Figure skater Kamila Valieva testified by video at an appeal hearing that will decide if the 15-year-old Russian star can still compete at the Beijing OIympics despite an ongoing doping case.
It’s a case that challenges the integrity of Olympic anti-doping rules and the sincerity of Russian accountability and care of its athletes. And it’s a case in the spotlight because of the astonishing talent and skills of the teenager who is winning hearts around the world with her performances.
The hearing started Sunday evening in Beijing and lasted until after 3 a.m. Monday morning. Court of Arbitration for Sport director general Matthieu Reeb said a ruling in the case that has caused havoc with one of the Olympics marquee events will be announced Monday afternoon after 1 p.m. in China (or after 12:00 am EST in the U.S.).
Three CAS judges heard arguments in a closed-door session in a conference room at a Beijing hotel. Lawyers and officials for the parties connected to the case in the Winter Games host city and from Switzerland.
The International Olympic Committee, World Anti-Doping Agency and International Skating Union have challenged a decision by the Russian anti-doping agency to lift an interim ban and try so Valieva can compete in her main event.
Valieva’s positive test for a banned heart medication was flagged on Monday — after she helped the Russians win the team event — by a laboratory in Sweden six weeks after the sample was taken in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The verdict will be announced just over 24 hours ahead of Valieva’s scheduled next Olympic event — the women’s individual competition. She will be the strong favorite if cleared to skate, and her main challengers will be two Russian teammates.
Earlier Sunday, the teenager at the center of Russia’s latest doping scandal seemed to be the only person without a word to say about it.
Valieva continued to practice amid a sea of media and camera crews as the court prepared the expedited hearing expected to go deep into the night.
Valieva has yet to miss a scheduled practice since word of her positive drug test emerged. On Monday, the reigning European champion helped the Russian skaters win team gold with a dynamic free skate in which she became the first woman to land a quad jump in Olympic competition.
On several occasions, the stress appeared to have rattled Valieva, including during Saturday’s practice when she fell and tearfully hugged her embattled coach, Eteri Tutberidze.
“Kamila is a strong girl,” offered Russian ice dancer Nikita Katsalapov, who along with her partner, Victoria Sinitsina, have tried to provide Valieva some much-needed support.
On Sunday, Valieva drew the 26th starting spot among the 30 competitors.
“Victoria had a few minutes to share some words with her,” Katsalapov said. “(Victoria) asked her to, like, calm down just a little bit, even if it’s a hard situation around her right now.”
Valieva has yet to speak to the media since the news conference following the Russians’ team gold, when the seemingly unbeatable star looked every bit the precocious teenager. Between questions, she was snapping photos and texting, while squeezing the plush mascot given to each medalist.
“We all did such a good job,” she gushed. “I’m very proud of my team.”
Now, all their gold medals hang in the balance, unlikely to be decided until long after the Olympics end.
Most critics taking to social media have largely supported Valieva, leveling their ire instead at Russian coaches and administrators responsible for her well-being. That includes Tutberidze, who also coaches teammates Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova, and who has earned a reputation for using up and discarding her young athletes.
“Let’s be kind to the 15-year-old who produced a positive drug test because she lives in an institutionalized system where she was most likely guided and trusted the adults around her,” tweeted Mirai Nagasu, a member of the U.S. figure skating team four years ago at the Pyeongchang Games.
Ashley Wagner, another American figure skater who competed at the 2014 Sochi Games, was appalled that Russia is at the center of another doping scandal yet seems to continually get a pass from the International Olympic Committee.
Wagner also took aim at a skating culture that often champions teenagers with little regard for their long-term health.
“Yes, a 15-year-old can be mature, and have a life that is already full of incredible experiences, but still, she is a kid,” Wagner said. “She’s not the first kid put in this position and she won’t be the last unless we start taking this seriously.”
At the center of the firestorm is Valieva, a high schooler with fuzzy pink skate guards and a beloved Pomeranian puppy back home. She did a perfect run-through of her record-setting short program during Sunday’s early practice at the main rink, then returned for a second session at the nearby practice rink a few hours later.
At one point, as dozens of cameras clicked for pictures, Valieva reached down and touched the ice.
The wait is on to see whether she can again at the Olympics.
“It’s always bad when something like that happens, so we’re very sorry for any athlete,” Russian ice dancer Gleb Smolkin said. “I think like everyone else, we are just waiting for the results of this story. We wish Kamila all the best. She’s a great athlete, she’s a great skater. She has a bright future.”
Associated Press writer Sally Ho and AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar contributed to this report.