Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva cleared to continue competing at Beijing Olympics

BEIJING — In a decision that sent shockwaves through the Olympic sports movement, 15-year-old figure skating phenomenal Kamila Valieva will be allowed to skate in the women’s individual skating competition in Beijing on Tuesday.

The decision was made Monday in Beijing by a panel of three arbitrators appointed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

But the International Olympic Committee was quick to react, saying that if Valieva wins, she won’t be honored until a full investigation into the doping allegations is complete.

“If Ms. Valieva finishes among the top three competitors in the women’s individual skating competition, no flower ceremony and medal ceremony will take place during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022,” the IOC said in a statement. a statement.

The decision that Valieva can continue skating in Beijing came after an international outcry over doping by Russia’s most high-profile athlete rocked the first week of the Winter Olympics.

The panel met for nearly six hours on Sunday, hearing testimony from Valieva herself and gathering evidence from other witnesses on a doping sample taken from her in Russia on December 25, 2021.

The sample, tested in a lab in Sweden, showed Valieva had used a banned heart medication at some point in the months leading up to the Games.

Many questions still unanswered

In its decision, the CAS panel focused narrowly on whether Valieva would be allowed to continue skating at the Beijing Olympics.

“Preventing the athlete from competing in the Olympics would cause him irreparable harm in these circumstances,” CAS director general Matthieu Reeb said at a press conference on Monday, stressing that his young age made the case particularly sensitive.

“There were serious issues with the untimely reporting of the athlete’s doping test results taken in December 2021,” Reeb added. “Such late notification was not his fault.”

Reeb ended his speech in Beijing without taking questions from reporters.

Arbitrators did not explore why Valieva’s sample went unreported for more than 40 days – a massive anti-doping regime breakdown – until she competed and helped Russia win Olympic competition figure skating in Beijing on February 7.

At this event, Valieva became one of the stars of the Winter Games, with a breakthrough performance that included two quadruple jumps.

The 15-year-old was the first woman to land a quadruple jump in Olympic competition.

In this team event, the United States took silver. The United States is ready to claim the gold if it is decided that the ROC team cannot keep their medal.

Almost immediately after Valieva’s performance, it was revealed by two drug testing agencies – the International Testing Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency – that one of her pre-Olympic doping samples showed the use of trimetazidine. , a banned cardiac drug.

This revelation sparked an international clash between sports officials.

The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee reacted strongly to the CAS decision, saying it was “disappointed by the message sent by this decision”.

“This appears to be another chapter in Russia’s systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport,” USOPC chief Sarah Hirshland said in a statement.

“It is the collective responsibility of the entire Olympic community to protect the integrity of sport and to keep our athletes, coaches and everyone involved at the highest level. Athletes have the right to know that they are competing on one level. of equality. Unfortunately, today this right is flouted.”

The USOPC also expressed dismay at the delay in awarding the team figure skating medal due to the Valieva controversy.

“We are devastated [U.S. skaters] will leave Beijing without their medals in hand, but we appreciate the IOC’s intention to ensure that the right medals are awarded to the right people,” the statement read.

Russian Olympic Committee officials, meanwhile, sounded defiant, saying they intended to claim the medal won by Valieva and other Russian athletes in the team skating competition.

The ROC office in Beijing has been closed following today’s announcement that Valieva will continue to compete.

International Olympic Committee officials say they have yet to establish a process to determine who will receive gold in the team skating event, saying only that a decision on that will come ‘later’ .

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images


Getty Images

Kamila Valieva of the ROC team pictured with her coach, Eteri Tutberidze during a training session at the Beijing Olympics on February 13, 2022.

Suspended then not suspended

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency – known as RUSADA – initially suspended Valieva but quickly reinstated her after a Feb. 9 meeting in Moscow. Russian officials have insisted that Valieva should be allowed to continue skating.

Meanwhile, a constellation of powerful sports organisations, including the IOC, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Skating Union, have argued that she should be disqualified from further Olympic competition.

On the one hand, the Valieva scandal unfolding on the world stage involves the fate of an incredibly talented 15-year-old girl, whose fate was decided most likely by powerful coaches, sports bureaucrats and politicians.

Questions have repeatedly been raised about her well-being and the pressures she faced heading into Tuesday’s individual women’s competition – an event she is heavily favored to win.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams said mental health support was offered to Valieva during the crisis.

“The support is there. But the first and foremost obligation is for the team to look after their athlete,” he said.

At the same time, this controversy has drawn renewed attention to the widespread and systemic doping of athletes practiced by Russian sports teams for years.

Russian doping program uncovered after Sochi Olympics

Russian athletes, including Valieva, compete in Beijing under a questionable sanction regime that includes bans on flying the Russian flag and playing the country’s national anthem.

These restrictions were put in place after investigations revealed that Russia had created a state-sponsored doping system ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

According to a report published by the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2016, Russian officials in Sochi allegedly exchange contaminated urine from their athletes who had used banned substances with clean samples by passing them through a “mouse hole” drilled in the wall of the anti-doping laboratory.

When the urine was tested the next day, there were no signs of doping, according to the report.

The Russians won 33 medals at the Sochi Games, more than double their success four years earlier in Vancouver.

The behavior was so egregious that the WADA recommended that all Russian athletes be banned from the 2016 Summer Olympics as punishment, but the International Olympic Committee refused to take that step.

Instead, the IOC allowed Russians to continue competing at the Olympics, with Russian Olympic Committee athletes winning 17 medals in Beijing on Monday.

While the question of Valieva’s eligibility is now settled, it is unclear whether this incident – and the black eye it has brought to these recent Games – will force the IOC to rethink and toughen its approach towards -à-vis Russia in future competitions.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams declined to comment on any policy changes that may follow. But he said repeatedly this week that he hoped WADA investigators would step up their investigation into the behavior of the “entourage” around Valieva, including her coaches and doctors.

“We asked in this case the AMA, we want the AMA to investigate the entourage in this case,” Adams said.

NPR’s Russell Lewis contributed to this report.

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