At the Beijing Winter Olympics of 2022, fifteen-year-old Kamila Valieva was the star who helped her team, the Russian Olympic Committee, win gold. In her performance, she became the first woman in the world to complete a quadruple jump. Unexpectedly, a doping controversy erupted less than 24 hours later when she was told by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) that a sample she provided on December 25th had come back positive and she was being provisionally suspended.
The following day, she appealed the suspension. RUSADA upheld her appeal, clearing the way for her to remain at the games and contest the women’s singles, where she was favored to win gold. Since then, the sport has been under intense scrutiny as the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) allowed Valieva to compete despite failing a drug test before the Games, with her youth cited as a factor in the decision.
Regardless, following an incredibly difficult ten days, subject to public glare and controversy, Valieva finished fourth after an error-strewn performance in the subsequent free skate event. Because of the saga, the medal ceremony for the earlier team gold did not take place in Beijing.
Games testing authorities confirmed that the teenager tested positive for trimetazidine, a drug used to treat angina, a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. The use of this substance is banned for athletes by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) because it can boost endurance and concentration. Furthermore, according to the New York Times, it was reported that her sample also contained the substances hypoxen and L-carnitine, though they are not on WADA’s prohibited list.
Unquestionably, the case of Valieva has overshadowed the Olympics.
This can be seen through the ruling of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), where she was allowed to compete and evade suspension despite failing the practiced drug test this past December. According to Denis Oswald, Senior International Olympic Committee, Valieva informed the CAS panel that she tested positive because of “contamination” from her grandfather’s medicine. The Olympic player claimed that it could have come from using the same dishes or glass as her grandfather.
In addition, evidence from a New York Times report indicated that the grandfather provided a pre-recorded video message to a hearing with Russian anti-doping officials on February 9 in which he expressed that he utilizes trimetazidine. At the same hearing, the mother told the public her daughter took Hypoxen for heart “variations,” the Times said.
This entire issue raises two fundamental points:
- There are widespread calls for the coaches, medics, authorities, and countries to be held accountable for putting drugs in the bodies of the participants.
This is not the first time a Russian athlete has been in the spotlight for a doping controversy, as it happened in 2007, 2010, 2014, and most famously in 2017 causing the country’s suspension from competing in international sporting events for anti-doping violations and the country being barred from competing in both the Summer or Winter Olympic
Nevertheless, Russian athletes have been allowed to compete under the flag of a neutral team called the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). It is worth noting that ROC competitors who win medals can not hear the national anthem on the podium, see their flag raised, or wear any Russian flags or items on their clothing.
As of now, the entourage around Valieva—her coaches and advisers—is being investigated. WADA said it will be launching an investigation into the coaches, doctors, and any other adults surrounding her.
- Is it time to raise the minimum age to compete?
This controversy also highlights the phenomenon of early success and early retirement. As a result of the Valieva case, many people wonder if it is time to raise the minimum age for seniors in sports from 15 to 18. Both in terms of child safety and creating a level playing field, as all skaters pour years of blood, sweat, and tears into competing in the Olympics.
On that same note, this has enabled the analysis of the role of Kamila Valieva’s coach and the kind of training methods that coaches utilize. For example, when a coach confronts rather than comforts a sobbing 15-year-old at the Olympic Games who has just missed out on her lifelong dream.
Nevertheless, Eteri Tutberidze, Valieva’s coach, believes that through her coaching strategies she has revolutionized the sport. As she has expressed confidence amidst the current scandal, her strict training methods have only positively impacted her athletes and coaching staff by “keeping them on their toes”.
To many, the Olympics is a crucial contributor to the continuous building of a peaceful and better world filled with mutual understanding and no discrimination between athletes. Hence, the games should not favor those who abuse their power to bring glory to their country by all means necessary. Thus, it is of utmost importance for the Valieva case to be thoroughly investigated to hold all guilty parties accountable and make the Olympics doping scandal-free.