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Russian doping controversy leaves credibility of Olympics 'teetering on the edge'

·Columnist
·4 min read
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Susanne Lyons, chair of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, made it clear Thursday in Beijing that the pending “legal matter” surrounding Russian skating sensation Kamila Valieva and a failed drug test is more than just who winds up winning gold in the figure skating team event.

“Really the whole credibility of the Olympic Movement and the Paralympic Movement stands teetering on the edge of us saying that we really believe and live the values that we say we stand for,” Lyons told Around the Rings.

“It is so important to the athletes of the world that the values of this [Olympic] Movement be upheld, and one of the most important values is integrity of sport,” Lyons said. “And it’s just terribly upsetting to the athletes today to have that wound potentially reopened again.”

The 15-year-old Valieva reportedly tested positive for trimetazidine, a banned heart medication, according to the Russian newspaper RBC. The World Anti-Doping Agency prohibits the drug because it can aid in endurance and increase blood flow.

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva competes during the single free skate portion of the team event at the Winter Olympic Games at Capital Indoor Stadium on February 07, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva competes during the single free skate portion of the team event at the Winter Olympic Games at Capital Indoor Stadium on Monday in Beijing. (Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

The details of the legal matter are unknown, but clearly, as the scandal bled into its third day, the Russian Olympic Committee is waging a heated battle to either clear its star or mitigate any punishment. Because Valieva is under the age of 16, she is considered a “Protected Person” by WADA, who considers whether children of that age are aware or sophisticated enough to know what they are taking.

It’s possible Valieva could receive just a reprimand, allowing Russia to maintain its gold medal in the team event while clearing her for next week’s individual competition, where she is the gold medal favorite. She could also be disqualified from the Olympics.

As Lyons notes, this is beyond the podium.

In an Olympics that were already overrun with headlines about genocide and slavery, politics and propaganda, isolation centers and draconian COVID-19 protocols, it would be par for the course for Russia to drug a child athlete only to have her stay eligible because, as a child athlete, she is too young and naive to know she was drugged.

Is that the Olympics that the Olympics want? Because that’s the one it currently is getting, a Winter Games of IOC president Thomas Bach serving as a pawn from the Chinese Communist Party while everything around him rots.

The IOC officially banned Russia from competing in the Games due to a massive, sophisticated state-run doping regime that cheated dozens of athletes at the 2014 Olympics and Paralympic Games. Russia won the most medals at both events.

Yet the IOC made a mockery of the ban by allowing Russian athletes to compete under the banner of “Russian Olympic Committee.” It’s the same people, the same colors and, perhaps, the same attitude of winning at all costs.

Did someone feed a 15-year-old girl heart medication so it could improve her endurance? We’ll find out. And even if Valieva is disqualified, how can anyone take the ice against her teammates without massive amounts of suspicion.

Only three women skaters in Beijing are expected to attempt a quad in the competition. Valieva did it during the team event. Fellow Russians Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova, both 17, are the others. That's it. Just the Russians.

“[They] are doing things that I can only dream of doing,” American Karen Chen, who finished fourth at the 2021 World Championships, said of the Russians' ability to attempt multiple quads in a routine. “I am not capable of doing what they are doing.”

Can anyone trust the figure skating competition, of which the women’s individual is the crown jewel and one of the most watched events of the Winter Games?

No one knows when a ruling will come down on Valieva, who was still hitting the practice rink on Thursday. No one knows the details or legalities of the arguments. It’s an ugly, tense situation that has overwhelmed figure skating in particular and threatens the Olympics as a whole.

“We don’t want to hear about the other stuff but it arises,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “It’s life. And so it has to be dealt with. … It doesn’t and shouldn't take away from the magic of the Games.”

But it is. It’s actually dominating the Games. Add a cheating scandal to all the other scandals. At least Susanne Lyons spoke up not just for her athletes, but the Olympics itself.

Someone had to do it. Whether anyone is listening is another story.