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Star Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva cleared to keep competing at Winter Olympics despite positive drug test

Russia skater's positive drug test confirmed
Russia skater's positive drug test confirmed 01:28

Beijing — Teenage Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva has been cleared to compete in the women's figure skating competition at the Winter Olympics despite failing a pre-Games drug test.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport released its ruling less than 12 hours after a hastily arranged hearing that lasted into early Monday morning. The court said the 15-year-old, the favorite for the women's individual gold, doesn't need to be provisionally suspended ahead of a full investigation into her positive test.

"The panel considered that preventing the athlete to compete at the Olympics would cause her irreparable harm in the circumstances," CAS Director General Matthieu Reeb said.

Figure Skating - Training
Figure skater Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee at practice session on February 14, 2022. EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA / REUTERS

Now, Valieva and her fellow Russian skaters can aim for the first podium sweep of women's figure skating in Olympic history. The event starts with the short program Tuesday and concludes Thursday with the free skate. She's the favorite for the gold medal in the individual event.

Shortly after the decision, Valieva skated in her allotted practice time slot.

Monday's ruling only addresses whether Valieva can keep skating before her case is resolved, not the merits of her drug case, the Reuters news agency pointed out. It also doesn't decide the fate of the one gold medal that she has already won here, in the team event gold.

The International Olympic Committee said there won't be a medal ceremony in Beijing if Valieva places in the top three in the  women's individual event and no medal ceremony for the team event, where Russia won gold a week ago with help from Valieva.

She was cleared Monday by Court of Arbitration for Sport judges to compete starting Tuesday, despite failing a drug test ahead of the Olympics.

But a separate investigation of that possible doping offense must be done in Russia and could take several months to resolve.

The court said it rendered a favorable decision for her in part because she was a minor or "protected person" and was subject to different rules from an adult athlete.

The panel also cited fundamental issues of fairness in its decision, the fact that she tested clean in Beijing and that there were "serious issues of untimely notification" of her positive test.

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said the committee is disappointed by the message the ruling sends. She said athletes are being denied the right to know they're competing on a level playing field, adding that it's part of a 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," Hirshland said, Reuters reported.

Figure Skating - Training
Coach Eteri Tutberidze of the Russian Olympic Committee looks on as Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee speaks to a member of the team during practice on February 14, 2022. EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA / REUTERS

U.S. Anti-Dopipng Agency CEO Travis Tygart used much stronger language, Reuters notes, saying, "Only time will tell if she (Valieva) should be competing in these Games and whether or not all of her results will be disqualified. Unfortunately, either way, for the sixth consecutive Olympic Games, Russia has hijacked the competition and stolen the moment from clean athletes and the public. In addition to athletes and the public, this young athlete has been terribly let down by the Russians and the global anti-doping system that unfairly cast her into this chaos."

The reaction was, predictably, very different form the Russian camp. Reuters says The Ministry of Sports of the Russian Federation called the court's ruling "the only right and fair decision." The Russian Olympic Committee said, "We do not know how many tears and what moral strength this whole crazy situation has cost Kamila. ... But what we know for sure and what we can definitely do is cheer for her tomorrow, then on Thursday with all the strength of our energy."

Valieva tested positive for the heart drug trimetazidine on Dec. 25 at the Russian nationals but the result from a Swedish lab didn't come to light until a week ago, after she had helped the Russian Olympic Committee win the team gold.

The reason for the six-week delay in Sweden is unclear, though Russian officials have suggested it was partly because of a January surge in Omicron variant COVID-19 cases, which affected staffing at the lab.

The Russian anti-doping agency immediately suspended her, then lifted the ban a day later, putting into limbo the awarding of the medals. The IOC and others appealed and an expedited hearing was held Sunday night. Valieva testified via video conference.

Athletes under 16 like Valieva have more rights under anti-doping rules and typically aren't held responsible for taking banned substances. The focus of any future investigation will be on her personal team — coaches, doctors, nutritionists, etc.

Valieva landed the first quadruple jumps by a woman at the Olympics when she won the team event gold with the Russian Olympic Committee on Monday.

That medal, and any medal she wins in the individual competition, could still be taken from her. The U.S. won silver and would be in line for gold if the Russian medal is revoked.

Those issues will be dealt with in a separate, longer-term investigation of the positive doping test that will be led by RUSADA, which took the sample in St. Petersburg.

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