Teenage Russian skater Kamila Valieva shook off what has surely been the most challenging week of her life to finish first in the singles short program at the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The 15-year-old produced an exquisite routine before she burst into tears, scoring 82.16, a 1.96 point lead over Russian team-mate Anna Shcherbakova, with Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto third ahead of Thursday’s free skate.
Valieva has been the centre of attention since the start of the Games, when she became the first female skater to land a quadruple jump in competition to help the Russian Olympic Committee win gold in the team competition.
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But barely 48 hours later, it emerged that Valieva had been notified of a failed drugs test from a sample in December. The Court of Arbitration for Sport decided she could carry on competing due to “exceptional circumstances” relating to her age, and the timing of how she was notified of the result.
Valieva’s team have blamed the identification of banned heart medication trimetazidine on contamination for treatment her grandfather was receiving. No decision has yet been made on whether she will receive a doping sanction, meaning there will be no medal ceremony if the Russian finishes in the top three.
Before all of the drama, British champion Natasha McKay, the oldest skater in the competition at 27, missed out on qualification for the free skate. Her program was down on difficulty meaning she needed to land the opening combination of a triple loop and double toeloop, but she fell on the first half of that, meaning she had to weave the double toeloop into a triple salchow, which had a lower technical score.
McKay recovered well to finish her routine but judges only awarded her 52.54, meaning she finished 28th.

'It's good' - Valieva 'goes way clear' in top spot after routine

With 12 skaters to go, the first of the medal contenders was out on the ice as 2018 silver medallist Wakaba Higuchi began with an impressive opening routine. The Japanese challenger landed an impeccable triple axel and she was the first to enter the 70s, with a score of 73.51 to go top of the standings.
At the end of the penultimate group, Higuchi held an advantage of almost three and a half points over her nearest challenger, Loena Hendrickx of Belgium.
Then it came to the moment everyone had been waiting for, as the final group - including Valieva - was introduced to the crowd and the Russian easily received the loudest applause of the six skaters in the warm-up.
US Olympic team silver medallist Karen Chen was the first out of the group on the ice, but after making an impressive start she fell during the triple loop and finished with a disappointing score of 64.11.
Next it was Valieva, again introduced to huge applause. After a deep breath, she began her routine nervously, to In Memoriam by Kirill Richter, with a slight slip on landing her triple axel before executing a perfect triple flip. The combination of the triple lutz and triple toeloop was relatively clean. Valieva ended exquisitely before she burst into tears.
It was rewarded by the judges with a big score of 82.16 to go clear at the top of the standings with four athletes to go.

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South Korea’s Young You was next out and although her overall routine was impressive, her triple axel was landed forwards for a downgrade to four points, when it was worth up to eight, meaning she finished with 70.34.
The medal contenders were struggling with their triple axels and the same could be said of Russian Alexandra Trusova, the world bronze medallist. It left her with a score of 74.60, still well short of Valieva.
Anna Shcherbakova was the penultimate skater of the evening and she showed why she is the world champion with an immaculate triple lutz and triple toeloop and she stunned in a dramatic routine, described as the “programme of the night” and “out of this world” by Eurosport commentator Simon Reed. But it was not enough to take the lead, scoring 80.20 - around two points off Valieva.
After a long wait, Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto was last out and skating to the Now We Are Free from Gladiator, she broke up the Russian challenge to score 79.84 to finish third after the short programme.
But as expected, the night was all about Valieva - who will go into Thursday’s free skate as the one to beat.
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