I did not realize, until I watched the NBC broadcast in the evening of Feb. 17, just how deeply ran the emotions of an Olympic women’s figure skating event gone wrong.
I had not seen all of Kamila Valieva’s tears when she finished. I had not seen how, when she came off the ice, her coach Eteri Tutberidze stood close, scolding her for failing to fight, for failing to do this and that, and everything she had done before, under conditions quite unlike these. Valieva wore troubled eyes before this, but after this grilling, close to her face, she began to sob. And sob uncontrollably.
I had not seen all of these tears, so many of them, a heart broken. A 15-year-old with the weight of the world on her brow. And Tutberidze questioning her, questioning her, questioning her, criticizing her. During the free program, after Valieva had missed an early element, Tutberidze had shot Danill Gleikhengauz a dark glance. (He’s the one that tested positive for COVID before the Games, but decided to fly in anyway. And somehow, he must have gotten through the strict Chinese protocols and here he was.)
I had not seen how Tutberidze eventually pulled away from Valieva with a final jerk after the kiss and cry results, which left the skater off the podium and left her to cry. And a volunteer finally embraced her, for a long time. Finally, someone who looked at the skater. And cared.
And all the while, Alexandra Trusova was kicking up a dust behind her, saying she could not watch this. That she did not want to go onto the podium to claim her silver. And why hadn’t she won? Every other Russian girl had won. She was supposed to win, from the time she was a junior. And she had not won. There were tears behind a plushy wall. She scolded her coaches. Mainly, it was Sergei Dudakov that took the brunt of her exasperation, because where was Tutberidze? Passion was flying up.
A telling interview popped up on twitter, ablaze with all of this. When a reporter asked if Trusova was satisfied with what she did, Trusova eventually replied that she was, but her eyes welled with tears. Asked why she was crying, Trusova said: “Just because I wanted to. I’ve been here for three weeks already, alone, without my mom, my dogs. That’s why I’m crying.”
I had not seen how many tears Kaori Sakamoto shed, after she hugged Anna Shcherbakova in congratulations. It was as if she was unable to be consoled. In a way, they were tears of happiness that she pierced the Russian juggernaut and won a bronze medal. But more likely they were the tears of the release of immense pressure and stress, always there for an athlete competing at the Olympics, but turned up to a burning high with the doping incident of Valieva. The officials allowed Valieva to compete, citing possible “irreparable damage” to Valieva if she did not. What it did to the other athletes in the event is immeasurable.
In the middle of all this mayhem sat Shcherbakova, now the Olympic champion, but you wouldn’t know it. Nobody but Sakamoto had congratulated her. People were weeping rivers around her. Shcherbakova had just pulled two quad flips from her pocket after a troubled year, and defeated Trusova with five (flawed) quads (and precious few transitions, and as Kurt Browning said: “She was there to shoot the bazooka.”)
So Shcherbakova sat quietly, by herself, her eyes taking it all in. Olympic champions don’t usually look like this, celebrating uncertainly in a corner. Tutberidze didn’t return to congratulate her. Finally, Dudakov did.
In the midst of the worst of this Olympic Games, all of these Russian athletes were alone.
It was horrid, all of it.