Kamila Valieva, the Russian figure skating star at the center of a doping scandal threatening to overshadow the Beijing Olympics, returned to the ice at a practice rink on Saturday, hitting quadruple jump after quadruple jump as she prepared for an event from which she may soon be barred.
The status of the 15-year-old competitor in the Games is in doubt after it was revealed Friday that she had tested positive for a banned drug in December, a finding that — if it had not been delayed more than six weeks — might have made her ineligible to compete in Beijing.
“This is a very complicated and controversial situation,” Valieva’s coach, Eteri Tutberidze, told Russia’s state-run TV network Channel One on Saturday in her first public comments about the case. “There are many questions and very few answers.”
Despite those unknowns, Tutberidze quickly added, “I wanted to say that we are absolutely confident that Kamila is innocent and clean.”
The legal battle over Valieva’s eligibility to compete will continue Sunday with a hearing before a panel from the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The court, in a statement, said that it expects to render a decision by Monday afternoon, the day before the women’s short program begins.
The panel of arbitrators will consider an appeal filed by several groups, including the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Olympic Committee and the International Skating Union, who have challenged a decision by Russia’s antidoping agency to lift a provisional suspension of Valieva.
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The Russian antidoping agency said it received Valieva’s positive test result on Monday, the same day Valieva led the Russian team to a gold medal in the team event. It suspended her on Tuesday, shortly before the medals were to be awarded in the team event, but then lifted the penalty a day later.
Tutberidze, in her comments to Channel One, said she was not sure how Valieva had been cleared to compete at the Olympics in the first place. It took a Stockholm lab more than six weeks to report that the urine sample Valieva submitted on Dec. 25 had been found to contain traces of a banned drug, trimetazidine, that is thought to increase endurance.
Russian officials have been quick to defend Valieva, who is the heavy favorite to win the gold medal in the women’s singles event. Russia’s sports minister, Oleg Matytsin, said that he had spoken twice with Valieva and said “it is doubly convincing that she is completely innocent.” Tutberidze raised new doubts about the delayed test result, saying: “Either this was an ill-fated confluence of circumstances, or it was a very well-conceived plan. I hope our officials will not abandon us and defend our rights and prove our innocence.”
On social media, several retired Olympic skaters expressed outrage over Valieva’s positive test and the damage it has caused to figure skating at its marquee event. Johnny Weir, the two-time Olympian who now works as an NBC analyst, called it “devastating for my sport.”
Other skaters voiced concern that Valieva was facing serious consequences because of actions by the adults around her. Katarina Witt, a two-time Olympic champion from Germany, wrote that Valieva, because she is a minor, should not be blamed for what has happened.
“The responsible adults should be banned from the sport forever!!!” Witt wrote on Facebook. “What they knowingly did to her, if true, cannot be surpassed in inhumanity and makes my athlete’s heart cry infinitely.”
In a thread on Instagram, Adam Rippon, a bronze medalist at the 2018 Olympics who now coaches the United States Olympian Mariah Bell, criticized everyone from the International Olympic Committee to the adults around Valieva to anyone who might have put Valieva’s “sport performance ahead of her health and well-being.”
“They’ve ruined this Olympic experience for HER and for EVERYONE here,” he wrote.
After Valieva’s practice, Russian team representatives escorted her past television cameras and photographers, trying to shield her as if they were moving a pop star past the paparazzi. She smiled but remained silent.
One Russian reporter asked: “Kamila, how are you feeling? How’s your mood? How’s your condition?” When she cleared the area, she let out a nervous laugh.
On Saturday, women’s figure skaters practicing before and after Valieva declined to discuss her situation.
“I know something is going on, but I just don’t want to get it in my head,” said Eliska Brezinova of the Czech Republic, who said she was going out of her way to watch other events, including hockey and speedskating.
Alysa Liu, a 16-year-old from the United States, said: “It is a little bit weird that it’s happening. You wouldn’t expect it to happen at a big competition.” A few other skaters, including Mariah Bell, the U.S. national champion, and Canada’s Madeline Schizas, said they were viewing the doping case as just another distraction in several years of distractions brought on by the pandemic. Schizas said she was keeping her mind busy by checking out social media.
“What kind of 18-year-old girl doesn’t enjoy her social media time?” she said, expressing disappointment that TikTok was not available in China.
Valieva’s Olympic experience started as every athlete’s dream. In the team competition, she set a world record for points in the short program and then, in the long program, became the first woman to land a quadruple jump at the Olympics. (She later landed a second in the same routine.) Her extraordinary grace and athleticism instantly turned her into one of the faces of these Games.
On Saturday, though, more than four dozen reporters crammed into the practice rink for her practice session and a gauntlet of photographers aimed their lenses at her for an entirely different reason.
She shared the ice with one other skater — her teammate Anna Shcherbakova, who is also coached by Tutberidze. Camera shutters clicked as Valieva fell on a jump and dramatically spun two times on the ice. But for most of the session, she was a jumping machine, knocking off at least a half-dozen quadruple jumps as if her body had been preprogrammed to execute them.
After one of her run-throughs, Valieva met Tutberidze at the edge of the rink. The two talked nearly nose-to-nose before Valieva leaned into Tutberidze for a hug.
The coach embraced her, then looked past her.
Shcherbakova, who could soon be the favorite to win the gold medal, was dancing across the ice.