15-Year Old Olympian Kamila Valieva’s Doping Scandal

  • April 14, 2022

Kamila Valieva returned to the ice on March 26 for her first competition since the last Winter Olympic games. Russia’s 2021 world champion Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova took home gold and silver respectively, and Kaori Sakamoto of Japan won bronze. The Russian competition, a two-day team event, begins in Saransk. It will feature two teams of skaters from the country competing in men’s and women’s singles, pairs, and ice dancing.

Valieva had finished in fourth in the free skate on February 17. Because Valieva finished off the podium, a medal ceremony was allowed to happen. Valieva’s full doping case was heard by the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) at a later date, who ruled that the ban should remain lifted and allowed Valieva to compete in the individual figure skating event, which she ultimately came in fourth.

RUSADA is still deciding whether Valieva will face any type of sanctions for testing positive. The agency has six months to make the final call. In the meantime, the World Anti-Doping Agency is investigating the teenage skater’s trainer and the entourage surrounding her leading up to the Olympics.

The sports world was shaken with the news of another Olympics doping scandal—but what was nearly more shocking this time around than the doping itself was the athlete who was accused. 15-year-old Kamila Valieva of ROC, or Russian Olympic Committee, a breakout star and the first ever to land quadruple jump(s) in the Olympics, tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart drug that can boost athletes’ endurance and blood efficiency. Trimetazidine has previously been linked to athletes from Russia, which remains under sanctions that were placed after its state-sanctioned program of using drugs to cheat in sports. For example, at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, trimetazidine was detected in Russian bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva. Sergeeva was disqualified and her two-person team’s results were thrown out as a result.

There is no reason a healthy teenager would be given a legitimate prescription for TMZ, according to Aaron Baggish, director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, in an interview with The Washington Post. In situations in which an athlete may need to take a drug on the banned substance list, he or she would need to receive a therapeutic use exemption for the drug and a physician would have to make the case there are no suitable alternatives, he added, noting that in the case of TMZ, there are many superior drugs that treat the same condition (The Washington Post). The drug could, in theory, give an athlete an edge by allowing the athlete to train for longer periods of time in a sport in which medals are won by razor-thin margins, according to Robby Sikka, a sports medicine physician and anesthesiologist who works with NFL and NBA teams (The Washington Post). It also could have a psychological benefit if someone in Valieva’s orbit told her it could help her performance and help athletes recover faster. “If it made her more confident to do a jump that she did, the drug’s effect is not inconsequential to her performance,” Sikka stated.

Valieva’s coach, Eteri Tutberidze, and other Russian sports officials have expressed confidence in Valieva’s innocence. ROC officials in particular have sounded a defiant tone, saying they intend to claim the medal won by Valieva and other Russian athletes in the team skating competition.

The ICC panel met for nearly six hours, hearing testimony from Valieva herself and gathering evidence from other witnesses about a doping sample collected from her in Russia on Dec. 25, 2021. The sample, tested at a lab in Sweden, showed Valieva used TMZ months ahead of the Games. The revelation triggered an international clash between sports officials.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) finally ruled that Valieva can compete for the remainder of this year’s Winter Games, despite testing positive for a prohibited substance ahead of Beijing 2022. The controversy cast doubt upon the Olympic movement’s handling of Russian athletes competing at successive Games and the oversight of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and its working relationship with the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA). The International Olympic Committee (IOC), International Skating Union (ISU) and WADA had all called on CAS to reinstate a suspension Valieva was given by RUSADA over the doping violation. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee reacted sharply to the CAS ruling, saying it was “disappointed by the message this decision sends.”

“This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia,” said Sarah Hirshland, the head of USOPC, in a statement.

In a statement, CAS said it made its decision due to “exceptional circumstances,” including specific provisions linked to her status as a “protected person” under the WADA code because she is a minor. The code would lower punishments for minor athletes who are confirmed to be doping to a minimum of a reprimand and a maximum of a two-year ban.

The arbitrators didn’t explore why Valieva’s sample went unreported for more than 40 days until after she competed, helping Russia to win the Olympic team figure skating competition in Beijing on Feb. 7. 

The World Anti-Doping Agency, who expressed “disappointment” in the decision, sent out a statement that the panel had ignored specific provisions of the antidoping code that governs athletes, and which required a suspension — even for a teenager.

The American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who was disqualified during the U.S. trials after testing positive for marijuana, said on Twitter that she saw a racial disparity in how she and Valieva were treated. Richardson has admitted using marijuana to cope with the stress of the trials and the death of her mother.

“The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady,” Richardson wrote.

The teams’ medal ceremony for the ROC (which won gold), the U.S. (silver), and Japan (bronze), was called off due to what officials describe as a “legal issue.” If Russia’s win is disqualified, not only would Canada (fourth place) gain a spot on the podium and the U.S. take the gold if Russia’s win, but the athletes would be able to have the honor of the award ceremony. The USOPC voiced dismay over the delay in awarding the team figure skating medal because of the Valieva controversy. “We are devastated [U.S. skaters] will leave Beijing without their medals in hand, but we appreciate the intention of the IOC to ensure that the right medals are awarded to the right individuals,” the statement read.

Information taken from NPR, NBC News, CNN, NY Times, Washington Post, and ESPN

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