Kamila Valieva, the teenage Russian figure-skating gold medallist, can contest the women’s individual event at the Beijing Winter Olympics after a tribunal upheld a decision to allow her to compete while appealing a positive doping test result.
The ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Monday was a victory for the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada) against the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency, and came one day before the beginning of the individual women’s event, in which the 15-year-old Valieva is heavily favoured for gold.
The verdict has set the stage for the most controversial Olympic figure-skating event in 20 years after a judging scandal in 2002 forced an overhaul of the sport. It also added tension to a dispute between the Russian team and the IOC, which banned the nation in 2017 for its state-sponsored doping programme at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
The CAS held a five-and-a-half-hour video hearing between the appealing parties — the IOC, Wada and the International Skating Union — and the Russian Olympic Committee, Rusada and Valieva.
The arbitrators found on “the very limited facts of this case” that “preventing the athlete from competing at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm in these circumstances” and that “there were serious issues of untimely notification of the results of the athlete’s anti-doping test”, which were not the fault of the skater.
Valieva tested positive for banned heart medicine trimetazidine in a screening collected by Rusada on December 25. The results were processed by a Wada-accredited laboratory and delivered on February 8, a day after Valieva and ROC skated to a gold medal in the team figure skating event. The medal ceremony, in which the US took silver and Japan bronze, was indefinitely postponed.
Monday’s ruling by CAS was exclusively concerned with a specific decision by Rusada, under whose jurisdiction the positive test fell, to allow Valieva to continue skating and training at the Olympics while her doping case was processed.
Under Wada rules, Valieva is allowed to appeal her positive doping ruling with a test of her “B” sample, collected on the same date as the original, a process that normally takes weeks.
The CAS decision did not offer a judgment on the outcome of the team figure skating event and whether Valieva’s results would be upheld or disqualified.
Sarah Hirschland, chief executive of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said the decision “appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia”.
“Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field. Unfortunately, today that right is being denied,” she said.
The IOC did not comment immediately. The ROC applauded the ruling on Twitter, writing that “the whole country” would cheer for Valieva and her teammates in the women’s event on Tuesday.
The Valieva case has flared into a scandal at the Beijing Winter Games, sparking heated discussion.
“The adults around [Valieva] have completely failed her. They’ve put her in this awful situation and should be punished,” wrote Adam Rippon, a coach for US skater Mariah Bell who will compete against Valieva, in a series of tweets after the positive test was announced.
He added that the IOC’s ban on Russia’s participation at the Olympics “was NOT strict enough”. Russian athletes have been permitted to compete at the Games as the “Russian Olympic Committee”.
Russia has mounted a stout defence of Valieva, who appeared distraught in some practice sessions at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing.
Before the doping fracas, Valieva was a fast-rising star in figure skating. She became the first woman to land a quadruple jump at the Olympics during the team event last week.
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