Ling and Wein guided him to the opposite wall.
“I hope the next generation doesn’t turn away from the sport because they think it’s unfair,” Wein said, “or they just don’t want to be a part of it.”
Most coaches didn’t notice a difference in the skaters’ goals, noting that they get more support and autonomy in development in the United States than in Russia, where skaters often begin their Olympic training when they are children.
“That’s what worries me – they’ll be like, ‘What’s the point of trying because they’re not going to pick me anyway? said Hughes. “I tell them they can go their own way and they can do the best they can and not worry about the quads.”
Audrey Weisiger, a seasoned coach at Fairfax Ice Arena in Virginia, believes interest in skating will persist. During a recent children’s class, she asked the group about the Olympics.
“There’s a big competition coming up,” Weisiger recalls telling the kids. “Aren’t you excited?”
“Yes, yes, Mrs. Audrey,” they replied.
“Okay,” Weisiger said. “How do you call this?”
“The Cardinal Classic,” they shouted, referring to their upcoming Northern Virginia competition.
“Most kids who skate in America skate because they love it,” Weisiger said. “American skating schools, we are an open house. You come in, you register, you pay your lesson fees and you skate. This will not change.
Kayla Ruble in Detroit contributed to this report.