Harsher Consequences Warranted for Olympic Skater Drug Misuse


Alyssa Tang, Staff Writer

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Kamila Valieva broke records on Feb. 7, 2022, at the Beijing Winter Games by becoming the first woman to ever land a quadruple jump at the Olympics, winning a gold medal alongside other members of the Russian Olympic Committee in the team event. However, her accomplishment was tainted by the drug test results revealed on Feb. 8, showing that trimetazidine and two other substances not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) were detected in her sample. Since Valieva is considered a minor, she was cleared to compete after a hasty decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport with the stipulation that she could not receive medals in the women’s individual event until the case is fully investigated. Although Kamila Valieva is a young 15-year-old Olympic ice skater, drug test incidents should solely be assessed based on the presence of any illegal substance. By allowing her to continue competing, the CAS has shown leniency towards illegal, performance-enhancing substance abuse, setting a precedent for other competitive athletes. 

Some may argue that, as a teen, Valieva should not face career-ending penalties since the “drug cheat” may not have been entirely voluntary given the corrupting influence of trainers, coaches, and even parents. On the eve of the ruling, billboards in Moscow continued to express their support for Valieva with messages like, “Kamila, we are with you!” Under WADA rules, since she is under the age of 16, she is considered a “protected person” and according to the CAS panel, there is potential for “irreparable harm” if she was barred from competing as “none of this is the fault of the athlete.” While it is likely that consumption of the performance-enhancing substances was not necessarily her idea, the fact still stands that she tested positive for a banned substance before participating in the Olympics. The rules should not be bent simply because of her age; therefore, she should not have been allowed to skate in the women’s individual event. 

Moreover, the defense given by the Russian figure skater’s legal team regarding Valieva’s positive doping test seemed far-fetched and absurd, hardly deserving of such mild repercussions. According to the Russian Newspaper Pravda, Valieva’s lawyer, Anna Kuzmenko, told the CAS panel that “there can be completely different ways how it got into her body.” Some far-fetched arguments included the possibility that traces of saliva from her grandfather, who was allegedly taking the heart medications, were left on a glass from which Valieva later drank. Furthermore, the specific concoction of drugs found in this case makes it difficult to believe that they were taken accidentally. “It’s a trifecta of substances – two of which are allowed, and one that is not allowed,” the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency Travis Tygart said. He stated that the benefits of such a combination “seemed to be aimed at increasing endurance, reducing fatigue and promoting greater efficiency in using oxygen.” 

In addition to conceding to a faulty and hastily prepared defense, by lifting the provisional suspension on Valieva, the CAS decision did not adequately reprimand the misuse of trimetazidine, setting a precedent for other competitive athletes. Since 2014, trimetazidine has been widely recognized by the WADA as a medication that can give athletes an unfair chemical advantage. As participating and medaling in the Olympics represents the pinnacle of success in sports, the ethics of the competition should be held to the highest standard.

“It is the collective responsibility of the entire Olympic community to protect the integrity of sport,” U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said.

Even though the US, who received a silver medal in the team event, would have received gold if Russia was forced to surrender their title, “For us, this is more about protecting the sanctity of fair and clean sport and holding those accountable that don’t uphold the Olympic values,” the US Olympic and Paralympic spokeswoman Kate Hartman said.

The US Olympic Committee believes that this was “another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia.” Consequently, the court decision failed to discourage coaches from pushing their athletes to use unethical practices to achieve victory.

“The adults around [Valieva] have completely failed her,” former U.S. skater and 2018 Olympic bronze medalist Adam Rippon said. “They’ve put her in this awful situation and should be punished.”

In light of this controversial case, the governing committees for the Olympics should enact harsher consequences to make it clear that the use of drugs to gain an unfair advantage, whether by a minor or the adults responsible for her, is strictly forbidden. Above all, this is the message we should be sending to young boys and girls with aspirations of becoming world-class athletes.