Women's figure skating goes on under doping scandal cloud at the Beijing Olympics

Kamila Valieva of ROC skates during the team figure skating program on Feb. 7, 2022 in Beijing.

Matthew Stockman / Matthew Stockman

BEIJING — Thirty competitors are taking to the ice Tuesday evening in Beijing for the women’s figure skating short program.

Among them is Russian Kamila Valieva, 15, whose positive test for a banned drug threw the Olympics in disarray. Valieva tested positive for a heart drug called trimetazidine, which can boost athletes’ endurance and blood efficiency. She provided a sample last December but the positive result wasn’t revealed until last week – after she helped propel the Russian team to a gold medal in the team competition.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled on Monday that Valieva should be allowed to keep competing at the Olympics. “Preventing the athlete to compete at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm in these circumstances,” said CAS director general Matthieu Reeb at a press conference, noting that her young age made the case particularly sensitive. Under the World Anti-Doping Code, she is considered a ‘protected person’.

At Tuesday’s competition, skaters tried to focus on their own performances even as the scandal has placed the night’s competition under a cloud.

Some athletes said they came tonight wanting to have fun and hoped to ignore the firestorm.

“It’s one time in four years, for me it was my first time,” said Lindsay van Zundert of the Netherlands who was laughing and joking with reporters after her performance.

She declined to talk about Valieva and said, “I just wanted to enjoy it and give it everything I had. It’s just me, my skates and my program and nothing else.”

Olga Mikutina of Austria said, “I concentrated on myself and it didn’t matter what was going on around me.”

Regardless, the women’s figure skating competition has been reshaped by the Valieva controversy.

The best 25 skaters after the short program will advance to Thursday’s free skate if Valieva places. Traditionally the qualification rule of the short program only means the best 24 skaters move on to the full program. The extra skater was added to Thursday’s free skate lineup so that enough people can compete and get a fair shot – in case Valieva is disqualified at a later date.

Asked whether Valieva should be skating at this event, Mikutina said that decision must be made by other people. “Of course it’s important for every athlete to compete against each other clean,” she said.

NPR’s Russell Lewis contributed to this story.

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