Failed Test Casts Shadow on Ice Skating, Olympics Showcase Event

The young Russian phenomenon glided across the ice and plunged into figure skating history. Jumping and spinning at high speed on Monday night, Kamila Valieva became the first female figure skater to complete a quad (a four-turn jump) at the Olympics.

But if existing systems to eradicate doping in global sports had worked correctly, it wouldn’t be on the ice.

In December, Valieva, 15, submitted a routine sample of doping that a lab later determined contained a banned drug. Still, the results of the test were not returned for more than six weeks and were only delivered after Valieva competed in the Beijing Olympics. This created an embarrassing sight where one skater from one nation served a multi-year doping ban for running. a giant, state-sponsored doping scheme At a previous Olympics, he was allowed to compete on the biggest stage of his sport, but was suspended the next day.

Russia’s antidoping agency published a statement He confirmed key dates on the matter on Friday, but did little to defuse the crisis currently plaguing Olympic skating competitions. Referring to Valieva as simply “Athlete” because she is a minor, she said her controversial test was collected at the Russian skating championship on December 25 and sent for analysis to a Swedish laboratory accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The Russian agency said it only learned of the positive result Monday, a delay that appears to violate current antidoping standards that require test samples to be returned within 20 calendar days. Many countries trying to confirm their athletes’ eligibility ahead of major competitions like the Olympics are pushing for accelerated results that are delivered even faster, often in as little as 48 to 72 hours. Russia’s antidoping agency waited more than a month.

That delay has put Valieva at the center of a growing doping controversy that threatens to eclipse the flamboyant event of the Winter Olympics, which has made her a household name, four days after her performances took Russia to first place in the team competition. Him positive test result It cast doubt on his gold medal (and his teammates’ medals) and even prevented skaters from the silver-winning United States and bronze-winning Japan from collecting their own medals.

Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Antidoping Agency, described the entire situation as a “catastrophic failure”.

“This resulted in either a deliberate delay to allow him to compete, or massive incompetence and turmoil and Russia tainting great competition again,” Tygart said in a phone interview.

Credit…Erin Schaff for The New York Times

The same day Valieva took the star spot, taking Russia to the gold medal in the team competition, the country’s antidoping agency received word from a doping lab in Sweden that a sample provided by Valieva in December had returned a positive test for a banned heart drug. , trimetazidine. The drug is believed to increase endurance by helping the heart work more efficiently. expert opinions differ about its potential effectiveness as a performance enhancer.

Russia’s antidoping agency said on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic contributed to the delay in learning about the positive outcome. According to the organization RUSADA, “Laboratory’s delay in analysis and reporting was caused by another wave of Covid-19, increased disease among Laboratory staff, and quarantine rules.”

A spokesperson for Karolinska University Hospital, where the lab is located, declined to discuss the case.

Valieva was suspended by RUSADA on Tuesday, shortly before the awarding of the medals in the team event. However, he was quickly reinstated by the agency the next day, a decision that global antidoping authorities will appeal. Olympic officials do not have a timetable for the resolution of his case, or even a decision on his suitability for the remainder of the Games. The outcome of the team event – and the eventual recipients of the team gold – may not be clear for weeks or even months.

First, however, an urgent legal battle will decide whether Valieva can – for now – continue at the Games next week where she chooses to win the women’s singles competition. The World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Skating Union, the sport’s global governing body, said Friday they will join the International Olympic Committee. when moving to disqualify Valieva from the competition.

All this time there was no answer to questions about how opaque antidoping systems implemented to keep banned drugs out of global sports could fail so badly and in such a disturbing public. Or an athlete from a country that is still under sanctions for orchestrating the most elaborate doping scandal in history – which is how? Corrupt competitions at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in Russia – It did not receive the scrutiny promised by Olympic officials and the world’s antidoping watchdogs.

Although there have been close calls, Valieva’s case is unprecedented. Athletes have withdrawn from previously important events—even the Olympics—after failing pre-competition tests. But few, if any, continued to participate long after they were informed that they were unsuitable, as Valieva did.

The fact that Valieva’s sample was sent for testing on December 25 makes the delay even more curious. Hans Geyer of the Institute of Biochemistry-German Sports, Cologne, accredited by WADA to analyze doping samples, said most major national antidoping institutions are trying to verify the status of pending tests before Olympic listings are set.

Geyer said that under the latest regulations, the results of samples sent to labs like him must be returned within 20 calendar days, and any delays must be reported to the testing authority.

It’s also common for anti-doping agencies to request expedited analysis before major events, Geyer said. 48 hours, 72 hours analysis etc. We are trying to fulfill this condition in a way that will be possible,” he said.

US anti-doping chief Tygart said the crisis could easily be averted if Russia’s anti-doping agency acted with the necessary urgency. “Our staff sit around day and night checking what has been reported,” Tygart said. “We’ll call the lab if necessary.”

Credit…Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

Valieva’s profile and the upcoming Olympics should only heighten that sense of urgency for Russia, he said. “If you’re a Wheaties boxer like him, you’ll make sure everything is buttoned up before you go,” Tygart added.

The controversy threatens to further undermine confidence in the global antidoping system, particularly when it comes to Russia, which is serving the final year of a global sports ban over a state-sponsored doping scandal that corrupted the events of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. The Court of Arbitration for Sports, which will hear an appeal against Russia’s decision to reinstate Valieva, had already diluted the sentence against Russia for its attempts to cover up the scale of the cheating scheme.

More than 200 Russian athletes participate in the Beijing Games under the ROC flag, which stands for the Russian Olympic Committee, as part of the ban they are not allowed to compete under their country’s flag or name.

Russian athletes became allowed to participate under special authorization and only if the governing bodies of their individual sports certify that they are “clean” of prohibited substances. According to WADA and the Independent Testing Authority, which is responsible for the antidoping program in Beijing, Russia’s past actions have resulted in Russian athletes being specifically targeted for advanced testing. Yet there is little public clarity as to what this means.

For example, it is unclear which Russian athletes are facing targeted tests, or whether Valieva is tested on her way to a gold medal at the European Figure Skating Championships in Estonia in January. The International Skating Union did not provide details of the testing procedures at that event and did not comment further on the Valieva case. a brief explanation He said he would try to reinstate Valieva’s temporary suspension.

The fact that an athlete of Valieva’s lineage can travel to and compete in the Games before the results of a one-week sample are analyzed and reported, however, undermines the effectiveness of IA’s claims that it can. Conduct a “systematic risk assessment on potentially participating athletes from all sports”.

Matthew Futterman contributed to the news from Beijing.

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