Meet Kamila Valieva, the Olympics' Best and (Most Controversial) Figure Skater

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When Kamila Valieva is allowed to skate, she can do routines that no other woman has ever even dared to attempt. At just 15 years-old, the Russian teenager is clearly the best woman’s figure skater in the field, able to access a reservoir of natural—and maybe synthetic—talent that no other competitor can tap into. During the team competition, Valieva landed the first quadruple jump in the history of women’s Olympic figure skating—and then she did it again. 

But on February 8th, the International Testing Agency (ITA) announced that Valieva had tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart drug that’s been on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of banned substances since 2014. Although Valieva’s positive sample was collected by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) on December 25th, a COVID outbreak at the testing lab delayed the results until last week. In response, RUSADA indefinitely suspended Valieva, only to then repeal the suspension after one (1) day, thereby seemingly clearing Valieva to compete in the women’s singles event, which begins later this week. Unsurprisingly, other nations and the alphabet soup of institutions made a stink by filing three separate complaints to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). On February 14th, the CAS announced that they wouldn’t reinstate the provisional suspension and that Valieva would be allowed to compete. Angry about the CAS’s ruling, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has decided to diminish and undermine Valieva’s accomplishments, declaring that there would be no medal ceremony if/when Valieva finishes in the top three.

If this all sounds incredibly confusing, it’s because it is. Even after the Olympics end this weekend, this protracted saga might not be resolved for weeks. Unfortunately, the imbroglio over Valieva testing positive for a drug of dubious performance-enhancement nearly two months ago has overshadowed one of the Olympics’ best stories. In a normal world, Valieva would be one of the breakout stars of the Olympics. Instead, all that’s left is a bunch of dumb beaurucratic governing bodies engaged in a tiresome pissing contest.

Ultimately, Kamila Valieva has limited agency within the larger Kamila Valieva brouhaha. This isn’t the story of her juicing her way into stolen valor like an iced-out Mark McGwire—this is the story of a dog-loving, doll-clutching young girl who has been monumentally failed by the institutions meant to protect her. The fact that she even had trimetazidine in her system in the first place is the byproduct of either malice or incompetence from her coaches and the Russian figure skating governing body; the fact that her results weren’t announced until the middle of the Olympics stems from either the malice or incompetence from RUSADA; the fact that nobody is totally sure if she’s allowed to compete (or if it’ll count when she competes) is because of the decrepit, fossilized infrastructure that undergirds the Games. 

In other words, none of this is her fault! To punish her is to punish the one blameless person in this mess. 

As such, Valieva is no longer just a girl who can jump and spin super fast; she’s at the center of a cyclone of sporting ethics, administrative power plays, and lingering Cold War resentments. This has regretfully become the defining story of these Winter Olympics; hopefully Valieva will be given a fair ending.

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