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Russian Figure Skater Is Handed Four-Year Ban in Olympic Doping Case

Kamila Valieva, the teenage Russian figure skater whose positive doping test upended her sport at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and kept more than a dozen other athletes from receiving their medals, was banned from competition for four years on Monday by the top court in sports.

The punishment, announced by a three-member arbitration panel at the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, was related to a tainted sample that Valieva, who was 15 at the time, had given at the Russian national championships only weeks before the Games. That result emerged in the middle of the Olympics, and only after Valieva had led Russia to victory in the team competition.

The ban will be retroactive to the date she gave the sample, Dec. 25, 2021, meaning it will end in time for Valieva to compete at the next Winter Olympics, in Italy in 2026. Now 17, Valieva was ordered to forfeit “any titles, awards, medals, profits, prizes and appearance money” earned after her positive doping sample was collected.

The decision, arriving almost two years after the end of the Beijing Games, is most likely the final twist in a yearslong fight that wove together threads familiar to followers of 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.

Valieva had claimed that her failed drug test came after she mistakenly took a heart medication, trimetazidine, prescribed to her grandfather. It was one of three medications found in her sample, but efforts to immediately eject her from the Games were unsuccessful.

Russia’s antidoping body eventually cleared Valieva of wrongdoing, not because of her explanation but because of her age: It ruled that she could not be held responsible because she was a minor, and therefore a “protected person.”

The CAS panel, in Monday’s decision, dismissed that premise. “There is no basis under the rules to treat them any differently from an adult athlete,” the arbitrators wrote.

The World Anti-Doping Agency, the global regulator known as WADA, which had pressed for a harsh punishment in the case, said it welcomed the ruling. But it also called for legislation that would criminalize the actions of coaches, doctors and sports officials who provide prohibited substances to minors.

“The doping of children is unforgivable,” it said.

Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said in an interview on Monday that the Valieva matter was a failure of the antidoping system that was “completely avoidable.” Knowing Valieva was an Olympic favorite, Russia should have expedited the analysis of the urine sample that was later found to be positive, he said; had it done so, she would have been barred from competing.

The furor surrounding Valieva’s uncertain status cast a cloud over the Beijing Games and created havoc for the International Olympic Committee, which was suddenly confronted with late-night eligibility hearings, uncomfortable news conferences and a barrage of global headlines that threatened to overshadow the competitions. But the revelation also provoked fury from Russia’s rivals on the ice.

Many of them, including a United States team that felt it had been cheated out of the team gold, were angered not only that the competitions had been disrupted but also that athletes who had done nothing wrong had been denied the opportunity to celebrate their achievements at the Games.

“Clean athletes could’ve had their moment,” Tygart said. “But Russia failed to follow the rules and they were allowed to get away with it.”

The court’s ruling on Monday will have consequences for some of those skaters. Because Valieva took part in the team event, Russia will be stripped of its first-place finish, allowing victory to be awarded to the United States team that finished second. Japan will be elevated to silver and Canada, which finished fourth, will be awarded the bronze. Neither skating’s governing body nor the I.O.C. would confirm any reallocation of any medals, or the timing for awarding them, on Monday.

The results of the team event proved to be one of the more contentious points of any recent Games. With no clarity on Valieva’s status, Olympic officials decided that no medal ceremony would be held — the first time in Olympic history that medals were not awarded in a completed event.

In the years since, and as the Valieva case became mired in disputes between Russia, skating officials and antidoping organizations, the American skaters and ice dancers who competed had tried to force the I.O.C. 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 be waiting for golds instead.

Sarah Hirshland, the chief executive of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, said in a statement that she could not wait to celebrate the athletes who won medals in the team event. “Their moment is approaching,” she said. “And when it arrives, it will serve as a testament to the justice and recognition they truly deserve.”

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 multiple golds after zooming to the top of the sport and dominating it in a way rarely seen before. In pre-Olympic competitions, she 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 sound 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 the 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 was poised to add the singles title when her doping positive was revealed.

From then on, and with the world watching her every move, Valieva began to crumble. In her final performance 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. But Russia still triumphed: Its two other skaters finished first and second, claiming gold and silver.

The distrust in Russia’s ability to handle any investigation into the case had been present from the moment the stunning news of Valieva’s positive had emerged. But under the rules of international sports, it was Russia’s antidoping agency — an organization that itself had only just returned from a yearslong suspension for its role in one of the biggest cheating scandals in sports history — that was required to rule first.

The process was delayed as the Russian antidoping body, known as RUSADA, dragged out an initial inquiry into how a banned substance had found its way into Valieva’s system. Its surprising exoneration of her, and its contention that she could not be held responsible, was seized upon by the International Skating Union, figure skating’s governing body, and WADA.

WADA argued the Russian panel was “wrong” in clearing Valieva, and that its argument of “no fault or negligence” should be appealed. Its proposed punishment — a four-year ban and the disqualification of all of Valieva’s results from any competition she participated in after submitted the positive sample — was the one that the arbitrators imposed on Monday.


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