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Olympics

What A Mess

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Court of Arbitration for Sport announced in the wee hours of Monday that it declined to suspend Russian skater Kamila Valieva. The favorite for the women’s gold medal will be competing Tuesday night in Beijing, a week after news broke that she tested positive for a banned drug.

The CAS panel met for nearly six hours on Sunday night in Beijing to determine Valieva’s Olympic fate. A panel of three arbitrators considered the appeals filed by three different agencies, the International Skating Union, the World Anti-Doping Agency, and the International Olympic Committee, all of which took issue with the Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to lift its ban on Valieva just one day after initially suspending her for a positive drug test. The meeting was held over video conference and the CAS release said that Valieva attended the meeting along with representatives from all the aforementioned agencies.

The International Testing Agency (yes, yet another acronym involved here) said in a release on Friday that Valieva’s positive test was taken by RUSADA on Dec. 25, ahead of Russian Nationals. An independent lab in Sweden analyzed the test, and for some reason, it took six weeks for the Swedish lab to report the positive test to RUSADA. RUSADA released a statement on Friday that included their timeline of events and said, “The delay in analysis and reporting by the Laboratory was caused by another wave of COVID-19, an increase in illness among Laboratory staff and quarantine rules.” According to WADA’s handbook, the reporting of the results from the “A sample” of a drug test should be reported within 20 days of the lab receiving the sample. It’s not clear when the Swedish lab received Valieva’s sample, and a spokesperson for the Karolinska University Hospital, where the lab is based, refused to discuss the case with The New York Times.

When RUSADA received the results on Feb. 8, after Valieva had already led Russia to the team gold medal with two brilliant skates, the agency suspended the skater from participating in the Olympics. But on Feb. 9, Valieva challenged the decision and RUSADA decided to lift the ban.

In the statement announcing their decision, CAS listed four reasons for not imposing a provisional suspension on Valieva. The first, Valieva’s age, is the most crucial to this decision. She’s 15 years old, which classifies her as a “protected person” per WADA’s code. This means she’s subjected to lesser sanctions than athletes over the age of 16. CAS also wrote that it took into consideration the fact that Valieva did not test positive during the Beijing games, and that she will still be subjected to disciplinary action for the positive December 2021 test. The panel also wrote that preventing Valieva from competing would cause her “irreparable harm in these circumstances.”

CAS also stressed that the late report of Valieva’s December 2021 test “was not her fault” and that “there were serious issues of untimely notification” which hindered Valieva from establishing “certain legal requirements.”

After the CAS panel met Sunday night in Beijing, The New York Times reported that the panel was not expected to delve into how Valieva had tested positive for trimetazidine, or any of the reasons for the testing delay, but only to decide whether or not to reinstate her provisional suspension for the Olympics. The Times also reported that while the hearing was going on, an IOC official leaked a video to several media members.

Several members of the news media were surprised to receive an email from an I.O.C. official that included a video of an interview with the head of the Russian Olympic Committee that was played during the hearing. In the clip, which was described to The New York Times by a person who had viewed it, the Russian official, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, slammed the handling of Valieva’s sample by the Russia anti-doping agency’s Swedish testing partner.

Sharing the clip was extremely unusual; the I.O.C. and the Russian Olympic Committee are on opposing sides in the case, and the hearing was still underway at the time. The video outlining one aspect of Russia’s defense appeared to be the only one that the Olympic official shared with members of the news media.

New York Times

Based on the final decision from CAS, the question of the delayed timeline for Valieva’s results played a large part in their decision to let her skate. Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency told The New York Times that the situation is a “catastophic failure,” and he cast some doubt on Russia’s version of events.

“It’s either an intentional delay to allow her to compete or gross incompetence and has resulted in mayhem and Russia again tainting a major competition,” Tygart told the Times before CAS met to decide on Valieva.

While waiting for the final decision, Valieva continued to practice. On Sunday, she fell on her triple axel in her run-through of her short program and afterwards, she cried at the boards with her coach, Eteri Tutberdize. After practice last week, she put her hood up to hide from reporters and avoid questions as she walked through the mixed zone.

In their Friday statement, RUSADA also said the agency is looking into Valieva’s coaching staff. “Due to the fact that the Athlete is a minor, and in accordance with Rules Article 1.3.1 and Code Article 20.5.12, RAA RUSADA initiated an investigation of the Athlete’s personnel,” the statement said. The purpose of this investigation is to identify all the circumstances of the possible anti-doping rules violation in the interests of a “protected person.”

Per the Wall Street Journal, Tutberidze defended Valieva when speaking to Russian television on Saturday. “For us this is not a theorem but an axiom—there is no need to prove it,” she said. “Either this is a fatal coincidence, or a well prearranged plan. We really hope that justice will prevail.”

Valieva is the favorite for gold and she’s set several world records this season, her first year competing as a senior. Her Russian teammates, 17-year-olds Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, are likely to finish right behind her and sweep the podium. Trusova is the original “quad queen,” and she has more quads in her free skate (four, all in different variations) than any woman in the world. She’s the only woman to ever land five quads in a single program. Trusova also has a triple axel planned in her short program, though the element has always given her trouble. Valieva has three quads planned in her free skate (two of which are quad toe loops) and Shcherbakova only has one, though she’s a huge scorer when it comes to the artistic side of skating.

The IOC responded quickly to the CAS decision, and announced that if Valieva medals, there will not be a medal ceremony at the Olympics, and that there will not be a medal ceremony for the team event , calling it “not appropriate” because it would include an athlete “who on the one hand has a positive A-sample, but whose violation of the anti-doping rules has not yet been established.” The IOC also said that 25 skaters will qualify for the free skate. Previously, 24 skaters were able to qualify to the free skate.

So, here is where things stand now: The CAS ruled Valieva can compete, and in response, the IOC followed up with a set of changes that make it clear they don’t trust her performance and don’t want to celebrate her forthcoming victory with the typical visibility.

As to the status of Russia’s gold medal in the team event, an IOC spokesman told Christine Brennan that issue will not be resolved during these games in Beijing. CAS’ decision did not address the team medal.

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