The most physically brutal and heart-wrenching sports drama of the week didn’t unfold on a football field or boxing ring but from the deceptively tranquil chill of the Olympic women’s figure skating ice rink. 

Mascara-drenched tears fells on the world-class athletes bejeweled costumes as Olympic dreams were dashed, first by an underdog who pushed the limits of her body with five history-making quadruple jumps only to finish second, followed by a crippled performance wrought with errors and falls by the skater favored to win before yoked by the weight of public scandal. Millions of viewers watched two of the best athletes in the world melt into tears, with runner-up Alexandra Trusova stating she hated the sport, vowing never to compete again. Meanwhile, the winner, Anna Shcherbakova sat in silence reflecting on a grim victory. 

The Washington Post’s analysis of the drama, which shared all the contours of a Greek tragedy, brings the sport judiciously to task. It is a sport that has devolved from a ballet speckled with physical feats to who can pull off the most dangerous, back-breaking moves for the most points. 

This time, however, elegance and mastery won over brute prowess. But it felt hollow in the backdrop of what the Olympic committee had done to Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old expected to sweep the competition but who was instead psychologically broken under the pressure of a performance-enhancing drug scandal. There wasn’t even a podium to stand on because everyone assumed Valieva would be in the top three due to deliberations still pending on her eligibility. 

All three athletes were under 18. 

Writer Robert Samuels asks, rightly: 

So what good is an Olympic gold medal at 15, 16 or 17 in a system that values the medal more than the experience? What joy is there if you will be cast aside as the media surrounds your crying teammate and another competitor is throwing a tantrum behind you? What pride is there to stand atop a podium when observers are surprised that there is even a podium to stand on, given that the medal favorite was told she would not be given a medal until her doping investigation is complete?

One cold night on the ice will likely have serious repercussions for the sport in years to come. And that may be a good thing: these athletes all deserved better than what was forced on them by the politics of winning. It’s past time to change the game. 

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