‘Dirty Cheaters’ Olympians Let Loose on Kamila Valieva and the Russian Doping Controversy at the Beijing Olympics

Former Olympic stars are up in arms over the controversial ruling allowing Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva to continue to compete in the Beijing Olympics—but prevent her or any other athletes from receiving medals if Valieva places in the top three. The 15-year-old Valieva had been the gold medal favorite in the women’s event, which begins Tuesday Feb. 15, after she successfully appealed her suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.

“Dirty cheaters, and we are accommodating them,” says Adam Rippon, who helped the U.S. win a team figure skating bronze at the 2018 Games. “I don’t know how the Olympics recovers from this.”
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Valieva was positive for trimetazidine (a common heart medication prescribed to angina patients to increase blood flow). Athletes have been known to use the drug to help increase circulation and endurance, which allows them to train longer, and the drug is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list. Valieva’s positive sample came from Dec. 25, at the Russian national championships, which is before Olympic doping regulations took effect on Jan. 27. In Beijing, Russian athletes are competing as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), and not under their country’s flag, because the country is serving a multi-year ban for a state sponsored doping system that was exposed following the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

“They shouldn’t be here at the Olympic Games,” Rippon says of the Russian team’s repeated doping violations. “They’re clowns.”

READ MORE The Battle Over Kamila Valieva’s Drug Test Is Just Beginning

Because Valieva is a minor, anti-doping authorities consider her a “protected person,” meaning that punishments are generally lighter and an investigation into the violation will be focused more on the adults surrounding her on the assumption that she may not have been aware of the banned substance. “What this says is that the team around her are child abusers,” says Rippon, who now coaches American skater Mariah Bell. “The only thing they care about is performance, and not the health and well being of their athletes. Their goal is to produce children capable of competing, but only up until a point. It doesn’t feel like the coaches involved in the ladies’ program are coaches at all, but dog trainers; they’re running a circus.”

Russian athletes repeatedly doping has been an issue for the Olympic Movement, despite its commitment to fair competition and equality. “I feel sick to my stomach. What I’m feeling is my whole dedication to my sport, to my community and to my country — I’m questioning it all,” says retired Canadian skater Scott Moir, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in ice dance. “I’m questioning why I walked into schools for the past 12 years of my life and told kids what pride I took in being an Olympian and what that means, and what power sports has in bringing the world together, for fair play and the Olympic morals that we all believe in.”

Like Rippon, Moir has sympathy for the circumstances surrounding Valieva but doesn’t believe that she should be excused without consequence. “I do feel for the 15-year-old,” he says, “but at the end of the day if she did cheat, it’s very simple to me—she shouldn’t be competing. It is unfair to her that I place the responsibility for her cheating on others, not her. But this is a big hit to the Olympic movement.”

Moir worries that Moir’s ruling may put at risk the confidence and trust in young athletes as well as the general public that the Olympics are the most pure form of healthy competition. If a doped athlete is allowed to compete, he says, “I don’t understand why people would want to turn on the TV to watch. The only optimistic thing that I can come up with is that this sparks change.”

Rippon agrees, and points out the stark contrast with how RUSADA handled Valieva’s violation, by initially suspending her from competing in Beijing but then lifting that suspension, to the way the US Anti-Doping Agency managed the case of star sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson before the Tokyo Olympics last summer. Richardson was found to have tested positive for marijuana shortly before the Games started. She was then banned from participating in any future games. “It really shows how Americans deal with it, and how and how RUSADA deals with it — they don’t,” he says. “They pretend it doesn’t happen, and pretend that people are picking on them.” Richardson herself reacted to the news that Valieva will continue to compete, raising yet another issue affecting social tensions, by noting “the only difference I see is I’m a black young lady. It’s all in the skin.”

Critics claim that doping, especially the apparent violations by Russian athletes, is due to the weakening of sanctions. “A complete and total ban from all international competition is the only thing that works,” says Rippon. “It’s heartbreaking to think about the athletes who have spent their lives training, but the Olympics took a big blow today and I don’t know how it recovers from this. A lot of people have lost faith in the Olympics and in clean sport.”

READ MORE Inside the Olympic Doping Fight Over Figure Skater Kamila Valieva’s Positive Drug Test

Further investigation will include testing Valieva’s so-called B sample, a second sample athletes routinely provide at the same time as their primary sample that serves as a back up for confirmatory testing. Rippon explained how the test works. He described how to place a urine sample in a glass container marked A above a specified line and then dump the extra urine into another identical B bottle until the bottle’s volume reaches that line. Each cap of the bottle is marked with a red or blue color. The athlete then twists the cap shut until it locks and can’t be removed by anyone except the lab staff to protect against tampering. If Valieva’s A sample is positive, then her B sample should also be positive, since it’s the same urine sample.

Athletes must submit a Therapeutic Use Exemption application (TUE), and the medication must be approved before they can take banned substances to treat their health conditions. RUSADA has so far not made mention of Valieva’s TUE. However, the fact that Valieva received a suspension at the beginning strongly suggests her doping violations. Plus, argues Rippon, “If you are a 15 year old with angina, you probably should be at home resting and not trying to compete at the Olympic Games.”

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Valieva is likely to suffer the most. In the middle of her preparations for her first Olympics (a mentally and physically exhausting experience), Valieva now has to navigate the unbearable pressure of being the subject of whispered conversation and seeing her extraordinary talent on the skates, something that has defined much of her youth. It is hard to imagine what that could mean for her in Beijing and her future life.

Both Rippon and Moir now coach skaters Valieva’s age. If nothing else, they hope to make this an educational tool. “We will talk about how yes, life isn’t fair all the time, but the most important thing is to keep your integrity, and play the game by the rules, and for what you believe in,” says Moir.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, but essential to the effort to keep the Olympics, and all sport, clean.


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