Kamila Valieva, the teenage Russian figure skater whose positive doping test upended her sport at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, was banned from competition for four years on Monday by the top court in sports.
The punishment, announced by a three-member arbitration panel empowered by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, was related to a tainted sample Valieva, who was 15 at the time, gave at a competition. The positive result only emerged two months later — in the middle of the Olympics, and only a day after Valieva had led Russia to victory in the team competition.
The ban will be retroactive to Dec. 25, 2021, the arbitrators ruled, meaning it will end in 2025, just in time for Valieva to compete at the next Winter Olympics, in 2026. Now 17, she was ordered to forfeit “any titles, awards, medals, profits, prizes and appearance money” earned after her positive doping sample was collected.
Valieva had claimed that she had mistakenly taken a heart medication, Trimetazidine, prescribed for her grandfather. Russia’s anti-doping body had cleared her of any wrongdoing, not because of her reasoning for ingesting the banned substance but because of her age, saying she could not be held responsible because she was a minor at the time, and therefore a “protected person.”
The CAS panel, in Monday’s ruling, dismissed the premise that minors competing in adult competitions should be treated different from their rivals.
“There is no basis under the rules to treat them any differently from an adult athlete,” the arbitrators wrote.
The decision, almost two years after the end of the Beijing Games, is the final twist in a yearslong fight that wove together threads familiar to followers recent Olympics: athletic greatness, Russian doping, bitter accusations and whispers of coverups. But at its heart the case also highlighted the inability of global sports to enforce rules on doping and to punish athletes and countries in a timely manner.
The furor surrounding Valieva’s status cast a cloud over much of the Olympics and frustration, and provoked fury from Russia’s rivals. Many, including a star-studded United States team that felt it had been cheated out of the team gold, were angered that their competitions had not only been disrupted but that athletes had been denied the opportunity to celebrate their achievements during the Games.
The court’s ruling will have consequences for some of those other skaters. Because Valieva took part in the team event, Russia will be stripped of its first-place finish, with the victory awarded to the United States team that finished second in Beijing. Japan will be elevated to silver from bronze and Canada, which finished fourth, will be awarded the bronze medal.
The results of that event had been one of the more contentious points of the Games. With no clarity on Valieva’s status, no medal ceremony was held — the first time in Olympic history that medals were not awarded in a completed event. That meant all the teams left China without their moment on the podium, or their medals.
In the years since the Games ended, and as the case became mired in disputes between federations and lawyers, the American skaters and ice dancers had tried to force the International Olympic Committee to award them the silver medals they believed they had earned. But their plea to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was rejected.
Now those American athletes — the singles skaters Nathan Chen, Karen Chen and Vincent Zhou; the pair team of Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier; and the ice dancing teams Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue — will get their medals.
Valieva’s Beijing Olympics were a story of sublime skill and sudden greatness until her world crashed down in a matter of days.
Just 15, she had arrived in Beijing as a heavy favorite to win the ladies singles gold medal, and another in the team event, after zooming to the top of the sport in just a few short months and dominating it in a way rarely seen before.
In pre-Olympic competitions, Valieva had appeared unstoppable, breaking world record after world record for points, partly because of her sensational ability to land extremely difficult quadruple jumps as if they were basic elements of the sport.
But Valieva’s grace was what lifted her to another level: She floated across the ice, moving to the music as gently as a prima ballerina, with every inch of her body feeling the music. At times, she seemed to make no noises at all, even when she landed big jumps, because she was so good at disguising her immense power with her near flawless skills.
She led Russia to a gold in the team event in the first days of the Games, becoming the first woman to land two quads in an Olympic free skate, and then was poised to add the singles gold when the doping positive was made public.
From then on, and with the world watching her every move, Valieva began to crumble. In her final performance — the women’s free skate — she stumbled and fell, barely making it to the finish. When she left the rink in tears, her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, was caught on live television giving her a stern look and reprimanding her by saying, in Russian: “Why did you let it go?” Why did you stop fighting? Explain it to me, why?”
Valieva, the fallen favorite, had tumbled to fourth overall. But Russia, and Tutberidze, still triumphed: Its two other skaters finished first and second, claiming gold and silver.