In the 30-plus years I’ve covered Olympic figure skating, I thought I had seen and heard it all, from Tonya-Nancy to the French judge, from Russian cheating to, well, Russian cheating, most recently the Kamila Valieva scandal at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.
But then this week the internet produced an unprecedented surprise: Valieva’s new long program for the 2022-23 season, which included me.
My voice, actually: a soundbite from a CNN interview a few hours after Valieva’s shocking meltdown in the women’s long program in February in Beijing.
At a recent Russian preview event for the upcoming skating season, Valieva, dressed somberly in black, stands still on the ice as a mix of foreboding music and a few words in Russian play throughout the arena, followed by these words in English, “It was unexpected, it was shocking…,” which were mine.
At that point, Valieva starts to skate, finishing four minutes later by pulling a black hood over her head, an artistic flourish that recalls how she rushed past journalists while hiding her face in the Olympic mixed zone at the height of the doping scandal more than seven months ago.
The program appears to be her attempt to reflect on her experience at the Winter Olympics, where, as the overwhelming gold medal favorite, she was allowed to compete in the women’s event despite testing positive for a banned substance the previous December.
As her story rocked the Games, Valieva, then 15, stumbled to a fourth-place finish in the women’s event after leading Russia to the gold medal in the team competition earlier in the Games. Her positive drug test forced the cancellation of the team medal ceremony.
Two weeks ago, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency announced the completion of its excruciatingly delayed investigation into Valieva’s positive drug test, with hearings scheduled to begin soon. The medals still have not been awarded in the team event.
Also, as things stand now, Russian skaters are banned from competing in international events due to their nation’s invasion of Ukraine, so Valieva’s new long program might have a very limited run.
Valieva and her team used just a small portion of my comments on CNN on Feb. 17, 2022. Here’s more, reflecting the chilling behavior Valieva’s coaches exhibited toward her in the wake of her positive drug test and poor performance on the ice:
“It was unexpected, it was shocking, it was heartbreaking and you couldn’t help but think you were watching the results of the abuse of a child, right there on that ice, Olympic ice, the world’s greatest stage.”