Kamila Valieva skated to Kirill Richter’s “In Memoriam” during her controversial short program run, but the silence throughout her performance was deafening.
The 15-year-old Russian figure skater, who on Monday was ruled eligible for the 2022 Olympics women’s singles competition after a positive drug test surfaced last week, finished first in the short program with a score of 82.16. Many – including her opponents and their teams – have criticized the decision, made by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, to let her continue to compete as a full investigation into her positive test unfolds.
NBC’s figure skating broadcast team, comprised of former American Olympic skaters Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski, was no different. Seemingly in protest of Valieva’s participation, the broadcast was near-silent while Valieva was on the ice, only offering a couple of comments on her performance.
“All I feel I can say is that was the short program of Kamila Valieva at the Olympics,” Weir said bluntly as Valieva bowed to the audience.
“She had a positive test. We should not have seen this skate,” Lipinski added.
In the lead up and aftermath of Valieva’s performance, however, Weir and Lipinski were vocal about their displeasure with Valieva’s ruling.
Weir, who competed in two Olympics, apologized that Valieva’s doping scandal was “overshadowing your Olympics.” He previously said the controversy made him uncomfortable announcing the competition, calling it a “slap in the face to every other skater in this event.”
“With all of this news I just, I feel so uncomfortable as a skater and as a skating fan even having to commentate her performance simply because she should not be able to compete in this competition,” Weir said.
Those feelings persisted after Valieva’s performance Tuesday.
“That was the hardest event that I’ve ever had to cover,” Weir said in a video he posted on Twitter after the short program concluded. “And I want to thank you all for supporting the skaters that should be in this competition, whose life work is on the line. Thank you.”
Lipinski, who at 15 – the same age as Valieva – became the youngest figure skater to win a gold medal in 1998, suggested Valieva’s participation tarnished the rest of the competition.
“It’s not just about her skating or not skating,” Lipinski said. “It’s affecting everyone at these Olympic Games to think that there is going to be no medal ceremony in the ladies event if she’s on the podium. It’s other worldly to me. I can’t even comprehend that. Imagine how that’s affecting so many other skaters’ lives and their Olympic experiences.
“It makes you question everything. These skaters give up their lives for this moment, to get to this place. Why?”
Valieva’s first-place finish qualified her for the free skate on Thursday, where she looks to build on today’s dominant performance to capture her second gold medal of the 2022 Olympics.
In the likely scenario she does take home a medal, however, there will be no medal ceremony – the official recognition will be postponed until a full investigation yields its findings.