Despite Olympic doping scandal, Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva is permitted to compete


Veronica Bondi is a freshman at the College of William and Mary. She hasn’t decided what she’s majoring in yet, but she’s interested in English, Marketing and Government and she is planning on double majoring. She is a copy editor for The Flat Hat, a Facilitator-in-Training for Tribe Innovation, a Writing Resources Center Trainee and a member of Library Ambassadors. Email Veronica at

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

The story of Kamila Valieva — the 15-year-old Russian figure skater who was allowed to compete in the 2022 Beijing Olympics despite a positive doping test — has taken America by storm. But in order to fully understand the true gravity of the issue, we must look back at 2014 in Sochi, where Valieva’s star coach first gained recognition and Russia’s state-sponsored doping program was exposed. This doping scandal is more than an isolated event. It is the latest chapter in the long history of a celebrated coaching teams using, abusing and discarding minors in the name of results.

2014, Sochi — Yulia Lipnitskaya, then 15, wowed the world with her flexibility and emotions as she delivered two clean skates and led Russia to their first gold medal in the figure skating team event. Her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, beamed proudly by her side — she finally had a star. What a beautiful start to a magnificent career, or so the figure skating fans thought. 

Yulia would never make it to the next Olympics. Three years, a coaching change and several injuries later she officially retired from skating in 2017 and revealed her need to seek help for her eating disorder. It was a pity, but skating fans had long since turned their attention to another young Tutberidze skater, Evgenia Medvedeva. She went undefeated her first two senior seasons, and going into the 2017–2018 Olympic season, she was the unquestionable favorite for Olympic gold. But Eteri Tutberidze debuted yet another skater that year, 15-year-old Alina Zagitova. Zagitova lacked Medvedeva’s artistry, but had a technical advantage. This, coupled with Medvedeva sustaining a foot injury early on in the season, led Zagitova to Olympic gold while Medvedeva settled for silver. 

Much happened after the 2018 Olympics. Tutberidze and her coaching team rose to unprecedented heights, sweeping the podiums of major international competitions after debuting three new skaters in 2019 — all could perform either a quad or triple axel. They supplanted Zagitova, who stopped competing midway through that season. We can see this same cycle taking place this year, with Kamila Valieva overtaking her older training mates. To go into further detail would detract from my main point. I merely wish to paint a picture of this cycle of young, talented skaters being overtaken by even younger, more technically gifted skaters, all of whom were trained by the same coach.

Tutberidze’s priorities do not lie in looking out for the best interest of her skaters. If she did, she would not have allegedly pressured Evgenia Medvedeva to retire after the 2018 Olympics, forcing Medvedeva to switch coaches in an attempt to prolong her career. Rather, Tutberidze  seems only to care about results, no matter the costs. While many things discussed about the Tutberidze camp, dubbed Sambo-70, are merely gossip, Tutberidze, her assistant coaches, and her athletes — nicknamed Team Tutberidze — have revealed troubling information, such as encouraging unhealthy eating to stave off puberty and forbidding athletes from drinking water during competitions. 

Sambo-70 is far from a healthy and supportive training environment. What Team Tutberidze is known for, however, are their results. Tutberidze’s skaters are known for their consistency, something they gain from the reportedly high numbers of run-throughs and jump repetitions her skaters perform. Not only can Tutberidze skaters execute quads and triple axels, but they can land them more often then not, leaving very little opportunity for other skaters to challenge for a medal. It is not a coincidence that trimetazidine, the drug Kamila Valieva was found to have taken, increases the endurance and decreases the recovery time of healthy individuals who ingest it. Tutberidze skaters get their edge from their brutal training, an edge this drug seems to increase. 

Now, we can go back to the current case at hand: 15-year-old Kamila Valieva’s positive doping test. While it is hard to know for certain, Valieva is most likely a victim. What talented 15-year-old would jeopardize their chance at Olympic gold in order to increase the score gap between them and their competitors? It is far more likely that her coaches or other adults in her life gave her this medication, perhaps without disclosing what it really was.

After all, did it really matter to them if her career was ruined because of a positive doping test? All her coaches care about are results, and if Kamila Valieva was disqualified from the Olympics, they coached a long list of girls vying to take her place. They likely did not anticipate that Valieva’s positive test would be revealed during the Olympics, but their rationale for giving her the drug remains the same nevertheless. They have nothing to lose because they do not truly care about her well-being. This is likely the same rationale that causes Tutberidze and her team to push countless skaters so hard that they sustain career-threatening injuries and create a training environment so grueling that, as of February 2022, not a single Tutberidze skater has lasted past 18 under her tutelage. The constant cycle of replacement fuels Tutberidze’s success and hurts her skaters the most.

While the specific reasoning behind the decision to allow Valieva to compete in the Olympics remains unclear, her age is the main reason that she is being treated with such leniency. Well, her age and the political power of Russia in the groups making these decisions. But politics aside, Valieva would not have been treated nearly as leniently had she been a year older.

I support a more lenient treatment of Valieva due to her likely victimization. It would have been more than appropriate had any suspensions prohibiting her from competing in the next season been waived. But allowing her to compete in the Olympics, and most likely earn gold, while still directly benefiting from the use of a banned substance only serves to reward her coaches, this cycle of abuse and their utter disregard for the well-being of minors. In fact, it even sends the message that coaches have nothing to fear if they pressure their young skaters to take illegal substances. Kamila faced very minor consequences; why wouldn’t they?


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