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Amid ‘kangaroo court,’ U.S. skaters continue to wait for Olympic medals

American skaters Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, who are competing at this week's U.S. Figure Skating Championships, said there is nothing they can do about the wait for their Olympic medals. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
4 min

SAN JOSE — The medals from the figure skating team event at the Beijing Olympics are still half a world away, stashed for safe keeping by the International Olympic Committee, though no one seems to know when they will be presented.

“In our heart, we know that it will come — it’s delayed gratification,” American skater Evan Bates said of the silver medal he and his teammates won in Beijing. That silver medal could be gold depending on the results of an investigation that many involved believe has gone too long.

It’s been nearly a year since news of Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva’s positive test for a banned substance became known a day after she helped lead the Russian Olympic Committee to a gold medal in the team event. The IOC made the unusual decision to cancel the event’s medal ceremony until Valieva’s case could be studied and eventually ruled upon by Russia’s anti-doping authorities and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to determine if Valieva’s test disqualified her — and the Russian team.

So the American skaters who weren’t presented their medals over a rival’s indiscretion have been left to wait. And wait. And wait.

This week, Bates and Madison Chock, his ice dance partner and fiancee, are competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships with a new routine in a new season while still having no resolution to a slow-moving debacle that has kept them from celebrating the biggest moment of their careers.

“I used the word disheartening when we were on-site there in Beijing, and I certainly have that same feeling, unfortunately, 11 months later,” Bates said on a call before the U.S. Championships.

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Earlier this month, a Russia Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) disciplinary panel ruled that Valieva committed a violation in testing positive for the heart mediation trimetazidine but “bore no fault or negligence” for having a substance known to enhance performance. The panel only sanctioned her for the Russian championships — which were held in December 2021, when she took the test — and not for the Olympics. But the RUSADA panel’s decision is likely to be appealed by WADA to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Given that WADA only received a copy of the RUSADA panel’s ruling this week and is still waiting for Valieva’s case file before deciding if it will file an appeal, it could be many more months before the team event winners are declared.

“I don’t understand how we are waiting on a decision where [RUSADA] was not able to provide a decision in a timely manner,” said U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart, who has been openly critical of Russia’s long history of doping violations, including a state-sponsored doping program at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“Imagine these athletes who have had their moment on the podium taken away, whether it’s silver or gold, and you have earned it,” he said.

Tygart criticized the RUSADA panel’s decision as a “kangaroo court,” adding that “it does serious if not fatal damage to anti-doping efforts in the eyes of the public and athletes” if WADA doesn’t appeal that ruling.

“I’m disappointed we haven’t had the ceremony with our teammates,” said Brandon Frazier, who along with his pairs partner, Alexa Knierim, is waiting on this team event medal.

“But,” he added. “That was 11 months ago.”

“There’s nothing I can do about it,” said Knierim.

Frazier and Knierim, who were in first place Thursday after the short program at the U.S. Championships, and Bates and Chock, who also led after the dance short program, are the only skaters from the U.S. team event who are competing in San Jose. Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, Karen Chen and the dance team of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have not competed this season. But all have said at various teams that they felt cheated out of a team celebration on the podium.

IOC President Thomas Bach and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee have promised the American skaters a significant medal ceremony when Valieva’s case is resolved. But no plan has been made, and a year of legal maneuverings seems to have dulled the skaters’ enthusiasm.

“Their identity is on hold because of the process,” Tygart says.