Updated Feb 19, 2022 - Sports

How the system failed Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva

Kamila Valieva cries after completing her disastrous long program.
Photo: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP via Getty Images

Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old Russian figure skater who came to Beijing as the favorite to win gold, will leave without a medal — and as the unfortunate villain of these Olympics.

Why it matters: A child was failed by the adults around her, and figure skating was failed by an anti-doping system that protected no one.

  • The result was one of the cringiest half hours of television you'll ever watch: Valieva's coach barely tried to comfort her after she completed her disastrous long program, during which she looked broken.
  • Her teammate, Anna Shcherbakova, sat alone after winning gold, and said she felt an "emptiness inside." Her other teammate, Alexandra Trusova, was shouting and crying after winning silver.

What they're saying: "Irreparable harm" is what the Court of Arbitration for Sport used as justification to allow Valieva to skate despite her positive test. "None of this is the fault of the athlete," the panel wrote.

  • "Well, here was the irreparable harm," writes Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel. "Valieva is a victim of child abuse ... Yet the Olympics not only kept her with her captives, they emboldened and empowered them."
  • "We watched her skate ... likely already aware that this scandal will follow her the rest of her life," writes The Ringer's Michael Baumann. "Or maybe that realization is yet to come, which might be worse."
  • Meanwhile, the system is pointing fingers at itself: The CAS criticized anti-doping rules, the IOC criticized the decision by the CAS, and IOC president Thomas Bach criticized Valieva's entourage.

Of note: 56% of Americans familiar with the scandal believe Valieva should have been banned, while 44% believe only her coach and team doctor should have been banned since she's a minor, per exclusive data from The Harris Poll (survey conducted last weekend).

The bottom line: The Olympics have an integrity problem, and this scandal — in which a country wasn't held accountable, and in which adults sent a child to suffer in public — only reinforces that reality.

Go deeper: The Winter Olympics medal tracker

Editor's note: This story originally published on Feb. 18.

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