Yes, Kamila Valieva Should Get To Compete At 2022 Olympics

Kamila Valieva 2022 European Championships Russian Figure Skater
NBC / YouTube Screenshot

Kamila Valieva deserves to skate in the women’s individual event at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, and I am about to explain why. The decision had hung in the balance as the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced the fate of the 15-year-old wunderkind on Monday. Valieva is one of the three skaters with a realistic shot at Olympic gold, and her dreams are at stake.

CAS has decided to allow Kamila Valieva to compete in the women’s individual event at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, per Jackie Wong. In response, the IOC also announced they would not hold a medal or flower ceremony if Valieva medals in the competition. What outraged members of the internet do not realize is that there is so much more to this alleged “doping scandal” than many outlets are acknowledging.

To Recap

On February 10, the IOC confirmed that Kamila Valieva had tested positive for the banned substance: trimetazidine per Jackie Wong. In their statement, the IOC claimed the test result came back on February 8. This, despite the sample getting taken by RUSADA on December 25, the timing surrounding the 2022 Russian Nationals. Valieva won that event. Her training mates Alexandra Trusova, and Anna Shcherbakova, respectively, took silver and bronze.

If you are keeping track, there are a lot of circumstances surrounding this supposed doping violation that smack of something suspicious. It is important. No, it is critical to note that Valieva has not tested positive for doping before or since the 2022 Russian Nationals, including a clean test at the 2022 Olympics. In a statement, the ROC (Russian Olympic Committee) confirmed via ABC News:

“The Athlete repeatedly passed doping tests before and after December 25, 2021, including already in Beijing during the figure skating tournament. All results are negative.”

Despite those facts, also confirmed by the CAS panel (NYT) all it has taken is one test to “convict” Kamila Valieva and her coaching staff in the court of public opinion. NBC has withdrawn Valieva’s performances from the 2022 Team Event at the 2022 Olympics on YouTube. For lack of a better term, Valieva has gotten cancelled. It is a rush to judgment and a shame for all involved.

There are too many factors at play to categorically deny Kamila Valieva the once-in-a-lifetime chance to compete at the 2022 Olympics. There is more than enough evidence based on Valieva’s drug-testing history to dismiss this outlier based on the possibility of false or misleading test results. Let’s think this through for a moment.

Using common sense, Kamila Valieva does not need to dope. Let alone at the 2022 Russian Nationals. Valieva easily dominated the Grand Prix circuit in 2021. So, what happened? Well, if you watch any true crime, you know that labs make errors more often than the public might be comfortable admitting to themselves. Look no further than this report by the Innocence Project.

Oh, and There Is This!

Would trimetazidine have actually helped Kamila Valieva? A person who knows more about the human body than many online has weighed in on the question for the Newark Daily Times. Dr. Benjamin J. Levine is a heart expert and professor of exercise science at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. Asked if trimetazidine would have helped Valieva’s performance, Levine said no, adding:

“The chance that trimetazidine would improve her performance, in my opinion, is zero[.] The only chance would be for it to hurt her.”

What Dr. Levine told the publication about the lack of Kamila Valieva benefiting from trimetazidine is further backed by a paper published in 2021. It is entitled “The Inclusion in WADA Prohibited List Is Not Always Supported by Scientific Evidence: A Narrative Review” (source). In its concluding section, the paper states:

“The results obtained during our systematic literature search clearly indicate that there is a lack of scientific evidence supporting the impact of several substances prohibited by WADA (i.e., meldonium, trimetazidine, xenon, and cobalt) on athletic performance or on health in athletes. According to the principles of modern evidence-based medicine, expert opinion can be subjective or biased and therefore has low evidence value.”

Interesting. In closing, the paper also says that WADA may have information not available to the public. It goes on to ask WADA if it has that data for them to be transparent with it to “promote trust in the sports community.” So, what does all of this mean? If Kamila Valieva actually had this substance in her body, it did nothing to help her.

