Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva remains the heavy favorite to earn gold in the women’s individual competition, but many close to the sport are arguing the 15-year-old Olympian should not have been allowed to compete in the first place.
Valieva, who scored an 82.16 in the short program on Tuesday, sits atop the leaderboard headed into the free skate portion scheduled to take place on Thursday.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled earlier this week that Valieva can continue to compete at the 2022 Winter Games, despite the discovery of a positive test result from a sample taken in December. The controversial decision has elicited disapproval from Valieva’s competitors, former Olympians, and others in the figure skating community.
“Obviously, it’s not a level playing field and it should be,” said Great Britain’s Natasha McKay, who was eliminated from contention Tuesday. “Every sport should be a level playing field and, you know, we don’t get that opportunity here. But that’s the decision they’ve made and obviously we have to stick with that.”
“I have a lot of empathy for her because she, regardless of everything, she did have to get on the ice and work hard, no matter what happened around her,” added Switzerland’s Alexia Paganini, who will compete in Thursday’s free skate. “So I feel sorry for her, but rules are rules and they should be followed.”
The International Olympic Committee still has to investigate whether Valieva violated any anti-doping rules when she failed a drug test for trimetazidine, a banned substance used to treat heart-related conditions. Because of Valieva’s uncertain status, 25 instead of the typical 24 skaters advanced to Thursday’s final. And if Valieva does reach the podium as expected, none of the medalists will receive their hardware until the case is resolved.
Team USA has three skaters — Mariah Bell, Karen Chen, and Alysa Liu — set to compete on Thursday. All finished the free skate within the top 13.
“I can only speak for myself and that I advocate for clean sporting,” Bell said. “It feels wrong to punish people who have done this the right way.”
Liu’s father, Arthur, also expressed his outrage with the situation.
“She tested positive for a banned drug. What’s not clear about it? She should be out,” he said. “That is as simple as that. What kind of message are they sending to millions of young boys and girls in sports — particularly figure skaters? That cheaters are allowed to compete in the Olympics, the holiest competition on the planet. It totally destroys the Olympic spirit.”
Former Olympics Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski — now NBC analysts — shared a similar sentiment. During Tuesday’s short program, Weir called the decision to allow Valieva to compete “a slap in the face to every other skater.” Lipinski added, “It’s putting a permanent scar on our sport.”
Both posted additional thoughts on social media.
“There was a positive drug test,” Weir tweeted. “Therefore the athlete who tested positive, at fault or not, regardless of age or timing of test/result, should not be allowed to compete against clean athletes.”
“There is no question in my mind that she should not be allowed to compete,” echoed Lipinski.
Former American figure skater Ashley Wagner also took to Twitter, writing, “This shouldn’t be happening,” while Valieva skated. “This is overshadowing the moments of athletes who deserve to be competing here, and it makes me so mad to see this,” she said in a follow-up tweet.
Other past Olympians chimed in as well.
“I can’t even relay to everyone how annoyed I am about how helpless I truly feel,” Mirai Nagasu tweeted. “We all pledge for clean sport but the event isn’t going to have a medal ceremony if one athlete gets top 3? What?”
“Athlete who violates doping cannot compete in the game,” two-time Olympic medalist Yuna Kim wrote on Instagram. “This principle must be observed without exception. All players’ efforts and dreams are equally precious.”
As for Valieva’s thoughts on the matter?
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said it is “very unlikely” Valieva will participate in a news conference, even if she earns a provisional medal.
The free skate is scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. EST on Thursday. Valieva will skate last because she finished the short program with the highest score.