Figure skater Nathan Chen will be returning to the United States from the Beijing Olympics with some unique souvenirs. Among them will be a gold medal, two stuffed astronaut pandas and … an Olympic torch?
Missing from Chen’s carry-on will be the silver medal the Salt Lake City native helped the Americans win in the team skate event. The hardware for that competition, one of the first of these Winter Games, is being withheld while the International Olympic Committee deals with the doping scandal swirling around 15-year-old Kamila Valieva. Valieva helped Russia claim the gold medal in the team event, but a day later she was discovered to have tested positive for a banned heart medication at an event in December.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared Valieva to compete in the women’s singles event, which began Tuesday, because it deemed her to have no fault in the delay in the reporting of that positive Christmas Day test.
“None of this is the fault of the athlete,” the panel wrote in its 41-page judgment, according to the New York Times, “and it has put her in a remarkably difficult position where she faces a lifetime of work being taken from her within days of the biggest event of her short career.”
Valieva, the first woman to land a quadruple jump in Olympic history, entered Thursday’s free skate in first place. But in a performance indicative of the kind of stress she has been under the past week, she struggled to land any of her jumps and finished fourth overall.
IOC officials had said they would hold no medals ceremony — not even the one at the venue immediately after the event, where athletes receive their laureled space pandas — with Valieva on the podium. She solved that problem for them in the women’s event. In the team event, no official ceremony is expected to be held before Sunday’s closing ceremony.
That’s where the torch comes in.
The Associated Press reported late Wednesday that the IOC had offered members of the U.S. figure skating team torches, the kind used to carry the Olympic flame to Beijing, as holdover gifts. IOC president Thomas Bach said during a press conference Friday, however, that torches were meant as thank you gifts to the athletes for attending a private, two-hour meeting with IOC officials.
“Nobody would offer an Olympic torch in lieu of an Olympic medal,” Bach said. “Pierre [Ducrey, the Olympic Games operations director] and I wanted to express our appreciation of having them accept our invitation to this meeting.”
Bach said the torches had been given to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee office for athletes to pick up if they chose.
Chen told The Salt Lake Tribune on Feb. 11, the day after he won individual gold, that he wished the athletes were kept more informed about their predicament.
“At this point in time, it’s like we all did the best we could,” he said. “But it would be nice just to get some clarification. All of us are on the edge of our seats being like, ‘What’s going to happen?!’”
The athletes have not said what was discussed in the meeting. But now they should have more information and a torch to boot.
When they get home they can display it next to their empty medal box. According to the AP, athletes were given the boxes before they learned the medals ceremony had been called off.