This has been a tough two weeks for the Russian Olympic Committee. Kamila Valieva, the Russian figure skating prodigy, once labeled as one of the best skaters in history, started the 2022 Olympics strong but ended in a way that was tough to watch.
Valieva failed a drug test before the Olympics, but the test results were made public last week. She tested positive for trimetazidine, a banned substance usually used as heart medication, along with two other legal drugs that, when combined with trimetazidine, are thought to increase endurance and lower fatigue in athletes.
In a video, her family argued that she must have taken her grandfather’s medicine by mistake, a weak excuse for a world-class athlete.
After her skating in her short performance helped the ROC secure gold in the team event, Valieva’s next performances at the Olympics were put on hold while a committee of arbitrators decided whether she should be disqualified and stripped of her medals due to her positive test. Because Valieva is 15 years old, and therefore a minor, she is not technically responsible for a positive test. Minors cannot be held liable for any substances they take, but their coaches and other team officials can.
Her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, is known for being especially cutthroat with her skaters, so forcing them to take performance-enhancing drugs is not completely out of the question.
Eventually, the panel decided to allow Valieva to continue at the Olympics because, as they stated in their 41-page judgment, the positive test “has put her in a remarkably difficult position where she faces a lifetime of work being taken from her within days of the biggest event in her short career.”
Because her coaches are still under investigation, they decided that any event Valieva competes in will not have medal ceremonies.
On Thursday night, Valieva competed and faltered in the short program, an event she was favored to win in. She fell or slipped at least four times during her routine, and finished fourth.
Crying as she left the ice, Tutberidze offered no comfort, asking her why sternly she gave up. Two other Russians took gold and silver, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, and Kaori Sakamoto of Japan took bronze. Without medals to receive, they were given stuffed pandas as a reminder of their win.
Even though she didn’t win gold as expected, Valieva’s ability to compete after testing positive for a banned substance has stirred up emotions all over the world.
Many are outraged at the fact that she was allowed to compete, given the fact that the ROC was made because Russia was banned from the Olympics in 2019 following a state-sponsored doping scheme at the 2014 winter Olympics.
Many argue that being a minor should only come into consideration when deciding the consequences of the positive test; Valieva should have been disqualified but her coaching staff should have faced the consequences from the International Olympics Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Allowing Valieva to compete put clean athletes at a disadvantage, and even after beating her in the short program, they were not awarded their medals.
Among those speaking out is Sha’Carri Richardson, the American track and field star who was forced to miss the 2020 Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for marijuana.
On Twitter, she wrote, “Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mine? My mother died and I can’t run and was also favored to place top 3. The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady.”
She makes a good point. Marijuana is not performance enhancing like trimetazidine is. The biggest difference between Richardson’s case and Valieva’s was that the United States Anti-Doping Committee disqualified her, not an international committee.
These two cases illuminate just how corrupt the International and Russian agencies are when it comes to banned drug use in sports. Athletes who want to compete cleanly are constantly at a disadvantage, while athletes who dope often go without consequences. The fact that just two years after it was decided to ban Russia from the Olympics there is another doping scandal with Russian athletes shows that Russia will continue to use corruption to try to be the best, even if it means putting an unhealthy amount of stress on their athletes and causing controversy to achieve it.