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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Russian figure skater can compete but won’t receive medals

Kamila Valieva training in Beijing on Sunday.

By Juliet Macur, Andrew Keh and Daniel Victor

The Russian figure skating star at the center of doping questions at the Beijing Olympics will be allowed to continue to compete despite failing a doping test weeks ago, but officials will not conduct an awards ceremony or hand out medals in any event she wins until her case is resolved.

The International Olympic Committee took the extraordinary step of serving notice that the athlete, Kamila Valieva, 15, would stay off the podium, as would the other medalists in her events, because of lingering doubts about her eligibility. Valieva became a face of the Games as she helped her Russian team win an earlier competition, and is widely seen as the favorite to win the women’s singles event that begins today.

“Should Ms. Valieva finish amongst the top three competitors in the women’s singles skating competition, no flower ceremony and no medal ceremony will take place during the Olympic Winter Games,” the Olympic committee said in a statement. It also confirmed that no ceremony will be conducted during the Games for the team event that Russia won last week.

It said it would conduct “dignified medal ceremonies once the case of Ms. Valieva has been concluded.”

The IOC’s decision came hours after a panel of arbitrators, ruling on a narrow procedural point, cleared Valieva to continue competing in Beijing, saying it would be unfair and cause “irreparable harm” to Valieva if she were barred from the competition. The IOC had asked the panel to reinstate a suspension that would have kept her out of competition.

At a practice session a half-hour after the ruling, Valieva performed her usual array of jumps and spins impeccably as more than 100 journalists looked on. She left the rink, carrying a favorite stuffed rabbit toy, without speaking to reporters.

While the ruling on her eligibility to compete by a panel from the Court of Arbitration for Sport means Valieva can begin her pursuit of a second gold medal, questions already are hanging over her performance and the Russian team, as well as the system meant to ensure that athletes taking part in major global competitions are clean.

The arbitration panel ruled on a narrow question: Did Russia act improperly when it lifted a suspension of Valieva last week only one day after imposing it? That decision effectively cleared the path for Valieva to compete in the singles event, but three international organizations — the International Olympic Committee, the World Anti-Doping Agency and skating’s global governing body — immediately challenged it.

In its decision, the panel said it “considered fundamental principles of fairness, proportionality, irreparable harm and the balance of interests” between Valieva and the organizations seeking to bar her from the Games. Also, it noted, Valieva was a minor and did not test positive at the Beijing Games, though she could face penalties when her case is examined after the Olympics.

The panel was not charged with deciding whether Russia should keep the gold medal in the team competition, a prize earned with the help of Valieva’s stunning performances. Nor did it consider the question of whether Valieva was guilty of knowingly using a banned drug. But it did question the timing of the events, saying there were “serious issues of untimely notification of the results.”

Matthieu Reeb, director general of the court, announced the ruling at a news conference in Beijing Monday, less than 30 hours before the women’s event was to begin. He lamented the delay in processing Valieva’s sample, which was collected Dec. 25 but not returned — with the positive result, until last Monday — after she had begun competing in the Games. Reed left the room after making the announcement without answering reporters’ questions.

The World Anti-Doping Agency expressed “disappointment” in the decision, and said in a statement that the panel had ignored specific provisions of the anti-doping code that governs athletes, and which required a suspension — even for a teenager.

Within minutes of the ruling, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee issued a similar statement expressing its own disappointment. Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the committee, said clean athletes were being denied “the right to know they are competing on a level playing field.”

“We are disappointed by the messages this sends,” Hirshland said, adding, “This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia.”

Tricia Smith, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said she was “extremely disappointed” with the result. Canada won fourth in the team event, behind the United States and Japan, but could be elevated to bronze if a later ruling on the substance of Valieva’s doping case leads to a change in the final order.

The final resolution of questions of Valieva’s eligibility could take months to sort out.

Groups angry at the ruling to allow her to compete also denounced previous decisions that have allowed Russian athletes to compete at these Games even as their country is banned from them after it was caught orchestrating a state-sponsored doping scheme. As part of its punishment, Russia’s name, flag and anthem are prohibited at the Beijing Games. Russian athletes who have been cleared by their individual sports federations are competing under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee.

“Russia has never been incentivized to reform because sport leaders favored politics over principle and rebranding over banning,” said Rob Koehler, director general of Global Athlete, an athlete advocacy group.

Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart medication that could increase endurance. Her positive result came from a urine sample that was taken from her at the Russian national championships on Dec. 25 but not confirmed by the Stockholm lab entrusted with testing it for about six weeks.

The Russian anti-doping agency said it had received notice from the Swedish lab of Valieva’s failed drug test only on Feb. 7, the same day that she led the Russians to a gold medal in the team event.

“This is a very complicated and controversial situation,” her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, told Russia’s state-run TV network Channel One on Saturday. “There are many questions and very few answers.” Despite those unknowns, Tutberidze declared that “we are absolutely confident that Kamila is innocent and clean.”

In last week’s free skate in the team competition, Valieva became the first woman to land a quadruple jump. Her performance led the Russians to win the team event, their best showing ever.

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