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Russian skater Kamila Valieva cleared to compete at Beijing Games, but medals will be withheld

Olympic officials say they will postpone ceremonies involving the teenage prodigy until doping allegations are resolved.
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Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva can continue to compete at the Beijing Winter Olympics despite testing positive for a banned substance before the Games, an international body ruled Monday.

However, Olympic officials say there will be no medal ceremony if she finishes in the top three. Nor will there be a ceremony for the team figure skating event, meaning athletes including U.S. figure skaters will leave the Olympics without their medals.

The decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), a global sports arbiter, allows Valieva, 15, to compete in this week’s individual event, in which she is favored to win gold. Officials did not rule on whether Valieva had committed a doping offense.

In a statement after the decision, the International Olympic Committee said that due to the “inconclusive situation,” no medal ceremonies involving Valieva would take place during the Beijing Games. That includes the ceremony for the team event, which Russian skaters won Feb. 7, the day before Valieva was reported to have tested positive in December for trimetazidine, a heart medication that experts say could give athletes an edge.

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“It would not be appropriate,” the IOC said, adding that it will “organise dignified medal ceremonies once the case of Ms. Valieva has been concluded.”

On Monday, Valieva made her first comments to Channel One Russia, saying she was happy about the decision but “emotionally tired,” and the last couple of days have been “very difficult.”

After the test result was reported last week, Valieva was provisionally suspended by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, a decision reversed a day later, after she challenged it. Several organizations appealed to CAS to reinstate the suspension, including the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Skating Union and the International Testing Agency, which acted on behalf of the IOC.

A huge billboard showing Russia's Kamila Valieva and reading, "Kamila, we are with you!" appeared in Moscow.Alexander Nemenov / AFP - Getty Images

CAS officials heard six hours of testimony in a video conference that began after 8:30 p.m. local time Sunday in Beijing, and they continued their deliberations Monday. In their decision against suspension, they cited special protections for minors such as Valieva, the delay in reporting the test result and the risk of causing her “irreparable harm” by preventing her from competing.

The court noted that Valieva had not tested positive for banned substances while in Beijing and could still face disciplinary procedures over her earlier test result.

The decision not to award medals affects the U.S. team, who will leave Beijing unsure if they won silver or gold. That includes American figure skating star Nathan Chen, for whom it would be the second gold of the Games. If Valieva and Russia are disqualified, Japan would move up to silver and Canada to bronze.

“We are devastated that they will leave Beijing without their medals in hand, but we appreciate the intention of the IOC to ensure that the right medals are awarded to the right individuals,” the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee said in a statement. “Rest assure, when that time comes, they will be awesomely celebrated.”

The decision also means the fourth-place finisher in the women’s event may move into the bronze position.

But the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee earlier criticized the CAS decision.

“Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field,” said Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the committee. “Unfortunately, today that right is being denied.”

The media storm has dogged the teenage prodigy for almost a week, but she was photographed back on the ice for training on Monday after the CAS decision. 

Alexander Gorshkov, president of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia, praised the CAS decision, telling the Ria news agency that “common sense and justice have triumphed.”

The Russian Olympic Committee also celebrated the news that Valieva would be allowed to compete in the individual event, saying it would be "rooting" for her.

In a statement, the World Anti-Doping Agency said it was “disappointed” by the court’s decision and would be investigating Valieva’s support personnel as required by global anti-doping regulations when a case involves a minor.

The International Skating Union said it would respect the ruling, while the International Testing Agency acknowledged the court’s decision. The skating union also agreed to a request by the IOC that if Valieva places among the top 24 in the short program Tuesday, a 25th competitor be allowed in the free skate portion of the individual event Thursday.

Just days ago, Valieva was the toast of her sport, becoming the first woman to land a quad in Olympic competition. Her spectacular, hands-over-head leaps led her side to a runaway gold.

Image: Around The Games - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 10
Kamila Valieva during a training session on Monday in Beijing.Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

But then it was revealed that Valieva had tested positive for trimetazidine at the Russian Figure Skating Championships in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Dec. 25, according to the ITA, which oversees the Olympic drug-testing program.

The agency said a Swedish laboratory reported the findings Tuesday, after the Russians won the team event but before the medal ceremony, which was then postponed.

With Russia barred from international sports competitions from December 2020 through the end of this year, its athletes are competing under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee.

Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said “only time will tell” if Valieva should be competing in Beijing.

“For the sixth consecutive Olympic Games, Russia has hijacked the competition and stolen the moment from clean athletes and the public,” he said. “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.”