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Kamila Valieva doping scandal: What you need to know

November 15, 2022

Russian teenage figure skater Kamila Valieva is facing a potential four-year ban for doping. Here’s what you need to know about Beijing Winter Olympic gold medalist and the scandal that followed her positive test.

Olympische Spiele Peking Kamila Valieva Eiskunstlauf Russland
Image: David Ramos/Getty Images

Kamila Valieva's fate is in the hands of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), who will rule whether the Russian skater is guilty of doping.

WADA is seeking a ruling from CAS after Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine, a banned heart medication, at the Russian National Figure Skating Championships on December 25, 2021, three months before the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) opened proceedings against Valieva but RUSADA have been accused of stalling by CAS, who told a court in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Monday that "no decision was issued by RUSADA within the time limit set by WADA" after RUSADA missed a November 4 deadline to comply.

CAS will act on an appeal by WADA, who want to impose a four-year doping ban on the figure skater, who would then be unable to compete at the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan, Italy.

Kamila Valieva is followed by her coach Eteri Tutberidze
Valieva is followed by her coach Eteri Tutberidze, who publicly rebuked the young skater after she came fourth in Beijing.Image: Grigory Sysoev/SNA/IMAGO

Who is Kamila Valieva?

Valieva is from the Russian city of Kazan but at age six moved to Moscow, where she became a child skating prodigy. At 13, she won individual gold in the Junior World Championships and, two years later, another gold at the senior European Championships.

She shot to international prominence at the Beijing Olympics, when the then-15-year-old became the first female skater to land a quadruple jump in an Olympic competition. Her stellar performance allowed the Russian team, competing under the Russian Olympic Committee banner as part of its punishment for a state-sponsored doping program, secure gold in the team event with a stellar performance.

But the very same day, a WADA-accredited laboratory in Stockholm reported that it had found trimetazidine in her sample from the earlier Russian championships. Trimetazidine is used to treat the heart condition angina but is a banned substance for athletes as it boosts blood flow efficiency and endurance.

As news surfaced of the positive test, RUSADA imposed a mandatory provisional suspension on February 8, but Valieva successfully challenged the decision and the ban was lifted on February 9. The developments were publically confirmed on February 11, sparking one of the major controversies of the Games.

After her dazzling performance in the team event, she was on course to win individual gold after an emotionally charged short program, but with the global spotlight on her, it all became too much for the pre-event favorite, who fell several times during her free skate to gasps from the audience, sobbing into her hands at the end.

Kamila Valieva on the ice at the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Valieva is one of Russia's most gifted figure skaters, but she is now caught in a doping scandal.Image: Kyodo/IMAGO

Will Valieva lose her Olympic gold medal?

WADA want Valieva's ban to be backdated to the date of her alleged offense, December 21, 2021. That would not only lead to Valieva and the rest of Russian team being stripped of the team gold won in Beijing but also make Valieva unable to qualify for the 2026 Winter Games in Milan-Cortina. 

However, the medals for the team event were never actually awarded and the medal ceremony indefinitely postponed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The United States, who originally placed second, would be upgraded to gold.

A three-member panel of arbitrators "will decide the matter" according to CAS, but no timeframe has been set.

RUSADA had said it would not reveal either the date of Valieva's hearing or the verdict, adding it had made the decision to "protect the interests" of the 16-year-old, who is a "protected person."

Russian athletes could only compete in Beijing under the Russian Olympic Committee banner rather than the Russian flag because the country is serving a two-year ban as punishment for a state-sponsored doping program.

Valieva speaks to Filipp Shvetsky, the Russian team physician at the Beijing Winter Olympic Games.
Valieva with Filipp Shvetsky, the Russian team physician at the Beijing Winter Games.Image: Valery Sharifulin/Tass/IMAGO

Who is Valieva's doctor Filipp Shvetsky?

Many aspects of Valieva's positive test remain a mystery, including how a banned drug ended up in the system of a 15-year-old athlete.

Questions swirled immediately about the influence of her entourage following a tense and tearful post-routine encounter with her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who rebuked the athlete on live television after her faltering performance in the individual event in Beijing.

Tutberidze denies any wrongdoing or any involvement in doping, but she has worked closely with Dr. Filipp Shvetsky, who was listed as Valieva's supervising physician in Beijing, for years. Shvetsky has remained a doctor with the Russian national team.

Dr. Shvetsky trained as an anesthesiologist, but in the world of sports is among a team of doctors, including cycling and athletics — known for exploiting loopholes in antidoping rules. He was regularly seen at practice rinks and skating competitions, but the public presence of a doctor at such events raised concern in the sport.

In an interview with the Russian weekly newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta, earlier this month, Shvetsky denied any knowledge or involvement in Valieva's positive test.

"The only 'doping' I gave Kamila was a gift of a copy of Picasso's painting 'Girl on a Ball.' It was painted by an artist friend of mine. I officially recognize this ‘doping.' I hope it helped her," Shvetsky said.

In June, the sport's International Skating Union governing body, acknowledging its duty of care to elite adolescent athletes, will raise the minimum age for senior competition to 17, from 2024.

Includes additional reporting from AFP and AP.

Edited by: Davis VanOpdorp