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BEIJING — In a decision that sent shockwaves through the Olympic sports movement, 15-year-old figure skating phenom Kamila Valieva will be allowed to skate Tuesday in the women single skating competition in Beijing.
The ruling was handed down Monday in Beijing by a panel of three arbitrators appointed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
But the International Olympic Committee quickly responded by saying if Valieva wins, she won’t be honored until a full investigation into doping allegations is complete.
“Should Ms Valieva finish amongst the top three competitors in the Women’s Single Skating competition, no flower ceremony and no medal ceremony will take place during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022,” the IOC said in a statement.
The ruling that Valieva can continue to skate in Beijing came after international uproar over doping by Russia’s most high-profile athlete embroiled the first week of the Winter Olympics.
The panel met for nearly six hours on Sunday, 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 a banned heart medication at some point in the months ahead of the Games.
Many questions still unanswered
In its ruling, the CAS panel focused narrowly on the question of whether Valieva would be allowed to continue skating in the Beijing Olympics.
“Preventing the athlete to compete at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm in these circumstances,” said CAS director general Matthieu Reeb at a press conference on Monday, noting that her young age made the case particularly sensitive.
“There were serious issues of untimely notification of the results of the athlete’s anti-doping test performed in December 2021,” Reeb added. “Such late notification was not her fault.”
Reeb finished speaking in Beijing without taking questions from journalists.
The arbitrators didn’t explore why Valieva’s sample went unreported for more than 40 days – a massive breakdown in the anti-doping regimen — until after she competed and helped Russia win the Olympic team figure skating competition in Beijing on Feb. 7.
In that event, Valieva emerged as one of the breakout stars of the Winter Games, with a sport-changing performance that included two quadruple jumps.
The 15-year-old was the first female ever to land a quadruple jump in Olympic competition.
In that team event, the U.S. won silver. The U.S. stands to claim the gold if a decision is made that the ROC squad can’t keep its medal.
Almost immediately after Valieva’s performance, it was revealed by two drug testing agencies — the International Testing Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency — that one of her pre-Olympic doping samples showed use of trimetazidine, a banned cardiac drug.
That revelation triggered an international clash between sports officials.
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.
“It is the collective responsibility of the entire Olympic community to protect the integrity of sport and to hold our athletes, coaches and all involved, to the highest of standards. Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field. Unfortunately, today that right is being denied.”
The USOPC also 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.
Officials with the Russian Olympic Committee, meanwhile, 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 ROC office in Beijing was shuttered after today’s announcement that Valieva will continue competing.
International Olympic Committee officials say they haven’t yet established a process for determining who will receive the gold medal in the team skating event, saying only that a decision on that question will come “later.”
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Suspended then unsuspended
The Russian Anti-Doping Agency — known as RUSADA — initially suspended Valieva but quickly reinstated her after a meeting on Feb. 9 in Moscow. Russian officials insisted Valieva should be allowed to continue skating.
Meanwhile, a constellation of powerful sports organizations, including the IOC, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Skating Union, argued she should be disqualified from further Olympic competition.
On one hand the Valieva scandal unfolding on the world stage involves the fate of a 15-year-old girl of incredible talent, whose fate was decided most likely by powerful coaches, sports bureaucrats and politicians.
Questions have been raised repeatedly about her well-being and the pressures she faced as Tuesday’s individual women’s competition approached — an event she’s heavily favored to win.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said mental health support had been offered to Valieva during the crisis.
“The support is there. But the first and primary obligation is for the team to look after its athlete,” he said.
At the same time, this controversy has drawn renewed attention to the pervasive and systemic doping of athletes undertaken by Russian sports teams for years.
Russian doping program uncovered after Sochi Olympics
Russian athletes, including Valieva, are competing in Beijing under a dubious punishment regime that includes a ban on the flying of the Russian flag and the playing of the country’s national anthem.
Those restrictions were put in place after investigations found Russia created a state-sponsored system of doping ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.
According to a report released by the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2016, Russian officials in Sochi would exchange tainted urine from their athletes who had been using banned substances with clean samples by passing them through a “mouse hole” drilled into the wall of the anti-doping lab.
When the urine was tested the next day, there were no signs of doping, according to the report.
Russians won 33 medals at the Sochi games – more than doubling their success from four years earlier in Vancouver.
The behavior was so egregious, WADA recommended all Russian athletes be banned from the 2016 Summer Olympics as a punishment, but the International Olympic Committee refused to take that step.
Instead the IOC has allowed Russians to continue competing at the Olympic Games, with Russian Olympic Committee athletes winning 17 medals in Beijing as of Monday.
While the question of Valieva’s eligibility is now settled, it’s unclear whether this incident — and the black eye it brought to these latest Games — will force the IOC to rethink and toughen its approach to Russia in future competitions.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams has refused to comment on any policy changes that might follow. But he said repeatedly this week he hopes WADA investigators will step up their probe into the behavior of the “entourage” around Valieva, including her coaches and doctors.
“We’ve asked in this case for WADA, we want WADA to investigate the entourage in this case,” Adams said.
NPR’s Russell Lewis contributed to this report.
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