It wouldn’t be a proper Winter Olympics without a figure skating melodrama. It’s earned a reputation as the Olympics’ closest equivalent to soap opera. In 2002, a judge cheating 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 for obvious bias towards the Chinese team in 2018 are just two more of the many lowlights. A figure skating cheating drama almost seems obligatory at this point.
For the last year, teenage figure skater Kamila Valieva has effortlessly set world records in the months leading up to and including the Winter Olympics, culminating with her Olympic gold medal in the women’s single skating short program team program.
On February 8, the 15-year-old was informed that a sample taken Dec. 25, 2021, after the Russian Figure Skating Championships, returned a positive test for a WADA-banned substance called trimetazidine. The drug is prescribed for individuals with heart problems, but improves endurance in athletes. Valieva’s defense was that she drank from the same glass as her grandfather, who allegedly takes the medication. The IOC, the International Skating Federation, and WADA all asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who has jurisdiction over the dispute, to suspend Valieva.
After an expedited hearing Monday, CAS, in a convoluted ruling, cleared Valieva to perform in the women’s skating competition, which begins on Tuesday. Valieva was also not stripped of her medal in the team competition. The court claimed that as a minor, Valieva was recognized as a “protected person” and would face less severe punishment than an adult. The CAS also pointed out that Valieva has tested clean while in Beijing. However, the IOC said there will be no medal ceremony if Valieva places in the women’s event.
In a righteous organization, Valieva’s provisional suspension should have prevented her from competing for the remainder of the Olympics. However, her only punishment will be the absence of a medal ceremony if she wins. That ruling extended retroactively to the postponed team skating medal ceremony that Valieva triumphed in last week. It has been, effectively, canceled.
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The official Russian response to this farce of a ruling was a statement of support that includes this gem of a quote from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov that mocks the process:
“We boundlessly and fully support Kamila Valieva and call on everyone to support her. And we say to Kamila: don’t hide your face. You are a Russian — perform and defeat everybody,”
The latter position illustrates how Russia continues endorsing their athletes’ PED use just three years after their state-sponsored doping scheme got the Russian Federation banned for four years.
The idea behind this ruling is that the adults who may have known about her drug use or provided her with the banned substance The whole thing stinks the deeper you examine and, most importantly, sets up a dangerous precedent.
For one, figure skating is a sport dominated by teens. Russian skaters tend to be teenagers and often a decade younger than their counterparts. It essentially sets a risk-reward system towards consuming banned substances that bad actors will take advantage of to win at all costs.
The IOC’s ruling doesn’t even stand up under scrutiny. Andreea Raducan was stripped of her all-around gold medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics after taking two pills for a cold from a team doctor. Raducan tested positive for pseudoephedrine. In 2015, Raducan attempted to recover her medal. The IOC again ruled that while “it was apparent that she unknowingly took the substance on the advice of her team doctor,” their rules of strict liability make athletes responsible for any banned substances in their system.
Russian figure skaters are already susceptible to suffering severe injuries because of the regimens their young athletes undertake to become Olympic champions. The 2002 scandal that altered the judging in figure skating also had the unintended effect of figure skaters attempting more difficult jumps and quads to game the scoring system. The female figure skaters who can easily make these jumps tend to be younger, smaller, and thinner. Suppose the IOC isn’t going to hold minors responsible. In that case, this ruling may perhaps be the impetus towards the IOC raising the minimum age for figure skating and protecting these young women from the extreme physical toll they’re subjected to before they’re legally adults.
The banned substance that Valiema took was administered widely to Russian athletes before the 2014 Sochi Games in Russia. This incident raises a whole host of questions about the two months it took to process Valiema’s results. What took so long? This wasn’t some advanced, cutting-edge doping system, and it was the drug abused by Russian athletes for over two decades.
Valieva is still scheduled to appear in the women’s individual skating competition. Given how Valieva has lapped the field for the last year, it’s safe to say that this ruling assures the ROC running away with an assortment of medals in the women’s figure skating individual event podiums and that there won’t be a medal ceremony for any of the competitors.