Russia at center of another Olympic doping controversy

Russia ran such a widespread, sophisticated and successful performance-enhancing drug operation at the 2014 Winter Olympics that the country was technically “banned” from the past three Olympic Games, including the current one in Beijing.

Now it appears their masked “replacement” — the Russian Olympic Committee — may be trying to follow the same old script.

Tuesday's medal ceremony for the figure skating team event — won by six Russian skaters competing for the ROC — was delayed due to a legal fight over a positive drug test in the group, the International Olympic Committee said. While the controversy has stretched across three days, the IOC offered no update on Thursday morning in Beijing, citing an ongoing "legal situation" that would be handled by the World Anti-Doping Agency and other third parties.

"We have to wait with patience for this case to come to some resolution," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.

Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old Russian sensation, tested positive for trimetazidine, a banned heart medication, according to the Russian newspaper RBC. WADA prohibits the drug because it can aid in endurance and increase blood flow.

Valiera is the biggest star in skating despite not making her senior level debut until Oct. 7, 2021, just four months ago. She’s won every event she's entered and has already set nine world records, including recording the three highest scores ever tallied in the sport. Her current record of 272.71 is nearly 10 percent higher than any other woman has ever scored.

Valieva made her Olympic debut Monday by leading Russia to gold in the team event.

Kamila Valieva, of the Russian Olympic Committee, competes in the women's team free skate program during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Kamila Valieva, of the Russian Olympic Committee, competes in the women's team free skate program during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, in Beijing. (AP)

While, due to her age, she’s neither entered nor won a World or Olympic title (yet), many consider her the greatest skater of all time because of her ability to flawlessly land three or more quad jumps in a single free skate.

Only a few female skaters can hit a single quad, let alone rattle them off like Valieva. As recently as the 2018 Winter Games, no female could, and in 2010 American Evan Lysacek won the men’s individual title without attempting a quad.

Yet Valieva makes them look easy. At age 13 — despite still competing in juniors — she was just the second woman of any age to ever land a quad in competition.

Most of the other skaters who have mastered the quad are also Russians. Teammate Alexandra Trusova, 17, has landed five in a single routine and should attempt four during her free skate next week. Anna Shcherbakova, also 17, will either attempt multiple quads or a quad flip and seven triples. All of this is astounding.

Russians are favored to sweep the ladies’ competition, win gold in the pairs and potentially in the ice dance. This after taking both the gold and silver in the 2018 women's event and gold in 2014.

“[They] are doing things that I can only dream of doing,” American Karen Chen said of the Russians. Chen is a two-time Olympian who finished fourth at the 2021 World Championships but does not attempt a quad in her routines

“I am not capable of doing what they are doing,” Chen said.

All of this is why international skating has greeted Valieva with excitement over her performances but also suspicion of just how someone so young can be so good.

Here’s the issue. Due to being under the age of 16, Valieva is considered by the World Anti-Doping Agency to be a “Protected Person.”

The WADA code treats Protected Persons “differently than other Athletes in certain circumstances based on the understanding that, below a certain age or intellectual capacity [they] may not possess the mental capacity to understand and appreciate the prohibitions against conduct contained in the Code.”

In other words, the code protects young athletes who may have been too naive or unaware that they took a banned substance.

As such, the penalty could be lower than disqualification. There is much that is subjective about that decision — hence the legal battle — but it is possible that even if Valieva tested positive for a banned substance she could maintain her eligibility and just be reprimanded.

That would mean that not only would the Russians keep the gold medal won in the team event (the United States took silver) but Valieva could even remain eligible to compete next week in the individual competition.

We'll see. A ruling should come soon. However, anything that merely reprimands any Russian would be an insult to logic.

Any country throwing PED-charges around is doing it from a glass house, but Russia has taken things to entirely different levels.

An official bus passes by the anti-doping laboratory of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games on February 21, 2014 at the Olympic Park  in Sochi, as a German athlete has failed a doping test - the first such case to hit the Sochi Games. The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) said it had been informed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the
An official bus passes by the anti-doping laboratory of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games on February 21, 2014 at the Olympic Park in Sochi. (Loen Neal/AFP via Getty Images)

For the 2014 Winter Games hosted in Sochi, the Russians operated a full-scale doping regime. It went to incredible lengths, including the construction of a building next to the Olympic PED testing lab. A secret hole was cut in a shared wall so at night Russian workers would swap dirty urine samples of Russians with clean samples.

Russia would go on to win the most medals at those Games while not having a single one of its athletes test positive. It then did the same in the Paralympics, cheating the world’s sledge hockey players and visually impaired skiers. Russia won more than three times the amount of both gold and total medals of any other country at the Paralympics.

After the scheme was unearthed (including two of the men who orchestrated it coincidentally turning up dead in Russia), the IOC officially barred Russia from competing at the Olympics. It has, however, allowed Russian athletes to participate under the banner of “Olympic Athletes from Russia” and the current “Russian Olympic Committee."

So Russia isn’t in Beijing but lots of Russians are.

And now it appears like old habits are dying hard.

If the IOC and the International Skating Union don’t view this entire case through the prism of the country involved — and how fortunate it is to still be allowed to send its athletes — then the skating competition should just pack it up and go home.

It hardly matters if this is fair or not to Kamila Valieva, who very well may be an innocent, teenage pawn.

She skates for Russia, even if it's now called the Russian Olympic Committee.

A cheat by any other name would still be Vlad Putin’s favorite team.