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Kamila Valieva's positive doping test casts a pall over her Olympic performance


Tonight at the Winter Olympics, the figure skating world is bracing for a dramatic finish to the women's individual event. Fifteen-year-old Russian star Kamila Valieva leads the competition that's been clouded by controversy because of Valieva's positive tests for a banned drug before the games. NPR's Tom Goldman is here to get us ready for tonight's free skate. Hey, Tom.


FADEL: So set the scene. What should we expect?

GOLDMAN: Well, with the free skate, that's the longer portion of the competition - four minutes for the women. And this is where the athletes really show off all their skills. And in this case, it could be memorable for what Valieva and her two Russian teammates attempt. Remember, in the team event here, Valieva became the first woman to land a quadruple rotation jump in Olympic competition. That was a big deal. Women have been trying to do that for at least 30 years. Tonight, Valieva is reportedly - will attempt three quads. The Russian currently in second place, Anna Shcherbakova, at least one. And then there's Alexandra Trusova in fourth. She's expected to try five. Now, appropriately, she's nicknamed the Quad Queen. She nailed five in an event in Russia last September, so this thing tonight could be quad crazy.

FADEL: So explain the significance of five.

GOLDMAN: Well, if there's a deluge of successful quads, it could be the start in earnest of the quad revolution in the women's sport. Every young girl who's not already trying this tough jump will start. The men are ahead here. Their quad revolution's been underway for about a dozen years, and so much so that when Nathan Chen won gold in the men's individual event last week and landed five quads pretty effortlessly, it wasn't really that big a deal.

FADEL: So, of course, this whole event tonight is steeped in scandal because of Valieva's positive drug tests, so what's the impact of that going to be?

GOLDMAN: Those angriest about all this will say we cannot trust anything we see from Valieva because she is a doper and she's Russian, and Russia has a really bad track record, so she has to be guilty. Well, we don't know if her positive test means she was intentionally doping. Her case still has to be heard after the games. You know, it's all really sad because she's easily the most graceful, ethereal skater on the ice. But here she's become toxic, so much so that they're not going to have any medal ceremony if she wins a medal tonight because she may be disqualified at a later date. So we are going to see lovely skating tonight. But then it will be pretty hollow because no celebration.

FADEL: And before we let you go, I understand there were some other events of note at the games.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, imagine that, you know, amazingly, Kamila Valieva isn't the only athlete here.

FADEL: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: There are about 3,000 others. And among them, there are some very happy Canadian women's hockey players. Canada beat the U.S. 3 to 2 today in the gold medal game. This re-establishes Canada as the dominant Olympic team. The Americans won in 2018. And since 1998, when women's hockey began at the Olympics, either Canada or the U.S. has won the gold. Now Canada has won five, compared to two for the Americans, and this sets up even more to this great rivalry in four years time.

Also, I hate to be the bearer of more bad news about American alpine skiing star Mikaela Shiffrin, but she fell again in the slalom portion of an event called Alpine combined. It combines slalom and downhill. And she ended her disappointing Olympics, not finishing in three of her five events, no medals to add to her previous three.

One last thing - while she struggled again, Switzerland was dominating again. Swiss skiers took gold and silver in the Alpine combined. They have owned the slopes at these games.

FADEL: Tom, thanks. That's NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joining us from the Beijing Winter Olympics.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.