BEIJING – Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva’s pristine performance in her Olympic debut at the Beijing Games on Sunday drew pure awe from rivals and teammates who praised her prodigious athletic talent and maturity as the gold medal favourite.
Still only 15, Valieva holds the world records for the short program, free skate and total score.
At Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium on Sunday, Valieva scored 90.18 points, 0.27 below her short program record of 90.45, to help the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) to first place in the team competition with three events remaining.
“All the best qualities of a figure skater come together in this fragile girl,” Russian ice dancer Nikita Katsalapov said of his team mate.
“She motivates the whole team … It’s just a pleasure to watch her performances. She improves from one competition to the next.”
Valieva, who clinched the European title last month in a Russian podium sweep, has been reticent to discuss her own success.
When asked on Sunday if she was unbeatable, the teenager simply shrugged and refused to answer.
Valieva and her team mates Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova are all coached by Eteri Tutberidze, known for raising a generation of Russian skaters with stellar but ephemeral careers.
All three Russian female skaters competing at the Beijing Games are known for landing gravity-defying quadruple jumps, raising standards in a discipline where such elements were unimaginable just a few years ago.
Those new standards mean female skaters almost need to perform a quadruple jump to clinch an Olympic medal.
“I’m not capable of doing what they are doing,” U.S. skater Karen Chen, who finished fifth in the short programme of the team event with 65.20 points, told reporters.
Valieva did not want to speculate why her training group could execute jumps that are unthinkable for most.
“I don’t know how they train elsewhere,” Valieva said in response to Chen’s comments. “But the training we receive is enough to perform these difficult elements.”
Katsalapov did not have any additional insight on why Russian women’s performances were a leap ahead.
“There is a secret for sure,” he said. “I’m wondering, too.”