It wouldn’t be a real Winter Olympics without a figure skating melodrama. It has built a reputation as the closest Olympics to a soap opera. In 2002, a court fraud scandal led to a reform of the entire scoring system. Tonya Harding’s sabotage of Nancy Kerrigan before the ’92 Olympics and the Chinese judge suspended in 2018 for apparent bias towards the Chinese team are just two of many lowlights. Cheating on figure skates seems almost mandatory at this point.
Over the past year, teenage figure skater Kamila Valieva has effortlessly set world records in the months leading up to and including the Winter Olympics, culminating in her Olympic gold medal in the team program for the women’s single-speed skating short program.
On February 8, the 15-year-old was told that a sample taken on December 25, 2021, after the Russian figure skating championships, tested positive for a WADA-banned substance called trimetazidine. The drug is prescribed to people with heart problems, but improves endurance in athletes. Valieva’s defense was that she drank from the same glass as her grandfather, who would take the medication. The IOC, the International Skating Federation and WADA have all asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which has jurisdiction over the dispute, to suspend Valieva.
After an expedited hearing Monday, CAS, in a convoluted ruling, authorized Valieva to perform in the women’s skating competition, which begins Tuesday. Valieva was also not deprived of her medal in the team competition. The court claimed that as a minor, Valieva was recognized as a “protected person” and would be punished less severely than an adult. The CAS also pointed out that Valieva has tested clean in Beijing. However, the IOC said there will be no medal ceremony if Valieva participates in the women’s event.
In a fair organization, Valieva’s provisional suspension should have prevented her from competing in the rest of the Olympics. Her only penalty, however, is the lack of a medal ceremony if she wins. That ruling extended retroactively to the postponed ceremony of the team skating medal that Valieva triumphed last week. It has, effectively, been cancelled.
The official Russian response to this farce of a ruling was a statement of support with this gem of a quote from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov mocking the process:
“We support Kamila Valieva without limits and fully and call on everyone to support her. And we say to Kamila: don’t hide your face. You are a Russian – perform and beat everyone,”
The latter view illustrates how Russia continues to sanction the PED use of their athletes, just three years after their state-sponsored doping program banned the Russian Federation for four years.
The idea behind this statement is that the adults who may have known about her drug use or given her the banned substance. The whole thing stinks the deeper you investigate and, most importantly, sets a dangerous precedent.
First, figure skating is a sport dominated by teenagers. Russian skaters are usually teenagers and often ten years younger than their counterparts. It essentially sets up a risk-reward system for consuming banned substances that bad actors will take advantage of to win at all costs.
The IOC ruling doesn’t even hold up under scrutiny. Andreea Raducan was stripped of her all-around gold medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics after taking two cold pills from a team doctor. Raducan tested positive for pseudoephedrine. In 2015, Raducan tried to get her medal back. The IOC again ruled that while “it was clear she was taking the substance unknowingly on the advice of her team doctor,” their strict liability rules make athletes responsible for all banned substances in their system.
Russian figure skaters are already prone to serious injuries due to the regimes their young athletes follow to become Olympic champions. The 2002 scandal that changed the judging of figure skating also had the unintended effect of figure skaters trying harder jumps and quads to play the scoring system. The female figure skaters who can easily make these jumps tend to be younger, smaller and thinner. Suppose the IOC is not going to hold minors responsible. In that case, this ruling may be the impetus for the IOC to raise the minimum age for figure skating and protect these young women from the extreme physical toll they undergo before they reach legal adulthood.
The banned substance that Valiema ingested was widely administered to Russian athletes before the 2014 Sochi Games in Russia. This incident raises a lot of questions about the two months it took to process Valiema’s results. What took so long? This was not a state-of-the-art doping system, and it was the drug abused by Russian athletes for more than two decades.
Valieva is still scheduled to appear in the women’s individual skating competition. Given how Valieva has taken the field over the past year, it’s safe to say that this ruling sees the ROC walk away with an assortment of medals on the podiums of the women’s individual figure skating events and there will be no medal ceremony for any of them. the competitors.