• Brinkley Blum

A Golden Girl’s Fall From Grace

THE PRICE OF GOLD: Despite a short program performance launching her into the top position, Russian Olympic Committee’s Kamila Valieva’s golden moment has been tarnished by a positive drug test. (Image Source: LA Times)

Never had the world of figure skating witnessed the technical perfection and effortless difficulty of Russia’s Kamila Valieva. At just fifteen years old, she was landing quadruple jumps that some high-ranked male skaters struggle with - two of which were the first to be landed by a woman in Olympic competition. Under the stalwart guidance of coach Eteri Tutberidze, whose dynastic reign over figure skating has produced Russian queens of the sport such as Alina Zagitova, Evgenia Medvedeva, and Yulia Lipnitskaya, Valieva was poised to claim the throne for her home nation once again.

Just one week after her historic quads became immortalized in Olympic lore, though, her name will be remembered for an entirely different reason. On February 10th, Valieva was revealed to have tested positive for trimetazidine, a medication banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency that increases blood flow to the heart, in December 2021. After her results were brought to light, much of her peers on the ice expected her golden days to be behind her.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport, though, cleared her to compete - albeit with a major alteration to the structure of Olympic protocol. Should Valieva procure any of the three medals in the ladies’ individual event, no ceremony will be held to honor their performances (the ceremony for the team event, in which she took home the gold, has been postponed as well).

The CAS’s decision is primarily focused on Valieva’s age; she is under sixteen, meaning she qualifies as a “protected person” subjected to less harsh punishment than an adult. Matthieu Reeb, director of the organization, cited that “the panel considered that preventing the athlete to compete at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm in the circumstances.”

Members of the figure skating community, though, fear that “irreparable harm” has already been caused by permitting Valieva to remain in contention for an individual medal. “Clean sport is the only thing that matters at an Olympic Games,” reported Tara Lipinski, who earned gold for the United States in 1998 at the same age Valieva is currently. “What we love about an Olympic Games is that we get to marvel at humans pushing athletic limits and doing the impossible, but with one caveat: to do it fairly and cleanly.”

For former Olympian and current coach Adam Rippon, the bulk of concern should not be applied to Valieva herself, but her coaching team: “...the team around her are child abusers. The only thing they care about is performance, and not the health and well-being of their athletes. They are a factory that pumps out children who can compete, up to a certain point.”

Rippon’s words ring true; none of Valieva’s predecessors have maintained their status in the sport for the time beyond their debut year. Yulia Lipnitskaya retired at the tender age of nineteen, revealing she suffered from anorexia during her competitive career. Evgenia Medvedeva has retired as well, and Alina Zagitova is on indefinite hiatus from the sport.

Coupled with Valieva’s positive drug test, this information reaffirms that it’s long been high time for the methodology of Eteri Tutberidze to be called into question. On a grander scale, reevaluation is necessary for both the Russian and global attitudes toward figure skating. Youth is currency amongst its competitors; twenty-year-olds are practically geriatric. Girls - because that’s what they are - put their bodies through the wringer to appease the national pressure their fragile shoulders are burdened with. Just as they’ve finally begun to earn their stardom, they burn out, a pretty young thing already lined up to steal their spotlight.

Pain and beauty should not be equals, yet in figure skating, one cannot exist without the other. The pain faced by Valieva, her competitors, and the Olympics as a whole, however, has been far too great for anything beautiful to overcome.