A young Russian figure skater hoping to claim two gold medals at the Beijing Winter Olympics despite a failed doping test had in fact taken a cocktail of heart drugs, it has emerged.

The news prompted American anger over the apparent special treatment being afforded 15-year-old Kamila Valieva in the face of increasingly clear evidence of doping.

Valieva became the breakout star of the Beijing Games after leading Russia to the team gold last week, landing the first quad jumps by any woman in Olympic competition.

The next day, it emerged that a doping sample she had given on Dec. 25 at the Russian national championships in St. Petersburg—and which had then sat for weeks in a Swedish laboratory—had tested positive for the banned angina drug trimetazidine.

The Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, swayed by the delay in testing and her status as a “protected person” because of her young age, ruled that she should be allowed to carry on competing in Beijing. She is favorite to win individual freestyle gold after taking the lead in Tuesday’s short program.

Valieva’s lawyer told the CAS panel that she must have taken trimetazidine by accident, explaining that her grandfather, who takes her to train in Moscow, used it for a heart condition.

But it emerged last night that Valieva had listed two additional heart medications on an anti-doping control form before the Olympics, further muddying the waters.

The two other drugs drugs, L-carnitine and Hypoxen, are legal, although both have been implicated in possible doping by elite athletes. Hypoxen, which the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) wants banned, is designed to boost oxygen flow to the heart. L-carnitine, a supplement that also boost oxygen levels, is already banned over certain limits; it was at the heart of the doping case against track coach Alberto Salazar.

Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said the presence of all three drugs suggested something was going on. “It’s incredible and raises so many questions,” he told The Times of London. “It’s hard to believe someone as young as 15 would have the capability, access, and money to take these substances, so it raises questions about who was behind this. It seems quite sophisticated.”

Tygart also said that the amount of trimetazidine found in Valieva’s blood, at 2.1 nanogram per milliliter, was 200 times the amount found in the blood of another athlete who had proved contamination and was more consistent with “the tail end of an excretion”—meaning that had ingested the drug days earlier.

All told, the latest news makes it even less likely that the International Kamila Valieva Fan Club will be needing to open up an American branch any time soon.

The CAS decision to allow Valieva to compete in Beijing—the IOC has warned that her results will be provisional—provoked anger around the world, but nowhere more so than in the United States.

When the young Russian took to the ice for the short program of the individual event on Tuesday, the normally voluble NBC commentators Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir fell silent. As former Olympians, the pair know how to capture the competing demands of technique and emotion in a skater’s routine. This time they had nothing to say.

“All I feel like I can say is, that was the short program of Kamila Valieva at the Olympics,” said Weir, icily, as the Russian left the rink in tears despite a performance that put her in the gold medal spot. “We should not have seen this skate,” added Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic champion.

U.S. officials and commentators shared their anger. Sarah Hirshland, the U.S. Olympic chief, said it was “another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia.” USA Today commentator Christine Brennan called it a “dark day” for the fight against doping. And Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post criticized the IOC’s decision to delay any medal ceremony if Valieva is on the podium: “That’s perfect: Why deprive one athlete when you can deprive them all?”

The sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, forced to miss last year’s Tokyo Summer Games after testing positive for marijuana, had a more personal beef. “Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mines?” she tweeted. “The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady.”

At a briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, the IOC spokesman Mark Adams rejected Richardson’s complaint, pointing out that the American’s failed drug test had come a month before the Tokyo Games and the suspension was clear. Valieva’s anti-doping sample sat in a Stockholm laboratory for at least five weeks.

“You can’t talk about double standards in relation to Russian and American athletes. Each case is individual,” Adams said. “There is nothing in common between these two cases.”

Tygart, the USADA chief, has already warned that U.S. prosecutors could invoke the Rodchenkov Act to target individuals around her, with both fines and potential prison terms, if American athletes lose out because of her drug use. The USA placed second in the team event and would be in line for the gold medal if Russia were disqualified.

The ill-feeling in Beijing goes both ways, however, with Russians athletes—officially competing under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee because their country is banned from international sports events for systematic state-sponsored doping—appearing to revel in their pariah status.

The young Russian speedskater Daniil Aldoshkin was forced to apologize after raising his two middle fingers in defiant celebration after victory over Team USA in the men’s team pursuit semifinals Tuesday. “I’m sorry if this offended anyone,” he said. “In speed skating, we fight against time, not against an opponent. It was purely an emotional reaction.”

On Thursday the focus returns to Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium, which is hosting the figure skating competition and where Valieva is expected to claim her second gold of these Games.

There will be no Americans in contention as Valieva and her teammates in Russia’s ’“Quad Squad” go for a clean sweep of the medals.

The Capital Indoor Stadium already has a place in the footnotes of U.S. sporting history, however. On April 13, 1971, an estimated 20,000 people crowded into the newly built arena to watch nine U.S. table tennis players take on their Chinese hosts in a friendly exhibition match.

It was an extraordinary event—no Americans had been allowed into China since communists took power in 1949—and was the start of what became known as “ping pong diplomacy.” Less than a year later, President Richard made his groundbreaking visit to Beijing, opening the way for full trading ties.

It was a moment when sporting spirit and bonhomie was able to change the world for the better, to bring people of different nations together. It seems like a lifetime ago.





Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.