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Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

Russian Figure Skater Kamila Valieva’s Disqualification is Deserved

Valerie Zhang
On Monday, Jan. 29, the Court of Arbitration for Sport disqualified Kamila Valieva from international competition for four years. Removing her points from the Team Event during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics has put the United States in first place and Japan in second place.

In a tragic shift of events, Russian Olympic figure skater Kamila Valieva sobbed as she stepped off the rink after stumbling through the worst Free Skate performance of her career at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, scolded her repeatedly: “Why did you let go? Why did you stop fighting?”

Moments later, fellow Russian figure skaters, gold medalist Anna Shcherbakova and silver medalist Sasha Trusova, stood on the Olympic podium during the award ceremony. But they were missing an intricate part of their famous “quad squad”: Valieva, the girl predicted months before to take gold by storm.

But on Monday, Jan. 29, an agonizing two years after the disastrous Winter Olympics in Beijing, the Court of Arbitration for Sport disqualified Valieva after she tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, banning her from international competition for four years. Her ban will be lifted in 2026, weeks before the next Olympics in Milan.
Entering the 2022 Winter Olympics, Valieva was the top contender for Women’s Gold and contributed many points to the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) during the Team Event — including landing the first quadruple jump at the Olympics as a female skater. However, predicted outcomes were thrown into a loop when her drug test sample from Russian Nationals in December of 2021 came back positive for Trimetazidine.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) did not report these results to the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) until Feb. 7, 2022, the final day of the Team Event. Consequently, the medal ceremony for the Team Event was delayed due to Valieva being a “protected person” as she was 15 years old when the scandal occurred. This means the repercussions fall mostly on her legal team and other adult personnel — including her coaches Tutberidze, Sergei Dudakov, and Daniil Gleikhengauz — who claim she accidentally ingested her grandfather’s heart medicine while drinking water. Still, Valieva was allowed to compete in the Women’s Short Program and Free Skate.

Though not the common type of stimulant used in doping cases, Trimetazidine is a heart medicine that increases the rate at which glucose is broken down into energy and potentially increases endurance by optimizing oxygen usage. Ordinarily, it is used to treat vertigo due to problems in blood vessels. The probability of her grandfather’s medicine winding up in her water glass is low, so how did 15-year-old Valieva have that kind of drug running through her?
Russia is notorious for countless doping incidents. In 2014 after the Sochi Olympics, a former RUSADA official confessed Russia encourages systematic doping. Moreover, another direct source warned that anti-doping samples in labs in Russia were tampered with and at least 15 medalists were part of the doping program. In turn, WADA banned Russia from entering the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Olympics, instead allowing clean athletes to compete under the name “ROC”.

Regarding Russia’s history, perhaps Valieva felt pressured by the Russian public to take the drug. But there is cause for speculation that her coach, Tutberidze has a hand in this. In 2022, Valieva was at the peak age for figure skating, as her muscle ratio and prepubescent frame could handle the strain of quad rotations. Though Trimetazidine cannot have produced her brilliant artistic expression and craft, it may have boosted her ability to practice higher-level skills with greater ease and at a faster rate — but for how long?

Tutberidze’s coaching emerged in the public spotlight after 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya won Women’s Skating in the 2014 Olympics. In 2018, at the PyeongChang Olympics, 15-year-old Alina Zagitova and 18-year-old Evgenia Medvedeva won gold and silver, respectively. Now, “Eteri girls” such as Valieva, Shcherbakova, and Trusova have introduced a new age: quad jumps. Once thought impossible for women, quad jumps require skaters to be as compact and light as possible — which by Tutberidze’s methods, are maintained through puberty blockers and extremely strict diet control. Unfortunately, this has stirred the name “Eteri expiration date” for the age of 17, as most of the female skaters under Tutberidze tend to retire by that age due to countless permanent injuries and mental health issues. Additionally, the decreasing age of Russian skaters has resulted in a call for raising the age limit as many female skaters do not find it fair to compete against athletes with bodies that have not yet transitioned through puberty.

Though Tutberidze’s methods win gold medals, the abuse they cause on the skaters’ bodies is not sustainable in the long run. Shortly after the Sochi Olympics, Lipnitskaya began to lose in Russian competitions. Her battle with anorexia began to worsen, leading her to retire at 19. Zagitova finished sixth in the 2019 Grand Prix Final and took a “prolonged break” from skating at 17. Medvedeva retired from competition in 2021 due to chronic back pain. Even with injuries from overtraining, many skaters under Tutberidze are still persuaded to skate in competitions where the Tutberidze name inflates their final point standings, further highlighting the extent of Tutberidze’s desire for podium sweeps which far surpasses her care for her skaters. Tutberidze’s training emphasizes that female figure skaters only have a limited time slot to be able to jump quads, which may be the reason why Valieva chose to take Trimetazidine — if there was a choice at all — to maintain her best form in what was conceivably her first and last Olympic Games.

But are quads truly a necessity to win? Japanese Olympic figure skater, Kaori Sakamoto, won third place at the Beijing Olympics but did not have a single quad in her routine. Though the Russian female skaters are driving forth a revolution, it is questionable whether or not the outcomes are worth the sacrifice.

When it comes down to it, Valieva was rightfully penalized, preventing harmful precedents from being formed. However, the process of the ban is not fair. The media appears to either victimize or villainize her, but neither is correct. She was 15 at the 2022 Olympics, but only 2 months away from 16 — the age at which she would’ve suffered much greater consequences. The moment the drug test was found to be positive, she should have been sent home and had her earned points automatically considered null. With the world’s scrutiny and conflicting expectations of her in that horrible adjustment period after her sample was publicized, it is no wonder she broke down during her Free Skate.

For all the committees and precautions set in place to prevent situations like this from occurring, they have undoubtedly failed to protect Valieva. On a seemingly straightforward journey toward a gold Olympic medal, she was most likely trying to please herself, her coaches, and her nation and got caught in the crossfire.

After two years, removing Valieva’s points earned in the Team Event has put the United States in first place, Japan in second place, and lowered the ROC into third place. The scandal should have never been as blown out of proportion as it was because unnecessary harm was done to all parties. After years of Russia pulling off cheating feats even after undergoing numerous bans, this event will hopefully spark future discussion for new doping regulations and age limit raises.



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About the Contributor
Valerie Zhang
Valerie Zhang, Reporter
Class of 2024
Because of writing, the spontaneity of ideas that pop into my head in the middle of the night has transformed me into a night owl. Throughout the late hours, I cultivate my obsession with period dramas, sports animes, and pictures of swim practice sunsets. Other hobbies include learning languages, lifeguarding, and sleeping!

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