Russian Skaters 'Crumbled' Amid 'Wildly Unhealthy' Coaching: Ashley Wagner

Kamila Valieva and the two other Russian figure skaters at the top of the women's individual competition standings at the Beijing Games on Thursday "crumbled in their own way" while experiencing a "wildly unhealthy" coaching style after the results were announced, said Ashley Wagner, a commentator and former U.S. Olympic figure skater.

After fellow Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) skaters Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova finished in first and second place, respectively, Valieva was seen sobbing and later walked silently past reporters with a mask over her face.

Valieva, 15, who was at the center of a doping controversy and widely favored to win the individual event, took fourth place behind her teammates and Japan's Kaori Sakamoto.

Trusova also broke down in tears and initially refused to even step onto the podium for the ceremony, while Shcherbakova told reporters she was happy with her performance but also felt "this emptiness inside."

"And it's chaos everywhere, and you just see how this pressure cooker of an environment that these young girls have been put in is so insanely unhealthy," Wagner said. "Each of them had a different reaction and each of them crumbled in their own way. Shcherbakova—this is her Olympic gold medal, and she's standing by herself with a teddy bear. I will never forget that moment because it was just sad."

Wagner spoke about the emotional aftermath of the competition during USA Network's Olympics coverage.

Despite going into the long program on Thursday with the top score from the short program, Valieva gave a shaky performance. She fell twice, stumbled and slipped, earning a score of 141.93 in the free skate, which was added to her short program score of 82.16 for a final tally of 224.09.

Wagner said that right after she got off the ice, Valieva's coach, Eteri Tutberidze, "immediately started asking her why she threw that away."

She said that the things Valieva's coaches said "speaks to how wildly unhealthy that coaching camp is."

Valieva Cries After Competition
Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee team cries after the women's singles free skate on day 13 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Capital Indoor Stadium on February 17, 2022, in Beijing, China. Xavier Laine/Getty Images

Wagner also said that Valieva's performance was "inevitable" and that she didn't need to hear corrections and negative comments from her coaches right when she stepped off the ice.

While many have criticized the decision to allow Valieva to compete in the individual event despite her positive test for a banned heart medication, the skater has received an outpouring of support from people worried about the impact of the high-pressure situation on someone so young.

Some have also alleged that coaches and other adults like Tutberidze, whom some have said has a harsh teaching style, were responsible for the medication's presence in her system.

Wagner noted the impacts the doping scandal will likely have on Valieva's career in the future, and said that "the tragedy here is that we will never know how good she really is." She was put into the situation "by so many adults who have failed her" and then became "the only one who carried that weight, not the adults who put her in that position," Wagner said.

Wagner also spoke about seeing Shcherbakova after she had just been named Olympic champion.

"She's by herself. Her coaching team has left to either go console Kamila or go help out her teammate, Alexandra Trusova, who is screaming that she shouldn't have been in second place," Wagner said.

In what Trusova later described as an "emotional" moment, she shouted "I hate this sport" at the side of the rink and added that she "won't go onto the ice again," the Associated Press reported. She later said that her outburst was a result of missing her family and dogs but did not say that she would compete at the world championships next month.

Careers of Russian skaters are typically very short, so much so that 17-year-old Shcherbakova was almost immediately asked whether she would retire after securing the gold medal Thursday, AP reported. No woman who has been coached by Tutberidze has ever had a long enough elite skating career to become a two-time Olympian, according to AP.

Wagner said that this underscores the importance of treating people like Valieva as "humans first, athletes second," adding that it's not good for athletes "to be treated like they are disposable."

Update 2/17/22, 3:35 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information and background.