Misleading Tests Have Happened Before

To destroy an athlete’s reputation (and those around Kamila Valieva) based on 1 test, and to my knowledge, the first-ever for Sambo 70, is disturbing. The Figure Skating community should learn a lesson from the terrible and regrettable actions taken against U.S. pairs figure skater Jessica Calalang. In 2021, Calalang had a drug test come back positive for a banned stimulant: 4-CPA, a metabolite of Meclofenoxate, per The AP.

As a result, Jessica Calalang and her partner, Brian Johnson, were not able to compete at the 2021 World Championships. They also had their funding pulled by U.S. Figure Skating until their provisional suspension was lifted in June. It turns out 4-CPA can be metabolized through make-up, and shampoo. On September 30, WADA and USADA fully cleared Calalang. Calalang’s attorney, Howard Jacobs told The AP:

“If Jessica did not have the resources and support to retain a lawyer to assist her, this could have easily been another case where an innocent athlete ends up serving a lengthy ban[.] While we cannot go back in time and give Jessica the opportunity to participate in the world championships that were wrongly taken from her, we do hope that the anti-doping authorities will quickly remedy this flaw in their testing protocols, and that they will do so in a transparent manner.”

Like Kamila Valieva, Jessica Calalang had tested positive during a national championship. Calalang’s fateful test resulted from a specimen taken at the 2021 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. In another similarity to Valieva, Calalang’s positive test was the one, and only time she had ever tested positive for a substance. So, what lesson can we learn from Calalang’s misfortune?

Should someone be pulled from competing over a supposed doping allegation at a once-in-a-four-year event? Jessica Calalang will never get her chance to compete at the 2021 World Championships back. If the IOC and WADA had their way, Kamila Valieva would not get to compete in the individual event at the 2022 Olympics. That is not right.

Jessica Calalang Is Not Alone

In another startling parallel, U.S. swimmer Madisyn Cox had a sample test positive for trimetazidine in 2018, per CBC. It was the first and only positive test of her career. Cox appealed her 4-year suspension by FINA, testifying she had not knowingly consumed trimetazidine. They reduced her suspension to 2 years, saying they needed proof she innocently took it.

After sending off sealed and unsealed Cooper Complete Elite Athletic multivitamin bottles, Madisyn Cox was cleared, per Swim Swam. The multivitamins tested positive for 4 nanograms of trimetazidine. CAS (the Court of Arbitration for Sport) – who determined whether Kamila Valieva would skate in the women’s individual event at the 2022 Olympics – accordingly lowered the suspension to 6 months. 

The verdict to lower the suspension allowed her to compete the following week. However, the damage was sadly already done. Because of the suspension, Madisyn Cox got deprived of qualifying for the 2019 World Aquatic Championships. In a statement to Swim Swam following her horrible (and regrettable) ordeal, Cox said in a statement to Swim Swam:

“I did not immediately test the multivitamin as part of my FINA case because there had never been a recorded case of Trimetazidine supplement contamination in the United States. I mistakenly assumed that the supplement I was taking was extremely safe.

The last six months have been a grave and harrowing learning experience that I would not wish on any honest, clean, elite athlete. I know that any supplement – even a multivitamin purported to contain only those ingredients specified on the label and purchased at a local supermarket – can be suspect.”

Knowing all of this, should Kamila Valieva have joined these other athletes in being deprived when the sport and its doping controls know innocent errors happen? If the positive test is legitimate, a medical expert has attested it would not help her performance. It would hurt it. On the other hand, if the result came because of a multivitamin, make-up, or shampoo, should it have cost Valieva a chance at Olympic gold?

The main issue preventing Kamila Valieva from clearing her name is the pretty strange timing of this supposed doping result. It was revealed as close as possible to the women’s individual event. Remember, it took 8 months to clear Jessica Calalang. There is not enough time to test any potentially contaminated products that Valieva came in contact with before the short program in the individual event. It is set to start Tuesday, February 15 EST.

If the interest is truly having a dope-free Olympics that burden has been met in Beijing. Kamila Valieva has tested negative/clean with every test conducted there. Considering that Valieva has tested negative at events before and after the 2022 Russian Nationals, (including the 2022 Olympics) doesn’t she deserve the benefit of the doubt? My answer and that of any person considering the totality of the facts should be “yes.”