15-year-old Russian Olympic figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine on February 8, 2022, a day after she and her teammates won gold in figure skating. Trimetazidine is a banned drug, both in- and out-of-competition by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). It is typically used to treat heart conditions such as angina and is thought to increase blood flow and improve endurance.
One week after Valieva’s positive doping test, The New York Times reported that his sample also contained two other substances used to treat the heart (hypoxene and L-carnitine), neither of which are prohibited. Valieva disclosed both drugs on a doping control form, and in her testimony her mother said she took Hypoxen due to heart “variations”. Valieva claims that she accidentally ingested her grandfather’s trimetazidine. However, United States Anti-Doping chief executive Travis Tygart said the “trifecta of substances” that Valieva took “seems to be aimed at increasing endurance, reducing fatigue and promoting greater efficiency in the use of oxygen.
Valieva’s sample was taken on December 25 during the Russian national championships. It’s unclear why there was such a long delay between the sample being taken and the positive test being reported. However, The Associated Press reported that a January spike in COVID-19 in Sweden, where the WADA-accredited lab is located, may have been a factor. Meanwhile, Reuters reported a mutual accusation between WADA, the laboratory and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA). RUSADA says the lab promised to prioritize testing Valieva in time for the Olympics, while WADA says RUSADA did not ask the lab to do so.
RUSADA itself has had its fair share of scandals. In 2019, WADA deemed the agency non-compliant with international anti-doping standards. Its recommended duration of four years was reduced to two years by a decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). This came after revelations that Russia has a massive state-sponsored doping system in place during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which resulted in the banning of the Russian name, flag and anthem from several Olympics, including the Beijing Winter Games.
Under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), Valieva entered the Olympics as a favorite for the individual gold medal. During the team event, Valieva became the first woman to land a quadruple jump in the Olympics, a common element in men’s skating but almost non-existent in women. Following Valieva’s positive trimetazidine swab, she was temporarily suspended by RUSADA, then reinstated. This prompted the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Skating Union (ISU) to appeal to CAS.
Following an emergency appeal hearing by CAS, the IOC and ISU lost their appeal to have Valieva’s suspension reinstated. The case was not heard in its entirety during this time; the only question heard was whether or not Valieva should be allowed to compete in the women’s individual event, which took place on February 15. Since the suspension was not reinstated, Valieva was indeed cleared to compete and impressed in the women’s short. program. She recorded a score of 82.16 leading the field, advancing her to the free skating competition on February 17. Valieva was one of 25 skaters to advance, a group that would normally have been 24 but extended because of his doping scandal.
Since the Beijing Olympics, Valieva has spoken about the controversy and says she feels grateful for her support system. “I want to thank everyone who has been with me during this difficult time: who were by my side and did not let me lose heart, who sent me messages of support, who only thought of me, who prayed, who believed me and in me.”
American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson who was barred from running at the Tokyo Olympics after marijuana test positive also shared his thoughts on the Valieva doping controversy. “Can we get a solid answer on the difference between his situation and mine? tweeted Richardson. “My mum died and I can’t race and I was also favored to finish in the top 3. The only difference I see is that I’m a young black woman.”
Richardson isn’t the only one looking for answers on why she wasn’t cleared to race, but Valieva was still cleared to skate despite failing her doping test. Many people are upset by this controversy and believe it is a prime example of racism in sport.
“Our system is messed up and racist because Valieva deliberately broke the rules [of the Olympics] to give herself an unfair advantage as Richardson grieved and suffered a loss,” sophomore Naima Goffney said.
Sophomore Nitya Donthi agrees. “I don’t think it was fair that Sha’Carri Richardson was not allowed to compete, but Kamila Valieva was. This incident proves that there is a double standard in our society. This is not not fair that a white person was allowed to compete when a person of color was not,” she said.
Two factors that led the CAS to allow Valieva to skate, despite her positive test, were her age and limited information. CAS said Valieva’s age makes her a ‘protected person’ and that ‘very limited facts’, as well as ‘serious issues of improper notification’, prevented Valieva from mounting any type of defense. .
However, many people disagree and think it was unfair for the CAS to use age in making its decision. “Anyone who tests positive should not be allowed to compete, regardless of age. Minors can be coerced into taking drugs and it may not be their fault, so they should not be treated so harshly. However, they still should not be allowed to compete,” Donthi said.
Sophomore Advika Agarwal says the roles of adult advisers in doping incidents make it easier for minors to act out of character in order to match older competitors. “Adult counselors play a role in doping incidents, and clemency for minors only makes it easier for them to engage in dangerous and unfair behavior in order to match older athletes,” she said.
The Kamila Valieva doping controversy has taken people in two different directions. There are those who continue to give him their greatest support and there are those who think it’s just plain unfair to allow him to continue skating. The real question is what effect this controversy will have on future Olympics and how it will shape the future of the sports industry.