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Young star skater's Olympic fate hangs in the balance over positive doping test, as U.S. and Russia disagree yet again

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

Beijing — Olympics officials have confirmed that star Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for a banned substance prior to the Beijing Winter Olympics, and her status for the rest of the Games remained muddled on Friday. Valieva, just 15, led her Russian teammates to the gold medal in the figure skating team competition on Monday, and became the first woman to land a quad jump at the Olympics. But the team never got their medals after a positive drug test was revealed.

The scandal has thrown figure skating at the Winter Games into a legal tailspin. Olympics officials finally addressed — sort of — Valieva's legal status for the Games on Friday after days of unconfirmed reports and speculation.

The International Testing Agency, which has overall authority to screen for doping at the Olympics, released a report on Friday confirming that a sample taken from Valieva on December 25 in Russia came back positive on February 8 for the banned metabolic agent trimetazidine, a drug used to treat angina.  

While the Russian team waited for the test results from a lab in Sweden, the young skater traveled to Beijing for the Olympics. After she arrived in China, however, Valieva was immediately suspended by the Russian anti-doping agency, RUSADA. She challenged that suspension and RUSADA has temporarily lifted it, allowing her to continue training and competing.

Figure Skating - Training
Kamila Valieva, of the Russian Olympic Committee, is seen during training for the 2022 Beijing Olympics at the training rink of the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing, China, February 11, 2022.  EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/REUTERS

But the International Olympic Committee, along with the International Skating Union (ISDU) and the World Antidoping Authority (WADA), said they would ask the international Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to overturn the Russian decision to lift her ban, though the CAS said on Friday that it had not yet received the appeal.

"We have a 100% policy against doping," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said during a Friday news conference in Beijing, adding that the committee wanted a decision from the CAS before Tuesday, when Valieva is due to take to the ice again and is a favorite to win the women's singles event.

"We need to expedite this as quickly as possible for all those concerned," Adams said.

The CAS was expected to hold an emergency hearing to determine Valieva's fate.

Meanwhile, the head of the American Anti-Doping Agency (USADA)told the Reuters news agency on Friday that the U.S. government could seek to prosecute Russians involved in Valieva's case under a relatively new domestic law, which is named after the Russian whistleblower who once ran the country's doping program.

The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act (RADA), signed into law in 2020, gives U.S. prosecutors the power to seek fines of up to $1 million and jail terms of up to 10 years for anyone whose actions are determined to have had a negative impact on U.S. athletes' competition results. It would apply in Valieva's case, the American agency argues, as the U.S. team came second to Valieva and her partner in Monday's team event.

The Russian doping mastermind on the run 12:35

"The act has been used to protect one Olympic Games," USADA boss Travis Tygart told Reuters, referring to the Tokyo 2021 Games. "It is going to be used to protect other Olympic games when people continue to dope."

"You cannot make it up. We are living in the twilight zone," he said in a clear reference to Russia's history of Olympic doping. "Clean athletes deserve better, and this poor young woman deserves better. She's getting chewed up on top of being abused by the Russian state system."

Russia, currently engaged in a tense standoff with the U.S. and NATO over its military buildup around Ukraine, has been dismissive of the case.

"We are sure this is some kind of misunderstanding," government spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Friday. "Hold your head up, you're a Russian," he urged Valieva. "Go proudly and beat everyone."

Peskov bristled at the notion that Russian sports officials responsible for Valieva could face prosecution under a domestic U.S. law.

Sumpreme Eurasian Economic Council Meeting in Yerevan
Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov (L ) and President Vladimir Putin attend a meeting in Yerevan, Armenia, October 1, 2019. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty

"Any transborder enforcement of U.S. law is what we categorically object to, either in sports or in any other field," he said. "Any kind of cooperation would be impossible in this area." 

Other Olympic skaters have reacted to the controversy delicately, clearly disheartened by the stain on their sport, but also sympathetic to one of its youngest rising stars, who, as Tygart suggested with his allegation of abuse, may turn out to be a victim of a Russian sports mentality that puts victory over everything else, including rules.

Nathan Chen, part of the U.S. group that finished second in the team event early this week, said he hoped the situation would be resolved to allow the medal ceremony to take place.

"I do really hope that the rest of my teammates will be able to get a medal," he said on Friday, a day after winning gold in the singles freestyle event.

German figure-skating icon Katarina Witt also weighed in, posting a message on her Facebook page calling it "a shame," and saying the "responsible adults should be banned from the sport forever!!!"

"What they knowingly did to her, if true, cannot be surpassed in inhumanity and makes my athlete's heart cry infinitely," wrote Witt.

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