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Sports tribunal bans Russian Kamila Valieva from figure skating through 2025

Kamila Valieva, of the Russian Olympic Committee, trains at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson
Kamila Valieva, of the Russian Olympic Committee, trains at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Nearly two years after the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, an international sports tribunal in Switzerland issued a final ruling on Monday that Russian figure skating phenom Kamila Valieva "committed an anti-doping rule violation."

The Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) ruled that Valieva will be suspended from international competition through December 2025.

"Trimetazidine was found to be present in the sample collected from Ms Valieva on 25 December 2021 during the Russian National Championships in St Petersburg," CAS said in a statement.

The outcome also "disqualifies" all competitions where Valieva medaled beginning in December 2021, including the 2022 Winter Games.

The move clears the way for the last medals from the Winter Games to finally be awarded, but leaves a black eye on one of the event's most popular competitions.

"Russia has hijacked every Olympic games since 2014," said Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a critic of Russia's well-documented sports doping system.

"I think you have to have a lot of sympathy. This is a 15-year-old girl who was part of this [Russian doping] program. Who do you blame?"

The World Anti-Doping Agency also issued a strongly-worded statement calling for full accountability for sports officials, doctors and coaches in Russia.

"The doping of children is unforgivable," the organization said in a statement. "WADA encourages governments to consider passing legislation – as some have done already – making the doping of minors a criminal offence."

With Valieva now sidelined and her stunning performances disqualified, the International Skating Union is now expected to determine who should receive which medals from Beijing's team skating competition. It said it would issue a statement on Tuesday.

For Team USA, coveted gold medal now within grasp

Russia placed first in the team competition, followed by the United States and Japan. Canada finished fourth. The move should clear the way for the U.S. to receive the gold medal.

Madison Hubbell, a member of the U.S. figure skating team in Beijing, said the ruling was a win for herself, her teammates and her sport.

"You become possibly an Olympic gold medalist and that's a very great title to possess," Hubbell told NPR on Monday. "But for all of our team we were just anxious to see justice being done."

Hubbell, who is now a skating coach and is expecting her first child this year, said her team's delayed recognition is bittersweet.

"I can celebrate with my daughter and that's going to be something unique. It will be special and the team will all be back together."

U.S. officials voiced confidence that American athletes will finally be recognized for their apparent win.

"Today is a day we have been eagerly awaiting for two years, as it is a significant win not only for Team USA athletes but also for athletes worldwide who practice fair play and advocate for clean sport," said Sarah Hirshland, head of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, in a statement sent to NPR.

Russia's Kamila Valieva competes in the women's free skate event during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on February 17, 2022.
Manan Vatsyayana / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
Russia's Kamila Valieva competes in the women's free skate event during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on February 17, 2022.

Hirshland acknowledged the roster of U.S. figure skaters caught up in the Valieva controversy, including Evan Bates, Karen Chen, Nathan Chen, Madison Chock, Zachary Donohue, Brandon Frazier, Madison Hubbell, Alexa Knierim and Vincent Zhou.

"Their outstanding performances in Beijing will forever symbolize their commitment to clean competition," she said.

Russia remains at center of world sport controversy

Tygart also described this decision as a victory for clean sport and said he hoped it would lead to more aggressive enforcement of doping rules to rein in Russian wrong-doing.

"They're not compliant with the rules today. The system has failed athletes, including Valieva, continuing to allow [Russia] to hijack the world's largest events."

The case centered on Valieva, a star Russian figure skater, who was allowed to compete in Beijing even after it was revealed she had tested positive before the Games for using a banned performance-enhancing drug.

Dozens of other athletes around the world were caught up in the collateral damage from the scandal. While the case was under review, the International Olympic Committee decidednot to award medals for the team figure skating competition.

"We were dressed in our ceremony gear, in a room waiting to to take a bus to the venue and we were told, this is canceled," recalled Zach Donohue, a member of the U.S. figure skating team, in an interview with NPR last year.

As the slow bureaucratic process inched forward with long delays between hearings, athletes from Canada, Japan, Russia and the U.S. waited to learn whether the Russian team would ultimately be disqualified.

There has been speculation that an awards ceremony for the figure skaters could be held at the Summer Games in Paris later this year.

The Valieva affair put spotlight on Russian sports controversies.

This case drew renewed attention to the long history of doping that experts say has corrupted athletic programs in Russia, skewing the results in international competitions and putting young competitors at risk.

This CAS ruling also came just days after the same sports tribunal heard Russia's appeal of a decision by the International Olympic Committee that blocked Russian athletes from competing on behalf of their country at the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.

Russians are expected to be allowed to compete, but only as neutral athletes, without flying the national flag, playing their country's anthem, or wearing official Russian sports uniforms.

The IOC issued the restrictions after Russia's invasion of Ukraine days after the Beijing Games ended, when Russian officials moved to forcefully absorb sports teams located in occupied territories including Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia.

"The Russian Olympic Committee is no longer entitled to operate as a national Olympic committee, as defined in the Olympic charter, and cannot receive any funding from the Olympic movement," the IOC said in its October 2023 ruling.

It's unclear when CAS will issue a final ruling on that dispute.

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Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.