Olympics: Kamila Valieva can skate, but the investigation is far from over

Russian skater Kamila Valieva was cleared to skate the Olympic ladies’ figure skating event underway Tuesday, but no medals will be handed out, putting competition results in question.

It’s not Olympic figure skating unless we’re dealing with some sort of controversy.

This one centers around the 15-year-old Russian phenomenon Kamila Valieva, the frontrunner for the ladies’ competition at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Dominant all year with world records in the bag, her huge score during the figure skating team event catapulted Russia to gold last week. She threw down the gauntlet by becoming the first female figure skater to successfully land a quad during her free skate in the team event: and not just once, but twice.

“We will be talking about this moment for the next 100 years,” NBC Olympics commentator Tara Lipinski said at the time, via the NY Post.

But Lipinski, along with commentating partner Johnny Weir, are voicing a far different opinion about the stunning Russian after Valieva tested positive for the banned substance trimetazidine, which is prescribed for angina and vertigo, but can also boost endurance and blood flow efficiency.

Kamila Valieva was never presented with a medal after the team event, with rumors of her positive test hovering in the background. In fact, none of the team winners received their medals, including team USA silver-medalist Nathan Chen. To make matters worse, the medal ceremony for the ladies event will also be postponed if Valieva makes the podium, as the teenage sensation is assured to do, heading in as the favorite.

2022 Olympics: Kamila Valieva tests positive for banned substance

At the heart of the matter is the protected status of Valieva, what the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) refers to as underage competitors, with blame being thrown at her handlers, for good reason. There is a fundamental difference between a knowing adult taking a banned substance and an impressionable teenager under the tutelage of her handlers.

How much decision-making can we expect a 15-year-old to initiate under the instruction of stringent trainer Eteri Tutberidze and her team? Known for their high success rate—their skaters win medals—but also their controversial methods, it’s no wonder that former Olympians such as Katariina Witt have blasted Valieva’s handlers and insisted on the skater’s innocence.

Valieva is a breathtaking competitor, combining the ethereal presence of a ballerina with the gutsy aggression of a fearless athlete. She is delightful to behold. However, although the skater tested for the banned substance prior to the Olympics (not during), how fair is it to the other athletes competing?

The doping scandal inquiry will likely continue in detail after the Olympics. Sympathy has been understandably widespread for Valieva, who will probably win gold after Thursday’s free skate. But even if the continuing doping inquiry rightfully focuses on the Russian coaching team, it is Valieva’s name that will be besmirched and there will always be an asterisk next to her potential gold medal in the history books. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

The women’s Olympic short program will air on Tuesday night, during NBC’s prime time programing, beginning at 8 p.m.