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Star Russian skater tested positive for a banned substance before Beijing Olympics

Kamila Valieva of Team ROC skates during the Women Single Skating Team Event on day three of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Capital Indoor Stadium on February 07, 2022.
Matthew Stockman
Getty Images
Kamila Valieva of Team ROC skates during the Women Single Skating Team Event on day three of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Capital Indoor Stadium on February 07, 2022.

Updated February 11, 2022 at 8:08 AM ET

BEIJING — A Russian athlete is once again at the center of a doping scandal — one that has embroiled the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

According to a statementreleased by the International Testing Agency, star Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva took a doping test on Dec. 25 and later tested positive for a performance-enhancing heart medication.

The positive test came after a skating competition in St. Petersburg, Russia, and was conducted under the authority of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency.

According to ITA, Valieva was later told she would be prevented from "competing, training ... or participating in any activity, during the Olympic Winter Games."

But for reasons that aren't yet clear, International Olympic Committee officials apparently weren't informed of the drug test or Valieva's eventual suspension.

She was allowed to compete in the Olympic team figure skating competition that began on Feb. 4.

After the event concluded, it appeared Russian athletes were poised to win gold, with U.S. skaters in second place.

But four days after medals were supposed to be awarded, the outcome remains in limbo.

In its statement, ITA didn't say why Valieva was cleared to skate in Beijing. It also remains unclear whether she'll be allowed to skate in additional Olympic events.

On Friday, Russian sports officials released their own statement raising questions about the timeline of Valieva's drug test and suspension.

The Russian Olympic Committee said she had passed numerous later tests.

"She passed them also in Beijing during the figure skating tournament," said the ROC. "All results have been negative."

Officials in Moscow say they reviewed Valieva's case on Feb. 9 and lifted her "provisional suspension."

But the International Olympic Committee has signaled it intends to challenge that decision before an organization called the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The CAS is expected to make a ruling on the Russian athlete's Olympic eligibility ahead of Tuesday's individual women's skating event in Beijing.

IOC officials, meanwhile, have released little information about the case.

Spokesman Mark Adams described Valieva's case as a "legal matter" and asked for patience. "Legal cases can be really difficult, but it's really important that people will get full justice," he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee issued a fiercely worded statement demanding a quick resolution. "[T]he whole credibility of the Olympic Movement and the Paralympic Movement stands teetering on the edge," the statement read.

"It's imperative that we protect the integrity and advocate for fair and clean sport for all."

Because of past doping scandals, Russian athletes are already competing under a provisional agreement that identifies them as members of the "Russian Olympic Committee" and not as representatives of Russia itself.

But critics say that arrangement by the IOC amounts to a slap on the wrist and point to evidence the Russian athletic program remains rife with systematic doping.

Gold medalists Team ROC pose during the Team Event flower ceremony at Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on Monday, February 7. That medal is now in doubt following questions about Kamila Valieva's eligibility following her positive drug test.
Catherine Ivill / Getty Images
Getty Images
Russia figure skaters celebrate their win in the team event, but that gold medal is now in doubt because of questions about Kamila Valieva's eligibility.

"There's zero evidence anything has changed," said Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which handles drug testing for the USOPC.

Tygart said drug use by Russian athletes, and tolerance of the problem by the IOC, has "tainted" the credibility of the Olympic Games, summer and winter, since 2012.

Asked why the International Olympic Committee hasn't cracked down on Russia, Tygart said, "It's simple, power and money. That's at the heart of the decisions that have been made to not give meaningful consequences to Russia from Day 1."

This scandal is complicated by the fact that the athlete involved is a minor, just 15 years old. The IOC's Mark Adams did confirm that the probe now underway would look at the behavior of her coaches and others involved in the Russian skating program.

"We don't just look at the athletes involved in these cases, we do look at the entourage, it's very important," he said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.