Japan's Kaori Sakamoto won bronze in the Beijing Olympic women's singles figure skating competition Thursday, as Russian Olympic Committee skater Anna Shcherbakova took gold ahead of compatriot Alexandra Trusova.
The competition was overshadowed by the doping controversy involving the ROC's 15-year-old star Kamila Valieva, who topped Tuesday's short program but dropped to fourth overall following a mistake-riddled free skate at the Capital Indoor Stadium.
With the legal fight stemming from Valieva's positive drug test at December's Russian national championships unresolved, the International Olympic Committee said it would only give provisional status to the results if the prodigy finished on the podium.
That outcome was averted after Shcherbakova, 17, put on a flawless free skate for a 175.75-point segment score and 255.95 total.
The 17-year-old Trusova scored 177.13 for a 251.73 total, while Sakamoto added 153.29 to her personal-best short program score of 79.84 to finish with 233.13 and earn her second bronze of the games after also reaching the podium with Japan in the team event.
Fellow team bronze medalist Wakaba Higuchi finished fifth on 214.44, while Japan's other representative, Mana Kawabe, was 23rd with a total of 166.73.
Starting the day in third place, Sakamoto gave another poised performance in the free skate.
The 21-year-old hit all of her elements cleanly, opening with a double axel before nailing a triple lutz and a triple flip-double toe loop combination. The season-best routine provisionally moved her to second before she was overtaken by Shcherbakova.
"When I first looked at the final scores, I didn't realize I was third," Sakamoto said. "The only words I could say were 'I'm happy.'"
"This is the culmination of four years in which I've felt a lot of frustration I've had a lot of regrets, but I'm glad my hard work has been rewarded. I didn't expect to win a medal in individual competition."
Valieva's appearance in the competition frustrated the IOC, International Skating Union and World Anti-Doping Agency, who sought to have her banned after she appealed a doping suspension imposed when she tested positive for a prohibited substance often found in heart medication.
The result of the test was made public on Feb. 8, a day after she won Olympic team gold with the ROC. Valieva successfully appealed an automatic ban imposed by the Russian doping authority, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport upholding the decision on the eve of the short program.
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Valieva, who topped the short program with 82.16 points, once again received a loud cheer inside the arena as she took the ice for her free skate. But after commanding performances in both team competition segments and in Tuesday's short routine, she fell multiple times on the way to a score of 141.93 and a 224.09 total.
Skating to music from the Lion King, 2018 world championship runner-up Higuchi nailed her opening triple axel but fell on the second part of a triple lutz-triple toe loop combination.
The tumble was the only blemish on a program that also included a double axel and a triple loop-double toe loop-double loop combo and brought 140.93.
"I fell in a place where I normally never fall, but I managed to stay focused until the end and enjoy the atmosphere while I skated," 21-year-old Olympic debutant Higuchi said.
"I succeeded in jumping the triple axel on this dream stage. I feel happiness and regret. I want to take this experience to heart and keep getting better."
Also making her Olympic debut, the 17-year-old Kawabe saw her opening triple axel downgraded and fell on her next jump, a triple lutz. But she recovered to complete the rest of her elements, including a double axel-triple toe loop-double toe loop combination, on the way to 104.04.
"I feel sorry that this performance was all I could give," Kawabe said. "I want to do my best over the next four years so I can not only return to the Olympics but aim for the top."
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