Controversy clouded Camila Valeeva’s Olympic debut after it was revealed that she had tested positive for a banned heart medication. But for IOC President Thomas Bach, it was the way the 15-year-old’s coach treated her “extremely cold” that “disturbed” him the most.
The Russian figure skater appeared to collapse under pressure last week during her latest performance at the Beijing Olympics on Thursday. She helped her team win the gold during the figure skating team event, and she was dominate the individual Women’s events. But she was visibly distressed in her last skate on Thursday, falling twice and failing to land on any of her quads during her routine, resulting in fourth place.
At the end of the event, she seemed to be crying in anger as she made her way off the ice. When her results were announced, she was seated between two of her coaches, who seemed visibly disappointed with the result.
Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, spoke about the situation Thursday after the performance, saying that most athletes at the Winter Olympics have “unprecedented Olympic spirit” in light of COVID-19.
Most of the athletes have been giving and meeting with love, support and celebration throughout the Games, Bach said, “and then there’s also the very sad story of Camila Valeeva.”
Bach said he was “very, very upset” by what he witnessed in her competition, starting with her last routine. He said it was clear to him that she was under tremendous pressure.
“To see her out there struggling on the ice, to see how she’s trying to make herself up again, and how badly she’s trying to finish her program,” he said. “You can read the body language at every step, and it can feel like that’s a tremendous mental stress, and she’d probably just prefer letting go of the ice and trying to leave this story behind.”
But what caught his attention more, he said, was what happened next.
The video shows that when Valeeva broke off the ice after her last event, her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, approached her with questions about why she was not doing better.
“Why did you let her go?” She said. “Why did you stop fighting?”
“When I then saw how her closest retinue greeted her, with what must have been a great cold, it was wonderful to see,” Bach said. “Instead of giving her confidence, instead of trying to help her, you can feel this scary atmosphere, this distance, and if you interpret their body language, it just gets worse because that was the kind of dismissive gesture I saw there on TV.”
He said his suspicions about the cold weather were confirmed, after a video began circulating of his Russian colleague Alexandra Trusova getting angry about winning the silver when her colleague Anna Shcherbakova won the gold. Her reaction is rare between matches, with most teams showing camaraderie throughout the events.
“Everyone has a medal, but I don’t!” Trusova He said in Russian, according to USA Today.
All this suggests, Bach said, that “the impression I had last night was not the wrong one.”
“All of this does not give me much confidence in Camilla’s closest entourage, neither as to what has happened in the past nor as to the future,” he said. “…I can only have the support of her family, the support of her friends, the support of her people helping her through this very difficult situation. We can only hope for her that this is handled in the right way.”
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