Credit: kelli McClintock

Winter Olympics doping scandal: Another slippery slope for the Russian Olympic Committee

By Dorota Dziki

Russian Olympic Committee skating on thin ice once again following doping scandals at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

The history of Russia at the Olympics is troubled. Participating first as the Russian Empire, they later competed as the Soviet Union, Unified Team, Russia and finally, following the 2017 state-sponsored doping scandal uncovered in the Icarus documentary, as Olympic Athletes from Russia in the 2018 Winter Olympics and as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in the most recent Winter Olympics in Beijing. 

Arguably the biggest controversy of the 2022 Winter Olympics was the doping investigation opened against 15-year-old Kamila Valieva, whose A-Sample test on 25 December came back positive, showing she had the banned substance trimetazidine in her system, as well as two permitted drugs, hyproxen and L-Carnitine. As of now, she is part of the five athletes that have tested positive for banned substances at the Olympics, joining Iranian Alpine skier Hossein Saveh Shemshaki, Ukraine’s bobsledder Lidiia Hunko and cross-country skier Valentyna Kaminska and, most recently, the Spanish figure skater Laura Barquero. ROC defended their figure skater, arguing that these drugs – which are also used to treat heart conditions – made their way into her system when she shared a glass with her grandfather, who took such medication. Many found this defence laughable, with one Twitter user comparing it to “the time I told my parents that a bead fell off my dresser and into my nose,” as well as the experts of the Pravda newspaper, who were sceptical of this defence since trimetazidine comes in tablets and can only dissolve in the intestines. 

“The figure skater argued that the drugs made their way into her system when she shared a glass with her grandfather, who took such medication.”

Many have criticised the media for their harsh treatment of the 15-year-old, as well as the adults around her who many believe should be held responsible for this situation.  One Twitter user wrote “Shame on all the adults around Kamila. She should never, ever have been put in that position,” while another said, “All I see is an extraordinarily talented 15-year-old who was overwhelmed by the corrupt adults around her, the pressure of being considered a once in a lifetime talent, and bullying from the press.” Others, however, were not as lenient with their judgment of the skater, with one arguing that by letting Valieva compete in the Olympics proved to be “nothing but one big corrupted circus” and that her participation underscored “the Korean and Japanese ladies in the short program”: Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, who won bronze in the category, was the only non-Russian competitor in the top four. Another user harshly wrote: 

“Let’s keep it 100, this chick is not a “fifteen-year-old sweetheart”, this chick is a cheater! She’s not in any way oblivious to what she’s putting in her body, & the “grandfather” defence is absurd on its face, & that makes her a liar & a cheat! Let’s bury the roach.”

Among Valieva’s critics is Sha’Carri Richardson, the American track and field sprinter infamously disqualified from the Tokyo 2020 summer games after cannabis was found in her system following her mother’s death. On her Twitter she wrote “Losing my mother wasn’t enough for me to run, I wonder why they let her,” later expanding that the difference between them is that Richardson is a “black young lady.” It is not only her that has pointed out the double standard, with a Twitter user stating “Either racism is to blame, or the Russians hacked the #BeijingOlympics.” 

“The world seems split regarding Valieva, and the case most certainly is not straightforward or black and white.”

The scandal had many re-thinking Russia’s position in the Olympics after their previous doping scandals, but also shaming the treatment of the underage figure skaters at the Olympics and the immense pressure placed upon them. One Twitter user furiously asked: “Can we also talk about how disgusting it is that Russia is doping a 15-year-old girl to make her an athlete with more stamina so she can win more medals?! She’s a child.” 

The world seems split regarding Valieva, and the case most certainly is not straightforward or black and white. If the investigation concludes she did violate anti-doping rules, she should be disqualified and sanctioned accordingly. However the biggest question here is about the ethics of the whole situation, and who should be blamed for it. Putting all the responsibility on a 15-year-old girl who is already under much stress, from the Russian government no less, does not seem right. Rather, the investigation should turn to the authorities and coaches of Valieva, and take a deeper look into the people who have continuously jeopardized the livelihood of Russian athletes through the doping programmes, and do not seem to have stopped despite the changes in the team name. 

The investigation remains ongoing, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stating that violation of anti-doping rules has not yet been established and that only after due process and the conclusion of the investigation can Valieva be sanctioned. This inconclusive situation prompted the decision to not hold a medal ceremony if Valieva was to be in the top three, as that would “not be appropriate,” meaning there would be no flower or medal ceremony for any of the competitors. This turned out not to be an issue, as Valieva ranked fourth following what the New York Post deemed a “disastrous” performance. ROC ultimately ranked ninth following the conclusion of the Olympics on 20 February, winning a total of 32 medals, six gold medals, 12 silver, and 14 bronze. Russia still managed to take home both gold and silver in the competition, thanks to 17-year-olds Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova respectively. 


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