Kamila Valieva was this year’s Olympic Ice Princess. The 15-year-old Russian figure skater broke two world records in her free skate for the Olympic team skating competition. She is a member of the “Quad Squad,” a group of three young women trained by Eteri Tutberidze who can complete quad jumps. Her free skate broke world records. She landed two quad jumps and, at only 15, has been labeled a flawless skater. These Olympics were supposed to be Valieva’s coronation until it was revealed that she had tested positive for trimetazidine, a drug identified as a performance-enhancing drug by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
The medal ceremony for the team figure skating event was delayed, and many speculated it was because of a covid exposure until it was announced the IOC was seeking legal guidance. Once legal issues were added to the context, many began to speculate about the Russian Olympic Committee’s potential involvement. The Russian athletes are still under a ban after a state-sponsored doping scandal. Russia is banned from international competitions after a whistleblower exposed the operation in 2016. In 2017, Russia was banned from competing in international competitions. Athletes who passed the drug test were allowed to compete in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Then in 2020, the ban was enforced and given the formal time of four years, until Russia appealed and it was shortened to 2 years. That doping scandal and the subsequent ban are impossible to forget, especially as Russian athletes compete under the Olympic insignia and the title ROC. When the medal ceremony was being halted, and legal consultants were needed, immediately everyone’s mind jumped to the Russian team and the history of doping.
Many have said that doping could not happen in figure skating, that steroids did not benefit figure skaters. But trimetazidine is not what we think of when we think of a performance-enhancing drug. Trimetazidine is a heart medication used to treat those with angina. It helps maintain blood flow, prevent heart-stopping blockages, relaxes blood vessels, and helps keep the steady flow of blood from the heart to the body. While this does not sound like a “performance-enhancing drug,” trimetazidine is classified as a “metabolic modulator” by WADA. It supposedly gives athletes an unfair endurance edge. That is why it is banned in competitions and considered performance-enhancing.
Figure skating is very artistic, and women’s figure skating is judged so much based on the “ice princess” aesthetic which makes having the muscle mass from traditional steroids not help a skater, but a drug like trimetazidine definitely could. The most challenging part of the Free Skate program is how long it is. Skaters get a boost in points for performing jumps in the second half of their free skate routine because of the endurance required to complete them. Trimetazidine increases endurance, so suddenly, it is not such a taxing feat to complete difficult jumps after skating for two and a half minutes. That endurance could help a skater complete those high point jumps in the second half of the routine, all without altering the athlete’s appearance. Valieva tested positive for this drug.
Valieva is only 15 years old, and we are still waiting to find out if she has a legitimate reason to take that medication. If Valieva is taking the substance without a medical condition, it further condemns Russia’s figure skating program and Eteri Tutberidze’s teaching methods. The pressure to perform on these skaters is so high, and they are so replaceable that they will do anything to win and earn their place. Tutberidze is also known to value winning overall, and there is speculation that she prompted Valieva to take the trimetazidine to improve her likelihood of winning gold. Valieva’s positive test and Tutberidze’s potential involvement have raised many important questions. How much is a 15-year-old to blame for trusting her teacher? Even if Tutberidze didn’t make Valieva take the drugs, can Valieva be blamed for what the harsh pressure cooker climate she was being trained in pushed her to do?
The most important question for the IOC is, should team ROC be stripped of their medal? In my opinion, they should be. I love watching Russian figure skaters, but you do not deserve to win anything if you cheat. Valieva’s routine cemented the ROC’s gold medal, but the ROC should not be rewarded if she earned those scores under false pretenses.
After her record-breaking free skate, Valieva was crowned ice queen. That gold did not last long before the ceremony was delayed, and it was confirmed that Valieva was the athlete who had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. She was supposed to be the golden girl this Olympics, but now the whole narrative surrounding her has been thrown up in the air. If she was taking trimetazidine for medical purposes, she would be exonerated. If she is absolved of the allegations, she will hopefully be able to move past this incident. Still, if it is the case that she was taking this medication to gain an advantage, then her reign as queen of figure skating has come to an abrupt end.