NBC figure skating commentators Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, both former Olympians in the sport, did not shy away from the controversy surrounding Kamila Valieva when she took the ice for the 2022 Beijing Olympics women's short program on Tuesday.
"All I can feel like I can say is that was the short program of Kamila Valieva at the Olympics," Weir said at the conclusion of the Russian Olympic Committee athlete's program.
It was an awkward performance in which Lipinski and Weir — known for bold fashion and fresh commentary — each noted one difficult jumping pass, but gave no emotion to it and did not give any further critiques. It hit its uncomfortable crescendo when Valieva, 15, stumbled on her triple axel. It was an uncharacteristic mistake that typically might have prompted a gasp and further video review on air. Instead, silence.
"I feel I need to say again: She had a positive test. We should not have seen this skate," Lipinski said.
Valieva tested positive for the banned drug trimetazidine and a day before the competition, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld a reversal of the previous provisional suspension. The CAS panel cited her status as a "Protected Person" since she is under the age of 16. Her lawyers argued she was accidentally contaminated with the drug from a product her grandfather was taking.
"I don't know how many times over the past year that I've said she is the best figure skater I've ever seen," Lipinski said. "And just saying that now not only makes me confused, it makes me angry ... and disoriented by everything I thought that I knew.
“It makes you question everything,” she said. “These skaters give up their lives for this moment, to get to this place. Why?”
Weir apologized to viewers that the scandal was "overshadowing your Olympics." Lipinski noted she believes it will "leave a permanent scar on our sport."
Lipinski, Weir stand against Valieva's inclusion
The duo reiterated the stance they made to NBC's Mike Tirico on Monday after the news from the CAS came out. Valieva was in the fifth and final group of skaters to take the ice and as she did, they relayed their emotions in real time.
“To be honest, I almost don’t believe what I’m seeing," Lipinski said. "Seeing her on Olympic ice right now with everything we’ve discovered over the last week. I did not think this was going to happen and I don’t think it should be happening.”
They said earlier in the program with booth partner Terry Gannon leading the discussion during a break that they would have to air the skate because Valieva is part of the competition. But it didn't mean they were happy about it.
"With all of this news I just, I feel so uncomfortable as a skater and as a skating fan even having to commentate on her performance simply because she should not be able to compete in this competition," Weir said.
There will be no medal ceremony if Valieva reaches the podium, which Lipinski called "otherworldly to me. I can't even comprehend that." Weir said it was a "slap in the face to every other skater in this event."
Lipinski, Weir on growing up in drug testing protocols
Lipinski won the gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Games at the age of 15, the youngest winner of an Olympic winter event. Weir competed at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics.
They both reiterated how drug testing works and the trials they went through as teenagers, knowing that was part of the figure skating and Olympic experience. Athletes in drug testing protocol have to submit calendars and schedules breaking down where they are each day and hour, even outside of competition.
Lipinski and Weir said when they were sick, their mothers would have to call a hotline to see what medications they were able to take and what they should avoid.
At various points of the morning, all three noted that Valieva is only 15 years old and their heart breaks for her. But the overwhelming consensus from the NBC booth and competitors in Beijing is that the young star should not have been allowed to skate.
Lipinski and her husband, Todd Kapostasy, recently released a docuseries about the figure skating judge scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. That also involved the Russians.