Telling responses: Kamila Valieva exposed in Russian Olympic doping scandal

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics officially ended on February 20, but controversies were still ongoing. A notable case, in particular, was that of Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, whose positive test for a performance-enhancing substance sent the figure skating world in a spiral and reignited a debate about Russia’s state-sponsored doping scandal. 

The 15-year-old figure skater was set to be the favorite for gold in the figure skating competition, part of a long line of dominant Russian figure skaters, particularly in recent years. On December 25, Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart medication that is listed as a banned substance according to the World Anti-Doping Agency. The medication is known to increase stamina. 

On February 15, the Court of Arbitration for Sport allowed Valieva to compete despite the investigation, citing that she was a minor and that she alone was likely not at fault, but rather her entire entourage. Since she had clean tests after the one on Christmas, and since tests before that were clean, she was cleared to skate. Additionally, there was an unexplained six-week delay between when her test results were sent and finally processed in the lab, which was why the results were announced right before the competition. As a result of this, the court ruled that Valieva would be allowed to compete in the final competition, but if she won a medal, the medal ceremony would be delayed. 

Russia has a long history of state-sponsored doping, and since the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, a massive state-sponsored doping scheme has been unveiled, which included some officials swapping out tainted samples with clean ones for testing, according to Sports Illustrated. As a result, Russia has to compete under the Russian Olympic Committee, but some critics say the team hasn’t faced significant enough punishments. 

In a shocking turn of events in the figure skating final, Valieva ended up falling and stumbling several times during her performance and finished the competition devastated in fourth place. Russian figure skaters Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova placed second and first, respectively, and figure skater Kaori Sakamoto of Japan finished third. Since Valieva didn’t make the podium, the medal ceremony was able to proceed. 

Erin Moran (’24)

For Hope College student-athletes, Valieva’s story has been discouraging to hear about, especially given the context of the situation. “I obviously think that doping in sports isn’t ok no matter what your age is just because, especially when you’re competing at that high of a level, I feel like you have enough knowledge, even though she is really young, to make better choices. Obviously, since she is so young, she is really influenced by the people around her and her coaches, especially since Russia has had a history of the use of banned substances. But, I don’t think it’s ok for her to compete,” sophomore Erin Moran said. 

Moran, who is a member of Hope’s track and cross country teams related the incident to the story of Sha’Carri Richardson, an American athlete who was unable to compete in this year’s summer Olympics. “In other sports, Sha’Carri Richardson, she tested positive for marijuana use, and she wasn’t able to compete in the Olympics. So I think the same standard should be held across all sports for all athletes,” Moran said. 

Sha’Carri Richardson running the Olympic Women’s 100 Meter semifinal in June 2021.

Richardson and many others have also pointed out the contradictions between her situation and Valieva’s, citing unfair treatment. Richardson tweeted, “Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mine? My mother died and I can’t run and was also favored to place top 3. The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady.”  Richardson won the 100-meter at the Track and Field Olympic Trials, but after a positive test for THC, she was replaced on the team. Her story and many others continue to add to the debate surrounding Valieva’s case and the use of performance-enhancing substances in sports.

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