One Year On From Beijing Russia Still Has Not Faced Consequences For Valieva Doping

By Hiro Yoshida

Exactly twelve months have passed since the conclusion of the 2022 Beijing Olympics Figure Skating Team Event and the American and Japanese athletes deprived of their moment of glory are no nearer receiving their medals.

On 7 February 2022, Kamila Valieva won the women’s free skating portion of the event with her “Bolero” programme that included the first quadruple jump, a quad Salchow, landed by a female singles skater at an Olympic Games. Not only that, she also completed a triple Axel and a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination in her routine finishing over thirty points ahead of Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto. The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) comfortably finished top of the standings with the United States of America second and Japan third.

Valieva looked set to become one of the stars of the Beijing Olympics with widespread favourable international media coverage of her achievements. Days later she would be making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The medal ceremony supposed to take place on 8 February 2022 in Beijing still has not happened. Even though it emerged Valieva failed an anti-doping test conducted at the Russian Championships in December 2021, she was allowed to compete in the individual event later on at the Games due to the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) ruling she had protected status as a minor. If Valieva had not dramatically imploded in the women’s individual free, the ceremony for that event would also be on hold. If not for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which led to Russian skaters being barred from international events, Valieva, who only turned 16 in April 2022, would likely be competing this season.

After dragging its feet for months on end, it came to light last month that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) had cleared Valieva of any wrongdoing and it found that she bore “no fault or negligence” for the anti-doping violation. This was just the latest episode in Russian sport’s ongoing refusal to engage in its responsibility to combat doping in a serious manner.

The McLaren Report, published in 2016, found credible evidence that the institutions of the Russian State and Russian sporting bodies had colluded on a grand scale to gain advantage for athletes representing Russia on the international stage through systematic doping. Among other sanctions, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) subsequently removed accreditation from RUSADA’s Moscow laboratory. Valieva’s positive sample was uncovered by a laboratory in Stockholm, Sweden.

Despite these flagrant violations, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) facilitated Russian athletes to participate in PyeongChang 2018 under the banner of Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) and at Beijing 2022 as ROC. No Russian anthem would be played for its victorious athletes. No flags would be raised for its medal winners. None of these measures were enough to shame Russia to get its house in order on doping.

Despite not contesting the result of the positive test, Russian figure skating has shown no remorse for the disruption caused by Valieva to the awarding of the Beijing 2022 team event medals. On the contrary, at the Russian test skates in September 2022 Valieva and her team unveiled a free skating programme that portrayed the skater as a victim of the media frenzy that engulfed her at the Beijing Olympics.

There is no doubt that Valieva is a victim. She is a victim of a system that thinks nothing of dosing her with trimetazidine, a heart medication that no healthy teenager should have any reason to take. She is a victim of a training environment that we know starves and breaks young athletes in the pursuit of medals. She is a victim of a sporting culture that seems to have no morals or ethics when it comes to winning. Those responsible for her emotional anguish in Beijing are the people who were supposed to protect her.

However, let us remember there are nine American and eight Japanese skaters who are also victims. Standing on an Olympic podium is a dream for most athletes and to have that moment taken away from you through no fault of your own must be incredibly frustrating. The knowledge that some of your fellow competitors are also engaging in unfair and unethical practices must also be very disheartening.

I asked 2018 Olympic Team Event Olympic gold medallist Meagan Duhamel what she thought about the fact that the athletes who participated in the Beijing Team Event, including her own students Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, have had their experience tarnished forever.

“I think for any of the athletes that have gone without their Olympic medals it’s very sad. The medal ceremony happens at the height of such an emotional moment, and it’s not so much the medal but the celebration with teammates in the team event that is so special. This moment has gone and can never come back again. Had the skaters gone home with their Olympic medals it could have given them some sponsorship opportunities as well as opportunities to share and inspire the next generation by visiting schools and skating clubs with their Olympic medals.”

Duhamel believes that the authorities in charge of regulating sport worldwide have not taken a strong enough stance on Russia when it comes to doping compared to other countries

“I don’t feel appropriate measures have been taken by WADA, the ISU and the IOC. It’s been one year and these athletes still have their empty medal boxes and there’s been no timeline on when they’ll get them. RUSADA has deemed Kamila to be cleared from doping suspensions. I wish the ISU, the IOC and WADA would treat all positive drug tests equally. We are seeing Spanish pair team Laura (Barquero) and Marco (Zandron) missing everything since a positive drug test. The same happened with Jessica Calalang as well before the Olympics. Why was Kamila not treated the same as others? It’s extremely unfair that Russia can control these circumstances and create an unfair field of play.”

While Duhamel has some compassion for Valieva, she maintains that all athletes should be held accountable for what they put into their bodies.

“I feel Kamila as well as her support team should be held responsible. I know Kamila is young and I sympathise that she’s in this position, but she has been doing doping control since the Junior Grand Prix at 13 years old. Doping control officers explain everything to you and you know not to take any substance, pill or vitamin without knowing its contents. Since I was 14 years old and in international competition, it was my job to go to the doping control website and search every single vitamin or medicine that I take to be sure it’s clean. Kamila would have been given paperwork and information from doping control officers since her very first international competition. The rules aren’t new to her.”

It is hard to argue with what Duhamel says, but many within Russian figure skating and outside of it continue to use Valieva’s age as an excuse to deflect any wrongdoing. It is clearly a strategy that appears to have worked to a certain extent given the lack of action on resolving the status of the Beijing Olympics Team event medals a year on. There has been no self-reflection or call from within Russian sport that it has a problem that needs to be fixed.

Therefore I sadly believe that there should be no place in international competition for Russian skaters until their institutions adhere to the rules of fair sport. It is the least we should demand so this situation never arises again. The only just outcome of the Beijing 2022 Figure Skating Team Event is that the ROC forfeits its gold medal.


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