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Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva will be allowed to compete, court rules

ROC figure skater Kamila Valieva was cleared to compete in the women’s figure skating competition in Beijing, despite failing a drug test in December 2021. (Video: Hadley Green, Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

BEIJING — Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old Russian figure skating star, is eligible to compete Tuesday in the Olympic women’s individual event after a Monday court ruling, which prompted the International Olympic Committee to cancel any medal ceremonies involving Valieva and drew a strong rebuke from the United States’ Olympic governing body.

Valieva skated in last week’s team event despite testing positive for a banned substance in late December. The result of that drug test was not reported until last week, after the Games had begun, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that Valieva’s suspension should be lifted, siding with Russia’s anti-doping agency over the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee.

According to its decision, the court ruled in Valieva’s favor for multiple reasons: Valieva is considered a “protected person” under WADA’s code because she is under 16 years old, and the world anti-doping code treats such competitors with different standards of evidence and offers no specific guidance for provisional suspensions for them; she would suffer irreparable harm if suspended and then later found innocent; and CAS found “serious issues of untimely notification,” meaning that Valieva did not have time for a full legal process before the Games.

Valieva’s case, including whether the Russian Olympic Committee will receive the gold medal it won in the team figure skating event, remains ongoing within the IOC’s legal process. But CAS essentially said Valieva should be permitted to skate for now in case that process either exonerates or lightly punishes her.

“The panel was very concerned that if a provisional suspension was imposed on the athlete, and later at the end of the day, at the completion of all procedures, she would not be sanctioned or would have a very low sanction, the provisional sanction would have caused serious damage,” CAS Director General Matthieu Reeb said at a news conference.

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee responded within minutes of the ruling, harshly criticizing CAS’s decision and Russia, which is competing under the ROC banner as punishment for the pervasive, state-sponsored doping program the country orchestrated at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“We are disappointed by the message this decision sends,” USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland said. “It is the collective responsibility of the entire Olympic community to protect the integrity of sport and to hold our athletes, coaches and all involved to the highest of standards. Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field. Unfortunately today that right is being denied. This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia.

“We know this case is not yet closed, and we call on everyone in the Olympic Movement to continue to fight for clean sport on behalf of athletes around the world.”

The IOC took the extraordinary step of shelving any medal ceremony, outstanding or potential, that includes Valieva. If Valieva finishes in the top three Tuesday night, as she is heavily favored to do, the IOC will not hold a medal ceremony in Beijing and will instead organize “dignified medal ceremonies once the case of Ms. Valieva has been concluded,” it said in a statement. The IOC also requested the International Skating Union to allow 25 skaters into the final round of the women’s event rather than the customary 24.

The United States finished second in the team event and would be in line to win gold if the ROC is stripped of its first-place finish.

“This decision is only about the provisional suspension of her start in future events and only about that,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said earlier Monday, before the CAS decision was released. “It’s not about the medal ceremonies or future ceremonies. For us and for all of you, this is an unsatisfactory situation. We would have liked and have asked for the parties to have the whole case in its entirety being settled once and for all before this competition starts. We still would hope for that, although that’s unlikely.

“It’s a deeply concerning for us and, of course, for all the athletes,” Adams added.

After the Russian Anti-Doping Agency received Valieva’s test results from a Swedish lab, Valieva was briefly suspended. Valieva challenged that decision Wednesday, and a Russian anti-doping disciplinary committee lifted the suspension, allowing her to continue training ahead of the individual competition in Beijing. The IOC and WADA appealed the lifting of the suspension, prompting an expedited CAS hearing.

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Valieva entered the Games as the gold medal favorite in the individual competition, and she headlines the trio of Russian teenagers who could sweep the medal podium. The defending European champion and Russian national champion, she can perform difficult quadruple jumps, and during the team event, before the lab reported her positive drug test, she became the first woman to land a quad at the Olympics.

Amid the furor, Valieva practiced Monday. At a session that began 30 minutes after the court’s announcement, dozens of reporters and cameras surrounded the rink, waiting for Valieva. With essentially all the cameras focusing on Valieva and capturing her every move, the 15-year-old skated as normal. She trained alongside the two fellow Russian teenagers competing in the women’s competition, along with three others from different countries. Afterward, she walked through the mixed zone — the mazelike area where athletes speak to reporters — without stopping to answer questions, holding a stuffed animal under her arm.

This doping controversy has tarnished one of the Games’ marquee sports. Valieva’s exceptional performances highlighted the Russians’ win in the team event, but now the results are uncertain.

Before the court’s ruling, the ROC said in a statement that it “is taking comprehensive measures to protect the rights and interests of the ROC Team members and to keep the Olympic gold medal won in fair competition.”

The ROC confirmed Valieva’s positive doping test from a sample collected Dec. 25, during the Russian national championships, but added that she has tested negative before and after that date. That sample contained the prohibited substance trimetazidine, a drug for people with a condition called angina that causes severe chest pain because of inadequate blood flow to the heart. The drug, which has never been approved for use in the United States, could improve an athlete’s endurance.

According to the Associated Press, Valieva’s coach, Eteri Tutberidze, told Russian television: “We are absolutely sure that Kamila is innocent and clean.”

The WADA-accredited lab in Stockholm reported Valieva’s test result more than six weeks after it was collected. WADA’s handbook says that the reporting of the results from a drug test should occur within 20 days of receipt of the sample. It is unclear when the lab received Valieva’s sample.

“Such late notification was not her fault in the middle of the Olympic Games,” Reeb said. “The late notification is extremely unfortunate as it affects not only the athlete but also the organizers of the Olympic Winter Games. In other words, we would not have this case and I would not be here if these anti-doping test procedures would have been completed in one week or 10 days as it is generally the case.”

RUSADA said in a statement that the laboratory informed the agency “the delay in analysis and reporting by the laboratory was caused by another wave of covid-19, an increase in illness among laboratory staff and quarantine rules.”

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The Russian athletes in Beijing are competing under the ROC banner because the country has been banned from the past three Games since the exposure of a state-sponsored doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Russian athletes have still competed at each Olympics, first as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” in ­PyeongChang and then as representatives of the ROC in Tokyo and here.

Valieva is considered a “protected person” by WADA because she is under the age of 16. RUSADA said in a statement that it has initiated an investigation into Valieva’s personnel to “identify all the circumstances of the possible anti-doping rules violation in the interests of a ‘protected person.’ ”

The WADA code reads: “The Code treats Protected Persons differently than other Athletes or Persons in certain circumstances based on the understanding that, below a certain age or intellectual capacity, an Athlete or other Person may not possess the mental capacity to understand and appreciate the prohibitions against conduct contained in the Code.”

At the CAS news conference Monday, Reeb sat alone and rarely strayed from the report CAS had released. He spoke for roughly four minutes, then thanked a roomful of reporters and walked off the stage.

“How come no questions?” a reporter shouted at Reeb as he walked off a long dais, staring straight ahead. “How come no questions?”

Les Carpenter contributed to this report.