Kamila Valieva, her coach and other key players in the Olympics' strangest 20 minutes

BEIJING — Twenty of the most remarkable minutes in recent Olympic history unfolded Thursday night at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium. In the span of a few minutes, viewers around the world saw hope and desolation, agony and triumph. The world got a peek behind the curtain of the Russian skating infrastructure Thursday night, and the view was grim indeed.

Here’s how those crucial minutes went down, skater by skater, person by person.

Kamila Valieva

Fifteen years old and the finest female skater on earth, Valieva came into these Games a champion-in-waiting and will leave them a shattered wreck. At 9:51 p.m. Beijing Time, she prepared to skate to Ravel’s “Bolero.” Within two minutes, her dreams were in shards as she failed again and again to perform at the level she expected of herself. Her turns weren’t crisp, her flips didn’t land, and she ended up sprawled on the ice. Even accounting for the degree of difficulty, it was a fourth-place program. It was a sad end to a saga that began earlier in the Olympics with the discovery that Valieva had previously tested positive for …

Trimetazidine

A banned heart medication that can aid in endurance, trimetazidine was one of three drugs found in a Dec. 25 test of Valieva. However, the test results didn’t become public until after Valieva and other Russians had won a team skating gold. Russia has declared that it would not surrender medals “under any circumstances, regardless of the results of the disciplinary investigation into the athlete” — which is why the IOC has held off on awarding medals it might later need to reclaim.

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The presence of trimetazidine in Valieva’s system has trained a harsh light on ...

Eteri Tutberidze

Valieva’s black-clad coach, Tutberidze met the skater with an icy glare. Tutberidze is one of the most powerful figures in figure skating, and her studio is infamous for its harsh, relentless regimens. While it’s tough to argue with results — Tutberidze did coached the two top medalists at the Olympics — the methods used to achieve those results are in serious question.

Case in point: when Valieva left the ice, Tutberidze was there not with support, but condemnation. “Why did you let it go?” Tutberidze said in Russian, according to the New York Times. “Why did you stop fighting? Explain it to me, why? You let it go after that axel.” Valieva did not answer. What answer could she give? Not far away, gripped in a whirl of conflicting emotions, was one of her teammates …

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva (center) reacts to her coach, Eteri Tutberidze (right), while Daniil Gleikhengauz (left) looks on after the women's free skate at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Capital Indoor Stadium on February 17, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva (center) reacts to her coach, Eteri Tutberidze (right), while Daniil Gleikhengauz (left) looks on after the women's free skate at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Capital Indoor Stadium on February 17, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Alexandra Trusova

Trusova had pulled off the most aggressive program on the entire roster of the Women’s program. No woman had done even one quad — four rotations — in Olympic competition before Valieva did it last week, and Trusova had just done five. Skating to a selection from “Cruella,” she was fierce, confident, determined. And when Valieva didn’t win, Trusova was devastated — but whether for her teammate, or for her own gold chances, she wouldn’t say. She wailed, her makeup running down her cheeks.

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“I hate this sport!” Trusova seethed, apparently angry at the judges’ decision that broke against her. “I won’t go onto the ice again.” Later photos of the medal ceremony appeared to show her lifting her middle finger — whether intentional or not, whether aimed at a specific person or not, she didn’t say.

A few steps away, sitting silently, was …

Anna Shcherbakova

The gold medalist at Thursday night’s event, Shcherbakova didn’t look much like celebrating. She sat alone in the “green room” — actually light blue — where competitors waited until they were either knocked out of the top three or headed to the medal ceremony. Clutching a stuffed bear, Shcherbakova looked like she’d rather be anywhere on earth than receiving a gold medal … which says so much about how the entire evening played out.

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“I’m just overwhelmed by happiness on one hand,” Shcherbakova said a few minutes afterward, at a press conference beneath the arena. “On the other hand, I feel this emptiness inside somehow.”

Along with Shcherbakova and Trusova, the other medalist was …

Kaori Sakamoto

The Japanese skater lacks the physical prowess of her Russian counterparts, but she was good enough and graceful enough to be the beneficiary of Valieva’s stumbles. As the drama played out around her, Sakamoto beamed, both with and without her mask on. She skated around the rink, Japanese flag held high, the only person truly happy among all the competitors.

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As she celebrated, there were only a few remaining ...

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The changes in atmosphere Thursday night at Capital Indoor Stadium were remarkable. While music pulsed through the speakers as if this were a standard event, the one-quarter-full arena had little strength. When Valieva and the other Russians came out for their warmup skate, however, a feisty Russian contingent at one end of the rink rose to its feet, waved flags, and began a “Ka-Mi-La!” chant.

But once Valieva’s final score came through, the atmosphere changed again. The audience silently cleared out, as if trying to forget about this wretched night as quickly as possible. One person who wasn’t in the stands who traditionally is …

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Thomas Bach

The president of the IOC has been a hard man to find these Games, declining to show up to events where he’s usually a fixture … like the Women’s program. Friday morning, Bach blasted Tutberidze and the rest of Valieva’s entourage with uncommon and long-overdue ferocity.

“I was very, very disturbed [Thursday] when I watched the competition on TV,” he said. “When afterward I saw how she was received by her closest entourage, with what appeared to be tremendous coldness, it was chilling to see this, rather than giving her comfort, rather than to try to help her.”

Whether Bach truly felt for Valieva’s plight, or whether he was just filibustering to minimize questions during his press conference, won’t be clear until he starts taking some action against Russia and the entourage … or fails to do so.

The whole night was a scar for skating as a whole, a sport already wracked with corruption and highly suspect practices. Whether Thursday will lead to lasting change remains to be seen, but it will remain a memorable evening in Olympic skating history, one way or another.