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HomeSportsKamila Valieva's strong figure skating short program performance deserves an asterisk

Kamila Valieva’s strong figure skating short program performance deserves an asterisk


Kamila Valieva was a vision in shades of lavender, her bedazzled skirt fluttering as she floated above the ice at Capital Indoor Stadium.

Except for an awkward landing on her opening triple axel jump, the 15-year-old Russian was poised and powerful as she performed her short program Tuesday. She earned 82.16 points, outpacing compatriot Anna Shcherbakova and Kaori Sakomoto of Japan to rank first — but with a big, fat, blinking neon asterisk attached to the result.

On Dec. 25, Valieva tested positive for a banned substance — a medication that’s used to treat heart ailments and is classified as a stimulant — but she competed in the European championships and in the team event in the Beijing Games before the result arrived from a lab in Sweden. Conveniently, it turned up after the Russian Olympic Committee athletes had won gold. She was provisionally suspended by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency — for one whole day.

Because she’s under 16 she has protected status under international anti-doping rules. That meant that her suspension couldn’t be reinstated, despite requests from the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Skating Union and the International Olympic Committee to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

She was cleared to compete Monday, and Tuesday she earned the highest scores for the elements and artistic aspects of her program to “In Memoriam.” She didn’t take questions from the media after she left the ice and she skipped the post-event news conference. Shcherbakova and Sakamoto also declined to address the issue that’s threatening to consume the sport.

The ISU took the unusual step of allowing 25 skaters to advance to Thursday’s free skate final instead of the usual 24, presumably in case Valieva’s result is later wiped out. The IOC has said it won’t award the medals from the team event until after the Games, again in case Valieva is sanctioned and the results of the team event are adjusted. For the same reason, the IOC also won’t hold a medal ceremony if she finishes in the top three in women’s singles.

Valieva got a free pass to compete despite her recent positive test. Other skaters who competed cleanly in the team event and two medalists from the singles event will miss out on celebrations they earned. That’s terribly wrong.

“It’s definitely disappointing. I was really looking forward to being on the podium with my amazing teammates and sharing that moment of getting our medals,” said Karen Chen, who contributed to the U.S. silver medal in the team event and stands 13th in the individual competition after falling on a triple loop jump, which has become her nemesis. Alysa Liu ranks eighth with 69.50 points and U.S. champion Mariah Bell, who fell on the second part of her opening combination jump, is 11th with 65.38 points.

The Americans who competed in the team event won’t get the thrill of standing on that podium together. And it’s because Valieva was allowed to compete.

“Athlete who violates doping cannot compete in the game. This principle must be observed without exception,” Kim Yuna, the 2010 women’s Olympic gold medalist from South Korea, said on Instagram. “All players’ efforts and dreams are equally precious.”

American Tara Lipinski, the 1998 women’s champion, agreed. “At the end of the day, there was a positive test and there is no question in my mind that she should not be allowed to compete. Regardless of age or timing of the test/results,” Lipinski said on Twitter. “I believe this will leave a permanent scar on our sport.”

Maybe it already has. “I wish it would be a level playing field but it’s not,” said skater Natasha McKay, a five-time British champion.

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva competes in the women's short program Tuesday at the Winter Olympics.

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva competes in the women’s short program Tuesday at the Winter Olympics.

(Gary Ambrose / For The Times)

If skaters themselves can’t believe in the integrity of the sport’s guardians, how can anyone else?

Bell, who trains at Great Park Ice in Irvine, said she has had drug testers come to her home at 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., inconveniences she readily accepts. “I’m a huge advocate for clean sport and I’m 25 and I’m really proud of how I’ve led my career up to this point,” she said. “To represent the country is the hugest honor, but I’m first and foremost representing myself and I want to make sure that I have integrity and I’m doing everything I can the right way.”

According to IOC member Denis Oswald and reports from Russian media, one of Valieva’s attorneys suggested she might have ingested the drug trimetazidine when she drank from a glass used by her grandfather, who has a heart condition, and she ingested his saliva or traces of the drug in the glass. She’s still responsible for anything she puts in or uses on her body.

“Only after due process has been followed can it be established whether Ms Valieva infringed the World Anti Doping code and would have to be sanctioned,” the IOC said in a statement.

Liu, 16, wasn’t familiar with the details of Valieva’s situation. “But pushing that aside, a doping athlete competing against clean athletes isn’t fair. That’s obvious,” Liu said. “I don’t know what actually happened, but I believe in clean sport.”

It’s not clean now, and it’s a shame that’s overshadowing Liu’s joy after skating a strong program and detracting from the attention Sakamoto, Wakaba Higuchi and others deserved for their performances.

Bell had a wonderful answer when asked if her first Olympic experience will be tarnished by the controversy surrounding Valieva.

“I would have to give my power away for that to affect me and I just haven’t,” Bell said. “This is my Olympics. I have no control over what anybody does, what anybody is saying, what anybody’s doing. I’m at the Olympics and that’s so cool and that’s what I’ll remember.”

Every clean athlete deserves to have that sense of awe and fun. And, unless proven otherwise, Valieva’s performance deserves that asterisk.





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