Russian teenager Kamila Valieva has been cleared to compete in the women’s figure skating competition at the Winter Olympics despite failing a pre-Games drug test, setting her up for an attempt at a second gold medal.
Whatever happens on the ice, Valieva will not get a medal ceremony moment in Beijing. Nor will any skater who finishes in the top three with her.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared Valieva to skate less than 12 hours after a hastily arranged hearing that lasted into early Monday morning. A panel of judges ruled that the 15-year-old Valieva, the favorite for the women’s individual gold, does not need to be provisionally suspended ahead of a full investigation.
The court gave her a favorable decision in part because she is a minor, known in Olympic jargon as a “protected person,” and is subject to different rules from an adult athlete.
“The panel considered that preventing the athlete to compete at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm in the circumstances,” CAS Director General Matthieu Reeb said.
Now, Valieva and her fellow Russian skaters can aim for the first podium sweep of women’s figure skating in Olympic history. The event starts with the short program Tuesday and concludes Thursday with the free skate.
The International Olympic Committee said Monday afternoon that if Valieva finishes in the top three, there will be no medal ceremony during the Games. There will also be no ceremony for the team event won by Valieva and the Russian team a week ago.
“It would not be appropriate to hold the medal ceremony,” the IOC said.
Valieva landed the first quadruple jumps by a woman at the Olympics as the Russian team won gold in a dominant performance.
The decision not to award medals also affects Nathan Chen and the rest of the second-place American team, who will leave Beijing unsure if they won silver or gold. It would be Chen’s second gold of the Games. If Valieva and Russia are disqualified, Japan moves up to silver and Canada wins bronze.
“We are devastated that they will leave Beijing without their medals in hand, but we appreciate the intention of the IOC to ensure the right medals are awarded to the right individuals,” the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said in a statement.
The IOC decision also means the fourth-place finisher in the women’s event will have a good chance to move into the bronze position.
Shortly after the CAS ruling, Valieva skated at practice, watched by her coach, Eteri Tutberidze. She completed her program without a fall, drawing a smattering of applause from the Russian media watching.
Reaction around the world ranged from support of the young skater to complaints that Russian doping had once again damaged a sporting event.
In addition to her status as a minor, the CAS ruling cited fundamental issues of fairness, the fact she tested clean in Beijing and that there were “serious issues of untimely notification” of her positive test.
Valieva tested positive for the heart drug trimetazidine on Dec. 25 at the Russian nationals, but the result from a Swedish lab didn’t come to light until a week ago, after she helped the Russian Olympic Committee win the team gold.
Reasons for the six-week wait for a result from Sweden are unclear. In a statement, WADA suggested RUSADA slipped up by not signaling to the Stockholm lab that Valieva’s sample was a priority to be analyzed so close to the Olympics.
Her case has caused havoc at the Olympics since last Tuesday when the team event medal ceremony was pulled from the schedule because of the positive test.
The Russian anti-doping agency (RUSADA) immediately suspended her, then lifted the ban a day later. The IOC and others appealed, and an expedited hearing was held Sunday night. Valieva testified via video.
Athletes under 16 like Valieva have more rights under anti-doping rules and typically aren’t held responsible for taking banned substances. The focus of any future investigation will be on her coaches, doctors, nutritionists, etc.
This ruling only addresses whether Valieva can keep skating before her case is resolved. It doesn’t decide the fate of the one gold medal she has already won.
Those issues will be dealt with in a separate, longer-term investigation led by RUSADA, which took the sample in St. Petersburg.
The World Anti-Doping Agency will have the right to appeal any ruling by RUSADA, and also said it wants to independently investigate Valieva’s entourage.
The Valieva case means Russian doping has been a major theme for a six straight Olympic Games.
“This appears to be another chapter in the systematic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia,” US Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said in a statement.
Hirshland said the USOPC was “disappointed by the message this decision sends” and suggested athletes were denied the confidence of knowing they competed on a level playing field.
At the rink Tuesday, the ice dance competition was decided as the CAS prepared its verdict.
Gold medalists Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and American bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue offered, “No comment.”
Nikita Katsalapov, who along with Victoria Sinitsina won the silver medal for the Russians, said simply: “Go Kamila!”
Hubbell and Donohue could have their silver medals upgraded to gold in the team competition.
“There’s no done deal yet, but I know all the people in the team want to receive the medals here as a team’” Hubbell said. “If we miss that opportunity, it’s huge disappointment.”
The IOC now says it will “organize dignified medal ceremonies once the case of Ms Valieva has been concluded,” whenever that may be.