Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva has never lost during her four-month-plus career on the international senior level, a record that now includes a victory over the International Olympic Committee.
The 15-year-old will remain eligible to compete in the Winter Olympics women’s individual competition slated to begin Tuesday in Beijing after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Monday upheld a reversal of a previous provisional suspension.
A three-person panel for CAS cited that Valieva, due to being under the age of 16, was considered a "Protected Person" and said there was a lack of clarity on whether a provisional suspension could be given. It also noted that a delay in lab testing meant that Valieva had little time to defend herself.
"The Panel considered fundamental principles of fairness, proportionality, irreparable harm and the relative balance of interests," the ruling stated. "... in particular, the Panel considered that preventing the Athlete from competing at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm."
Valieva is a significant favorite to win gold in what promises to be a chaotic event.
Likewise, Russia will almost assuredly keep the gold medal it won in the team competition earlier in the Olympics. Valieva skated both the women’s short and free portions of the six-rotation event. The United States won silver, Japan bronze.
Had Valieva been suspended, the Russians could have been stripped of their medal by the International Skating Union. The US would have then elevated to gold.
Attributable to USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland: pic.twitter.com/wbGUIR67eS
— USOPC News (@USOPC_News) February 14, 2022
A sample Valieva provided on Dec. 25, 2021, to the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) had an “adverse analytical finding for the non-specified prohibited substance trimetazidine.” That drug is generally used with heart patients. However, it can aid athletic performance by improving blood flow and increasing stamina.
The sample was sent to a World Anti-Doping Agency approved lab in Stockholm, Sweden, but the result wasn’t returned to RUSADA until Feb. 8, one day after Valieva led Russia to a team gold. There has been no explanation as to why it took some 6 1/2 weeks for the sample to be processed.
RUSADA provisionally suspended her immediately. Valieva appealed on Feb. 9 and was granted a reversal by RUSADA that would have allowed her to continue to compete. The International Testing Service then immediately appealed on behalf of the International Olympic Committee.
“It was a signal we wanted this solved as quickly as possible,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said Saturday morning in Beijing.
Just hours before the start of Tuesday’s individual competition, CAS ruled against the IOC.
Valieva is figure skating’s biggest star, a breathtaking combination of power, precision and grace. Many consider her the greatest skater ever, even though, due to her age, she hasn’t yet won an Olympic or world championship.
In just over four months on the international senior level, however, she won every meet she entered, set nine world records and recorded the three highest scores in the history of the sport.
Much of that was based on her ability to rack up high scores by performing multiple quad jumps. In the free skate portion of the team competition, Valieva won by over 30 points despite falling. She was almost unbeatable.
Her positive drug test caused outcries that overwhelmed not just the skating competition but nearly the entire Olympics. Winning her appeals and continuing to compete will do little to lower the outcry.
First, she competes for Russia, which was technically banned from participating in the past three Olympics after operating a widespread and sophisticated doping operation during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
The IOC, however, still allows athletes from Russia to continue to compete under the “Russian Olympic Committee.” It is a distinction that perhaps only the IOC thinks is notable. Valieva’s positive test suggested that nothing had changed with the Russians.
Second, due to Valieva’s age, she is deemed a “Protected Person” by WADA, which has the freedom to conclude that due to age and naiveté a young athlete can be unaware or at least not responsible to what goes in their body. Numerous former Olympians, coaches and doctors expressed outrage at the idea that Russian officials were doping a child.
“The responsible adults should be banned from the sport forever,” said Katarina Witt, the Olympic champion in women’s figure skating in 1984 and 1988. “What they knowingly did to her, if true, cannot be surpassed in inhumanity.”
The IOC has, in recent years, created an “entourage commission” in an effort to place responsibility on the coaches, trainers, doctors and administrators around young athletes. It seemingly had no impact here.
Russia is expected to dominate the women’s competition and sweep the podium in an event that promises to be overrun with politics and suspicion.
The only other skaters at the Olympics expected to attempt a quad jump are also Russian: Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. They are ranked 1-2 in the world. Valieva is ranked fifth, but only because of her brief career.
America’s top skater, Karen Chen, is ranked eighth in the world.