The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) banned Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva on January 29 for four years and disqualified her from all competitions beginning after December 25, 2021.
After winning the Russian Championships in 2021, Valieva submitted a drug test where she tested positive for trimetazidine. Trimetazidine is prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) because it is a heart medication that could increase endurance. Valieva’s drug test also indicated she was taking hypoxen and L-carnitine, two other heart medications that WADA does not currently ban. The combination suggested Valieva was taking a mixture of drugs designed to improve her training rather than accidentally using them all.
Valieva’s drug test was sent to a lab in Sweden because WADA does not allow Russia to analyze its drug tests due to previous cheating incidents. The results from this test were not revealed until February 2022, the day after the team event at the 2022 Olympic Games. Valieva’s sample was not marked as high-priority which caused the delayed results.
Valieva performed two incredible programs to help the Russian team win the gold medal, but the medal ceremony was canceled once her positive test was discovered. Thanks to the CAS decision, the United States figure skating team will receive the gold medal and Japan will win silver. There is still an ongoing dispute about whether Russia or Canada will win the bronze medal.
Valieva was only 15 years old when she tested positive for the three heart medications. It seems improbable that a 15-year-old would devise this kind of scheme, especially when you consider the controlling environment she was in. Her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, is arguably the most successful figure skating coach of the last decade. She was the coach of all three women on Russia’s 2022 Olympic team and coached the gold and silver medalists from the 2018 Olympics. However, Tutberidze’s coaching methods have been widely criticized based on the experiences of her former athletes.
Multiple Tutberidze skaters have shared their fears about gaining weight during their careers. Alina Zagitova admitted that she would rinse her mouth with water and then spit it out instead of actually drinking the water. Yulia Lipnitskaya ended her career due to anorexia after Tutberidze encouraged her only to eat powdered nutrients.
Another common theme among Tutberidze’s skaters is major injuries. Evgenia Medvedeva skated throughout the 2018 Olympic season with a broken bone in her foot, and Daria Usacheva retired from skating after a career-ending injury when she was 15.
Tutberidze’s reputation stands as a strict coach with a mentality to win at all costs. In an Instagram post, Tutberidze denied allegations of her involvement in Valieva’s doping scandal, claiming none of her skaters have ever used performance-enhancing drugs.
Valieva’s official excuse was that her grandfather contaminated a strawberry dessert by using a cutting board where he also crushed trimetazidine. However, the CAS report noted that there was insufficient evidence of her grandfather having a heart condition and being prescribed trimetazidine. There was also no evidence of Valieva traveling with the strawberry dessert to the Russian Championships or of her eating the dessert before the competition.
But when you also consider Russia’s history of state-sponsored doping, it seems likely that Valieva was given these heart medications without much of a choice. Valieva’s doctor, Fillip Shvetskiy, previously served a two-year suspension for doping members of the Russian rowing team, but he too has denied allegations of doping Valieva. The CAS report highlighted that between 2020 and 2021, Valieva was given over 60 legal medications and supplements.
The investigating bodies initially promised that Valieva’s coaches and doctors would also be investigated. Although they were interviewed during the proceedings, there has not been any accountability for their role in this case. Instead, Valieva is is the only one facing consequences. There should be a further investigation to find the truth of how Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine and to hold those responsible accountable.