February 25, 2022 | SPORTS | By Tia Vierling
Figure skaters explode off the ice into jumps that seem to defy gravity, twist into spins that leave audiences dizzy, and maintain poise and style through their entire routines. But what happens when a skater, like Russia’s 15-year-old Kamila Valieva, ends up in the spotlight for a different kind of fame?
Russian skaters like Valieva and her teammates have dominated on the world stage over the past few years. The skaters, with a reputation for being young and skilled, are known for their ability to complete quadruple jumps (“quads”), one of the most difficult moves in figure skating competition. Valieva and others have landed the quad before in other competitions, but no female skater had ever done so in the Olympics.
Valieva, a favorite for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, led the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) to gold in the team figure skating event on Feb. 7 and became the first woman to ever land a quad in Olympic competition. However, she was caught up in a scandal soon after, as the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) revealed that a drug test the skater took in December was positive for the heart drug trimetazidine.
Trimetazidine is on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of banned drugs, as it can improve blood flow and athletic performance. NBC News reported that the drug in question is an odd choice as a performance-enhancing drug (PED), as it is easy to test for and offers less obvious advantages than stimulants or strength enhancing PEDs like steroids.
Although Valieva’s identity is somewhat protected as a minor, she was quickly revealed to the press. In response to these findings, she claimed to have accidentally taken her grandfather’s heart medication.
According to a CBS report, Valieva faced a temporary suspension over the allegations of doping, but the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) overturned the RUSADA’s provisional suspension to allow Valieva to compete.
The International Olympics Committee (IOC) chose to delay the awarding of medals in Valieva’s competitions for the time being. Valieva may decide whether or not to test her second urine sample, according to USA Today.
The decision to withhold medals impacts the team event but not the women’s individual figure skating competition, which occurred after the reveal of the positive result. Valieva placed fourth in the event and was visibly distressed after falling multiple times during her free skating routine. Anna Shcherbakova (ROC) took gold, Alexandra Trusova (ROC) took silver, and Kaori Sakamoto (Japan) took bronze.
International pressure has targeted Valieva and Russia on and off the ice. Russian athletes have to compete under the ROC banner because of the country’s four-year suspension from The Olympics after it was found to have a state-sponsored doping program. According to MSN, the suspension has been halved since it was imposed in 2019 but was still applicable for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Adam Rippon, an American figure skater quoted by The Guardian, called the decision to allow Valieva to compete “a complete slap in the face to every single athlete who comes here to compete clean.” He directed fault at her coaches and the ROC, noting “the people around her completely failed her.”
Veteran Olympian skater Tara Lipinski, quoted in The Cut, added to the “heartbreaking” situation, saying “[Valieva is] just 15. Please keep that in mind.” Lipinski, similar to Rippon, placed responsibility on “whichever adults faulted her.”
Still, others have pointed to the lack of suspension as a potential miscarriage of justice, comparing Valieva’s treatment with that of Sha’Carri Richardson, a team USA sprinter and favorite to win the 100-meter dash in the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Richardson was suspended for a positive THC test and was unable to compete in the Games. Marijuana, unlike trimetazidine, is less clearly associated with athletic performance enhancement. Richardson tweeted on Feb. 14 asking for a “solid answer” in the comparison of the cases, writing, “the only difference I see is I’m a black young lady.”
In the team skating event, the ROC placed first, the United States second, and Japan third; Canada, who may find themselves on the podium pending the result of the Valieva scandal, placed fourth.