Russian figure skating phenom Kamila Valieva can continue to compete at the Beijing Winter Olympics, an international body ruled Monday, after it was reported that she had tested positive for a banned substance before the Games.
The ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), a global sports arbiter, came one day before the women’s short program, in which Valieva is favored to win gold.
Arbiters dismissed appeals by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Skating Union against the Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to allow Valieva to compete despite a positive test for trimetazidine, a heart medication that experts say could give athletes an edge.
Officials heard six hours of testimony in a video conference that began after 8:30 pm local time Sunday in Beijing, and continued their deliberations on Monday. In their reasoning, they cited special protections for minors such as Valieva, 15, the delay between the test late last year and the reporting of the results last week, and the risk of causing her “irreparable harm” by preventing her from competing.
The Figure Skating Federation of Russia praised the CAS decision.
“The only thing that can be said here is that common sense and justice have triumphed,” Alexander Gorshkov, the federation’s president, told the Ria news agency.
The Russian Olympic Committee also celebrated the news that Valieva will be allowed to compete on Tuesday.
“Tomorrow we will be rooting for her along with the whole country,” it said on Twitter.
In a statement, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee said it was “disappointed” by the decision.
“Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field,” said Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the committee. “Unfortunately, today that right is being denied.”
Questions around Valieva’s case have upended the women’s competition and imperiled the team gold already won by Russian skaters, who are not allowed to compete under their own flag after Russia was barred from international sports events over a state-sponsored doping program.
The CAS decision pertains only to whether Valieva can continue to compete, not the outcome of the team event.
Just days ago, Valieva was the toast of her sport, becoming the first woman to land a quad in Olympic competition. Her spectacular, hands-over-head leaps led her side to a runaway goldfar ahead of silver United States, bronze Japan and fourth-place Canada.
But then it was revealed that Valieva had tested positive for trimetazidine at the Russian Figure Skating Championships in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Dec. 25, according to the International Testing Agency (ITA), which oversees the Olympic drug-testing program.
The agency said a Swedish laboratory reported the findings Tuesday, a day after the Russians won the team event and before the medal ceremony, which was then postponed.
At a news briefing earlier on Monday, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said a decision on the medal ceremony was unlikely to be reached before the end of the Games.
“We are in consultation with the different national Olympic committees on how best to address this dilemma for their teams and for their athletes,” he said.
Valieva was provisionally suspended Tuesday by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, known as Rusada, but the next day she appealed and the decision was reversed, WADA and the ITA said. It was not immediately clear why Rusada had lifted the suspension.
NBC News has contacted Rusada for comment but has received no response.
With Russia barred from international sports competitions from December 2020 through the end of this year, its athletes are competing under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee. The Russian national anthem has been replaced at medal ceremonies by Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
Coming into Beijing, Valieva and her teammates — 2021 world champion Anna Shcherbakova and last year’s world bronze medalist, Alexandra Trusova — had realistic hopes of sweeping the medals podium in women’s figure skating for the first time in Olympic history. All three skaters are coached by Eteri Tutberidze, who is facing investigations by the world and Russian anti-doping agencies over Valieva’s positive test.
The women’s program is so powerful that “Empress” Elizaveta Tuktamyshevathe 2015 world champion and last year’s silver medalist, couldn’t crack Russia’s starting lineup for Beijing.
Russia has been the dominant force in women’s figure skating for multiple Olympic Games. Alina Zagitova other Evgenia Medvedeva took gold and silver in PyeongChang in 2018, while Adelina Sotnikova struck gold in Sochi in 2014.
No American woman has taken gold since Sarah Hughes in 2002 in Salt Lake City. Sasha Cohen was the last US woman to win any medal as she captured silver in 2006 in Turin.
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