At the start, a stumble. At the end, tears. In between, a brush with perfection.
And, amid the extraordinary tumult and torment of the past six days, Kamila Valieva did what she was trained to do: deliver when it matters.
After the first program of the women’s single skating at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium, the 15-year-old leads on 82.16, less than two points ahead of her Russian Olympic Federation teammate Anna Shcherbakova. The Japanese skater Kaori Sakamoto, who scored 78.84, lies third.
It wasn’t a perfect routine. No sooner had the opening bars of In Memoriam by Kirill Richter ended than Valieva wobbled and came dangerously close to falling on her first jump, the triple axel. But with the world’s gaze on her after her positive drugs test, she was able to refocus and scored top marks on her remaining elements.
To do so with the world's spotlight on her, with many questioning whether the 15-year-old Russian should still be in Beijing, was certainly impressive.
But long before she stepped gracefully onto the ice the British skater Nastasha McKay was blunt when asked whether the Russian should be competing: “I wish it was a level playing field and it’s not, but they’ve made a decision they’ve made and I can’t do anything about that.”
When invited to express sympathy for the 15-year-old, the Briton then deftly diverted her attention elsewhere. “I have sympathy for whoever will be on the podium who won’t be receiving their medals,” she replied. “It’s the most important part of the Olympics and they won’t get that chance.”
The Swedish staker Josefin Taljegard refused to directly criticise Valieva but made her critique more subtly. “I think fair play is important,” she said. “Something inside me thinks it’s sad. I try to be a good role model. I just want everyone to know that figure skating is a lovely sport. These negative things take away from that. Hopefully, if not in this competition, we can win over the world to remember how amazing figure skating is.”
Earlier in the day Valieva’s legal team had suggested that her positive drugs test may have come from a contaminated glass of water that contained traces of her grandfather’s heart medication.
That explanation has raised eyebrows here in Beijing. But it is also worth pointing out that while the excitable coverage of the court of arbitration for sport’s decision to allow Valieva to compete made it sound she – and Russia – had received a diamanté-emblazoned get out of jail free card that is not the case.
Cas’s decision was a stay of execution, not a pardon. And even if Valieva takes gold on Thursday, as now appears likely, it remains an odds-on chance that she gets a doping ban.
She has captivated the world, and survived an extraordinary week that will have felled most people. But her dreams of having an Olympic medal around her neck still hang by a sequin’s thread.