Kamila Valieva can compete but will not receive medals

BEIJING — On Tuesday, Kamila Valieva, one of the Olympics’ youngest and biggest stars, will take to the ice and, if all goes as she planned, perform spin after spin after spin towards an expected victory in the signature of women’s figure skating. an event.

But if she succeeds, she will not receive a medal. And none of its competitors either.

Olympic officials, facing perhaps the most tense controversy of these Winter Games, said on Monday they plan to withhold medals in any event in which 15-year-old Valieva places in the top three until until his doping case is resolved, possibly within months. .

The extraordinary decision has frustrated and angered many sportspeople who say honest athletes are suffering unfairly because of Valieva’s presence in competition after failing a drug test, from Russia’s history that flouted rules and a significant failure of the system designed to eliminate drugs. cheated.

“It’s so unfair,” said Adam Rippon, a former Olympic skater who coaches American figure skater Mariah Bell at the Games. “And now it’s also so unfair to all these ladies because their whole Olympic experience is now shrouded in controversy because a country doesn’t want to play by the fucking rules.”

Valieva, whose positive test for a banned heart drug from a urine sample taken in December was revealed late last week, is heavily favored to win the women’s singles competition, which begins on Tuesday and ends ends Thursday. If she finishes in the top three, neither she nor the other medalists will receive the traditional flowers, medal or moment on the podium. The Russian team will also not receive their gold medal for winning the team event last week, in which Valieva played.

The International Olympic Committee said in a statement that it would hold “dignified medal ceremonies once Ms Valieva’s case has been resolved”. His decision to potentially withhold medals from clean athletes came hours after a panel of referees refused to reinstate a suspension that would most likely have ended Valieva’s Olympics.

The World Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee reacted angrily to the referees’ decision, expressing their disappointment and questioning both the panel’s logic and its commitment to fairness. Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the US committee, said clean Olympians were denied “the right to know they are competing on equal footing”.

“We are disappointed with the messages this sends,” she said of the decision to allow Valieva to compete, adding, “This seems to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by the Russia.”

The IOC’s decision came hours after the panel of referees, ruling on a narrow procedural point, allowed Valieva to continue skating in Beijing, saying it would cause “irreparable harm” to Valieva if she were excluded from the competition. The IOC, world anti-doping officials and the skating governing body had asked the panel to reinstate a suspension that would have barred her from competing.

In a practice session half an hour after the decision, Valieva performed her usual array of jumps and spins impeccably as more than a hundred reporters watched. She left the rink, carrying a favorite stuffed rabbit, without speaking to reporters, but Russian state broadcaster Channel One later aired his first public comments on the case.

“These days were very difficult for me and I have no emotions anymore,” Valieva said. “I’m happy, but emotionally I’m tired.”

The arbitration panel that granted him a reprieve met for nearly six hours on Sunday but effectively ruled on just one question: whether Russia acted improperly when it lifted the suspension from Valieva last week just one day after imposing it? The move effectively paved the way for Valieva to compete in the singles event, but three international organizations – the International Olympic Committee, World Anti-Doping Agency and world skating governing body – immediately challenged it.

Valieva jumped into her own defense on Sunday, appearing briefly to quickly thank the kind words that had been on the record about her athletic ability and adding, in words translated to English, that she was not a cheater. .

While the atmosphere was tense at the hearing, there were few arguments, according to those present. A person present described the exchanges in front of the panel as “aggressive but not emotional”.

In its decision, issued Monday afternoon in Beijing, the panel said it had “considered the fundamental principles of fairness, proportionality, irreparable harm and balance of interests” between Valieva and the organizations seeking the ‘exclude. Also, he noted, Valieva was underage and did not test positive at the Beijing Games, although she may face penalties when her case is reviewed after the Olympics.

The panel was not tasked with deciding whether Russia should retain the team gold medal. Nor did he consider whether Valieva was guilty of knowingly consuming a prohibited drug. But he questioned the timing of events, saying there were “serious problems with untimely reporting of results” – a nod to the unusual six-week delay between Valieva’s sample submission and the return of the positive result nearly four days into the Games, and after finishing his first test.

The World Anti-Doping Agency expressed “disappointment” with the decision and said in a statement that the panel ignored specific provisions of the anti-doping code which governs athletes and which required a suspension – even for a teenager.

Tricia Smith, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said her organization was “extremely disappointed” with the result. Canada finished fourth in the team event, behind the United States and Japan, but could be elevated to bronze if a later ruling on Valieva’s doping case results in a change in the final order.

American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who missed the Tokyo Olympics due to a positive test for marijuana at the time of the US trials, said on Twitter that she saw a racial disparity in the way she and Valieva were processed. Richardson admitted to using marijuana to cope with the stress of the trials and the death of his mother.

“The only difference I see is that I’m a young black woman,” Richardson wrote.

Final resolution of Valieva’s eligibility issues could take months to resolve.

Groups angry at the decision to allow him to compete also denounced earlier rulings that allowed Russian athletes to compete in these Games even as their country is barred after they were caught orchestrating a doping scheme. state sponsored. As part of his punishment, Russia’s name, flag and anthem are banned from the Beijing Games; Russian athletes who have been cleared by their individual sports federations compete under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee.

“Russia has never had an incentive to reform because sports leaders have chosen politics over principle and rebranding over banning,” said Rob Koehler, chief executive of Global Athlete, an advocacy group. athletes.

Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart medication that may increase endurance. His positive result comes from a urine sample taken from him during the Russian national championships on December 25 but not confirmed by the Stockholm laboratory responsible for testing him for about six weeks.

Russia’s anti-doping agency said it was only informed by the Swedish lab of Valieva’s failed drug test on February 7, the same day it led the Russians to a gold medal. gold in the team event.

“It’s a very complicated and controversial situation,” Valieva coach Eteri Tutberidze told Channel One on Saturday. “There are many questions and very few answers.” Despite these unknowns, Tutberidze said “we are absolutely confident that Kamila is innocent and clean.” Other Russian sports officials expressed similar confidence in Valieva’s innocence.

His case, however, could take months to resolve and could end up before the Court of Arbitration for Sport for further rulings by new panels.

Because she is only 15 years old and therefore recognized as a “protected person” under certain anti-doping rules, her case will be assessed according to different standards of proof, and she will face lesser penalties, if any. , than adults. It is also possible that Valieva will only receive a reprimand for using the banned drug or having it in her system.

Those most likely to be punished would be any of his coaches, coaches, and medical staff who may have known about his drug use or provided it to him. The Russian anti-doping agency and WADA said they would investigate these people. But by then, the Games will be over and more than a dozen skaters – and the world – won’t be clear who the Olympic champion is.

Juliet Macur, Andrew Keh and Daniel Victor reported from Beijing.

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