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The Dark Side of the Rink: The Rise and Fall of a Young Olympic Skating Star 

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on

Last updated on February 28, 2022

I have always adored figure skating and have been an avid fan since the 2014 Sochi Olympics. I am completely in awe of it because the artistry and skill level are truly breathtaking. The graceful and explosive routines have brought me joy and appreciation like no other sport.

Viewing the best skaters in the entire world doing what they love from the comforts of my living room couch is a gift. However, the glitter and gold of the sport seem to be fading quickly into dust. I wouldn’t describe these past few weeks of Olympic skating as just dramatic. They have been infuriating and devastating. Kamila Valieva and her teammates were the stars and victims of the entire show.  

Valieva, a fifteen-year-old Russian, recently made history when she became the first female skater, during the team event, to land a quadruple jump. It was an incredible feat. I was especially impressed considering she is barely a year older than me. I can hardly walk outside during the long winter months without slipping on ice like a complete fool, let alone execute some of the most difficult routines in the world on it.  

However, the old saying, “The higher they climb, the harder they fall” rings heartbreakingly true for the teenager.  

After her spectacular accomplishments, the shocking news was released, Valieva tested positive for banned substances, specifically the drug trimetazidine, which has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency since 2014. The drug improves blood flow to the heart which can elevate an athlete’s heart rate, allowing them to sustain peak performance for longer amounts of time. It should be noted that the drug is not meant to be ingested by anyone under the age of 18.  

However, Valieva, despite her illegal doping, was not removed from the games. Her coach Eteri Tutberidze told Russia’s leading news agency Tass they are “absolutely sure” she is innocent. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) allowed her to compete in the Olympics. CAS said in a statement it had decided Valieva should be allowed to compete due to “exceptional circumstances” including her status as a “protected person.” Essentially, Valieva is a minor so normal regulations don’t apply in the same ways.

There was intense controversy over this decision and many Olympians were upset by the situation. The NBC news commentators and former Olympic skaters, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir remained nearly completely silent during Valieva’s skate, which was unusual for the duo. During the warmup, Tara announced, “To be honest, I almost don’t believe what I’m seeing. Seeing her on Olympic ice right now with everything we’ve discovered over the last week. I did not think this was going to happen and I don’t think it should be happening.” Tara then added, “She had a positive test. We should not have seen this skate.” 

Former U.S. Olympic figure skater and coach Adam Rippon said the decision to allow her to compete in the Games was a “complete slap in the face” to clean athletes but expressed how “heartbreaking” it was for the 15-year-old skater to be the center of the situation. “It is so not fair to her, the people around her completely failed her,” he said. 

Gold medalist Yuna Kim also expressed her concerns in an Instagram post, “Athletes who violate doping cannot compete in the games. This principle must be observed without exception. All players’ efforts and dreams are equally precious.” 

Travis Tygart, head of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) commented about Valieva in a statement: “On the one hand, my heart breaks for her because of the despicable acts of the adults in her life and the catastrophic failures of the Russian and IOC-run systems that permanently cast a dark cloud over her performances. On the other hand, all of us who value clean sport are sick to our stomachs because these failures have tragically robbed clean athletes of their incredible sacrifice and Olympic dreams.”

The free skate was horrendous. Valieva fell numerous times and was absolutely devastated and in tears when the program finished. It was a disturbing moment to witness. On the ice, she no longer appeared like an exceptional skater, rather, a frightened child.  

Valieva’s coach, Eteri Tutberidze was heard criticizing the teen as she exited the rink. “Why did you stop fighting?” she asked repeatedly as tears streamed down Valieva’s face.   

The situation was not only gut-wrenching for Valieva but her two teammates as well. Seventeen-year-old Alexandra Trusova had a breakdown after receiving silver instead of gold. She was heard sobbing angrily at a Russian news outlet, “I will never go on the ice again in my life! I hate this sport, I hate it! Everyone has a gold medal, but not me.” 

Anna Shcherbakova, also seventeen, won the gold medal. This should have been a joyous moment. However, Shcherbakova was seen standing by herself, teddy bear clutched in hand, vacantly staring into space. The solemn expression was not what anyone expected from a new Olympic champion.  

Shcherbakova told reporters, “I have mixed feelings—I was very happy to be in the right time and the right place…I still can’t comprehend what has happened. On one hand, I feel this emptiness inside.” 

The Russian team’s event gold medal could be stripped due to Valieva’s doping case. Russian Olympic Committee president Stanislav Pozdnyakov said he would not give up the team event gold medal “under any circumstances, regardless of the results of the disciplinary investigation into the athlete.” 

For now, the future of the Russian skating team is uncertain. These distressing events beg the question, “What is the cost of gold, at any price?” Is it worth sacrificing the value of honesty? And perhaps more important than that, is it worth the exploitation of young athletes? 

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