BEIJING — NBC Olympics host Mike Tirico called on the International Olympic Committee to take action after Russian figure skating coaches “failed to protect” Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old star at the center of a doping scandal that dominated the second half of the Beijing Games. Valieva’s free skate was marred by the raw, stunning collapse of the teenage gold medal favorite, who had been heavily scrutinized over the past week and a half after the results of a December drug test revealed a prohibited substance in her system.
“The adults in the room left her alone,” Tirico said from a studio during the network’s Thursday night coverage of the Games. “Portrayed by some this week as the villain, by others as the victim, she is, in fact, the victim of the villains. The coaches and National Olympic Committee surrounding Kamila Valieva, whether they orchestrated, prescribed or enabled all of this is unclear, but what is certain: They failed to protect her.”
Valieva and her teammates competed at these Games under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee because the country is still technically banned for a state-sponsored doping scheme uncovered after the 2014 Sochi Games. Valieva’s positive test, particularly given her age, raised concerns that the country has not reformed its anti-doping system.
“It’s time for the IOC to stand up, whether it’s about blocking Russia from hosting events for a very long time or stringent and globally transparent testing for Russian athletes going forward,” Tirico said in a pointed monologue, especially notable coming from the face of the Olympics’ longtime American broadcast partner. “If swift action from the top of the Olympic movement does not happen quickly, the very future of the Games could be in jeopardy.”
Noting Russia’s past doping scandal, Tirico said: “Guilt by association is often unfair, but it’s called for here. … The deal that was brokered was supposed to ensure a level playing field while giving clean Russian athletes a chance to compete. But that scenario totally broke down here. Now a failed drug test from one of their athletes has tarnished one of the marquee events in the Games and taken away from every skater’s moment.”
Valieva’s positive test, which came to light last week, prompted an expedited hearing before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled Valieva could continue competing. The court cited the irreparable harm to Valieva if she had been suspended and later found innocent. The IOC said before the women’s competition that medals would not be awarded if Valieva finished on the podium — an indication that officials were preparing for a scenario in which she was later disqualified. Valieva, in first after the short program, finished fourth and was inconsolable after her score appeared. The podium ceremony went on without her.
Valieva entered the Games as a quadruple-jumping phenom, but in her final performance here, she looked like a broken 15-year-old. Tirico noted that Valieva appeared “terrified” before beginning her free skate. She stumbled on multiple jumps and fell twice. After her music ended, Valieva bent over and then brought her hands to her face.
“It makes me angry that the adults around her weren’t able to make better decisions and be there for her, because she is the one now dealing with the consequences and she’s just 15 and that’s not fair,” 1998 Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski said on the broadcast. “Again, with that being said, she should not have been allowed to skate in this Olympic event.”
IOC President Thomas Bach on Friday criticized Valieva’s coaches for their “tremendous coldness” after the teenager finished her disastrous skate.
Eteri Tutberidze, whose harsh tactics have drawn scrutiny, is the coach of all three Russian women’s skaters in Beijing. In 2018, her pupils Alina Zagitova (gold) and Evgenia Medvedeva (silver) were on the top of the Olympic podium. In Beijing, Valieva’s breakdown created a path for training mates Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova to win the gold and silver.
Valieva performed as the final skater, and as she stepped off the ice, Tutberidze said in Russian: “Explain it to me. … You let it go completely. … I don’t get it. Everything was fine.”
Valieva’s doping case is still ongoing, and the findings will determine whether her fourth-place finish stands. That legal process will take time but, Tirico said, “something undeniable is the harm to the person at the center of all of it.”