Russian figure skater starts bid for second gold amid doping saga

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva will take to the ice Tuesday in search of her second gold medal a day after sport’s top court ruled she could continue to compete at the Beijing Olympics despite having tested positive for a banned substance before the Games.

Before the positive test was reported last week, Valieva, 15, was the clear favorite to win the individual event, in which she and her teammates — 2021 world champion Anna Shcherbakova and last year’s world bronze medalist, Alexandra Trusova — are hoping to sweep the medals podium in an Olympic first. But comments by Valieva, who was briefly suspended from competition before being reinstated, suggest the scrutiny has taken its toll.

The women’s single skating short program started at 6 pm local time (5 am ET), and Valieva will be the 26th athlete to skate out of 30. Normally the top 24 skaters would move on to the free skate portion of the individual event on Thursday , but if that includes Valieva — who could still be disqualified pending further investigation of the doping allegation — the International Skating Union has said it will allow a 25th to compete.

Kamila Valieva speaks to a member of her team along with her coach Eteri Tutberidze, right, in Beijing on Monday. Evgenia Novozhenina / Reuters

In her first public comments since the case came to light, Valieva told Channel One Russia on Monday that she was “happy” but “emotionally tired” after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) cleared her to skate even though she tested positive late last year for trimetazidine, a heart medication that is banned for athletes.

Valieva said she had watched the hearing unfold for seven hours with one 20-minute break, describing the experience as “very difficult.”

“I am certainly happy to be at the Olympic Games and try to represent our country,” she said.

Meanwhile, an Olympic official told reporters Monday that according to Valieva, her positive test was the result of a mix-up with her grandfather’s medication.

“Her argument what [that] this contamination happened with a product her grandfather was taking,” said Denis Oswald, permanent chair of the International Olympic Committee’s Disciplinary Commission.

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The result of Valieva’s Dec. 25 drug test only emerged last week, after she helped lead her Russian teammates to gold in the figure skating team event.

In its decision, CAS said Valieva would be allowed to continue at the Beijing Games in part because as a minor, she is a “protected person” subject to different rules than adults. It also cited the delay in reporting the test result and the risk of causing Valieva “irreparable harm” by preventing her from competing.

But the medal ceremony for the team event has been postponed, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) says it will also hold off on other ceremonies involving Valieva until the doping allegation is resolved.

“It would not be appropriate,” the IOC said after the court’s decision on Monday, adding that it will “organize dignified medal ceremonies once the case of Ms. Valieva has been concluded.”

A billboard with the words “Kamila, we are with you” at the Cosmos hotel in Moscow on Monday. Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr / AP

The decision to allow Valieva to skate has prompted criticism from athletes and officials around the world.

Sha’Carri Richardson, an American sprinter who couldn’t run in the Tokyo Olympics because of a positive marijuana test, tweeted Monday asking for an explanation of the difference between Valieva’s case and her own.

“The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady,” she said on Twitter.

Yuna Kim, the 2010 Olympic figure skating champion, also added her voice to the mix.

An “athlete who violates doping cannot compete in the game. This principle must be observed without exception,” she said in to Instagram post Monday. “All players’ efforts and dreams are equally precious.”

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee also criticized the CAS decision on Monday.

“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.”

NBC News has requested comment from the court.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it was “disappointed” by the court’s decision and would be investigating Valieva’s support personnel as required by global anti-doping regulations when a case involves a minor.

Oswald, of the IOC, also confirmed her entourage would be investigated.

“You can imagine a girl of 15 would not do something wrong alone,” he said.

Reuters other Associated Press contributed.

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