It was one of the most surreal moments in modern Olympic history. After an excruciating week of scandal, phenom Russian skater and suspected doping cheat Kamila Valieva fell Thursday during the women’s free skate event.
Valieva’s tumble sunk her from gold-medal favorite to fourth place, leaving the 15-year-old sobbing and inconsolable.
Luckily for viewers at home, Johnny Weir was there to describe the painful scene every step of the way. Apparently fluent in Russian, Weir translated what was being said among Russian Olympic Committee officials and medalist Aleksandra Trusova.
It was broadcasting brilliance.
After the event, Weir said Trusova, who won silver, was screaming to her coaches that she “can’t see this.” Trusova was seemingly reacting to the harrowing post-skate exchange involving Valieva and her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who immediately started interrogating Valieva after her error-laden performance.
The episode left Valieva in tears.
A few moments later, Weir suggested Trusova didn’t want to step onto the podium and receive her medal.
“She says, ‘I’m not going, I’m not going,’” Weir translated.
Johnny Weir translating Russian inter-team bench drama in real time is extraordinary television.— BofM_Jeremy (@BofM_Jeremy) February 17, 2022
Johnny Weir might be America’s best sports broadcaster. His ability to translate the technicality and artistry of the sport to non-competitive skaters, his ability to read emotion and discuss athletes as humans, speaking Russian fluently when we needed that. Give Johnny an Emmy.— Meredith Shiner (@meredithshiner) February 17, 2022
Earlier this week, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled to let Valieva participate in the competition, despite her positive test for the banned substance trimetazidine. Though the test was administered in December, the results weren’t made public until last week.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport defended its ruling by saying removing Valieva from competition would’ve severely impacted her mental health. But it’s apparent allowing Valieva to skate only exacerbated her anguish.
“The court that ruled to allow Kamila to skate in this competition was worried about the ramifications on her mental health of not competing in this completion,” Weir said. “I wonder what they’re thinking now, as to what just happened to Kamila Valieva.”
All week long, Weir and his partner, 1988 gold medalist Tara Lipinski, provided cutting commentary about Valieva’s status, while maintaining some empathy for the teenager, who may not have even known she was taking a banned substance.
It was an incredibly complex situation, and they handled it with professionalism and aplomb.
“It makes me angry that the adults around her weren’t able to make better decisions and be there for her, because she is the one now dealing with the consequences and she’s just 15 and that’s not fair,” Lipinski said.
When it became apparent that Valieva wouldn’t medal, Weir let out a “thank God!” Due to her uncertain status, the IOC ruled that no medal ceremonies would be held if she placed in the top three, robbing other skaters of their well-earned glory.
Weir correctly referred to the sad situation as the “destruction of a young person.”
Many prominent out LGBTQ skaters also let their feelings known, including Adam Rippon, who was coaching U.S. figure skater Mariah Bell.
If your only defense of this doping scandal is “do you really think everyone else is clean” that is the problem. You assume everyone is cheating when they are not. They are competing clean. In the US if you fail a doping test you are out, plain and simple.— Adam Rippon (@AdamRippon) February 15, 2022
Out sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson commented on the hypocrisy of allowing Valieva to skate, while she was disqualified last summer after testing positive for marijuana.
“Can we get a solid answer on the difference” between their situations?,” she tweeted. “The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady.”
Weir and Lipinski captured the outrage, but largely focused on the harm Valieva’s positive test was having on the other skaters, and the pain her coaches were putting her through.
It was maybe Weir’s best Olympic performance to date. Give the man his Emmy.