BEIJING (Reuters) – Kamila Valieva is accustomed to the attention that comes with being an Olympic gold medal favourite, but she never faced quite as much scrutiny as she did on Thursday morning at a practice rink adjacent to Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium.
The 15-year-old, who helped the Russian Olympic Committee(ROC) to gold in the team event at the Beijing Olympics on Monday, now finds herself embroiled in turmoil after Russian media reported she had tested positive for a banned substance prior to the Games.
With the medal ceremony for Russia’s winning performance in the women’s team event postponed and fans speculating over Valieva’s future at the Games, she nonetheless appeared as scheduled at a practice session, alongside her team mate Alexandra Trusova.
Her hair in a tight bun and dressed in practice attire — black tights under padded shorts to soften the impact of falls and a long-sleeved forest green shirt — Valieva appeared to be a carefree teenager when she hit the ice.
Under the watchful eyes of her coaching staff led by Eteri Tutberidze, Valieva effortlessly landed a series of triple jumps as she warmed up alongside Trusova and Anastasia Gubanova, a Russian-born skater who represents Georgia.
Valieva smiled and giggled as she consulted with her coaches at rink side and clapped when Trusova landed the jumps in the run-through of her free skate. But her expression turned solemn when it was time for her to rehearse her own free skate.
Valieva glided to the centre of the ice as the first notes of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero resounded through the practice rink.
She fell on her opening jump, a quadruple Salchow, before cleanly landing a quad toeloop in combination before falling on another quad toeloop as the orchestral music escalated to its finale. Valieva became the first woman to complete a quad jump at an Olympics during her teams winning performance on Monday.
After skating alongside Valieva at practice, Gubanova said she was surprised by the reports swirling around the brightest star of the Russian Olympic team.
“It would be very unfortunate for her if something bad happens because of this,” Gubanova said.
Valieva was the last of three skaters to leave the ice, which was already being resurfaced by two fire-truck red Zambonis when she skated towards the exit.
With her skates still on, Valieva swiftly walked through the practice facility’s mixed zone, clutching her belongings tightly and shaking her head no as she looked down to dodge questions from reporters.
And with that, she exited the most anticipated training session of her life.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Michael Perry)