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Kamila Valiyeva figure skating doping case begins in sports court

Kamila Valieva

BEIJING, CHINA - FEBRUARY 17: Kamila Valieva of Team ROC skates during the Women Single Skating Free Skating on day thirteen of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Capital Indoor Stadium on February 17, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

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The doping case involving teenage Russian figure skater Kamila Valiyeva that marred the 2022 Beijing Olympics returned to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Tuesday.

The highest court in sports began a closed-door hearing set to last at least three days. Valiyeva, who was 15 at the Olympics and is now 17, was expected to testify by video link from Russia in a case that was slow-walked in her home country and could now deliver a verdict by the end of the year.

Awaiting the outcome are nine American skaters who could become Olympic champions in the team event after finishing second in Beijing behind Valiyeva and the Russians.

Valiyeva’s defense has been that her positive test for a banned heart medication was caused by accidental contamination — maybe from a glass or plate — by tablets her grandfather claimed he took.

The first Russian anti-doping tribunal to judge the case during the Olympics in February 2022 said Valiyeva and her legal team “intend to conduct further investigation and present the results” at future hearings in the case.

The future hearing has now started, opening more than 19 months after an initial CAS panel let Valiyeva continue skating in Beijing despite a failed doping test on her record.

Valiyeva’s lawyers did not speak to reporters when they arrived at court on Tuesday.

This appeal hearing was brought by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Skating Union (ISU). They challenged a Russian ruling belatedly announced in January that Valiyeva, as an underage minor at the time, was not at fault and should keep her Olympic results.

WADA has asked the three CAS judges to ban Valiyeva for four years — until December 2025 — and disqualify her from the Olympics.

“We want a just outcome of the case, based on the facts,” WADA spokesman James Fitzgerald said, adding the Montreal-based agency will “continue to push for this matter to be concluded without further undue delay.”

The ISU wants a ban of at least two years and disqualification. The Russian anti-doping agency also joined the appeal and suggested a reprimand would do.

Valiyeva’s legal team will argue that CAS has no jurisdiction, the court has said, and alternatively that she was not at fault so a reprimand is enough.

The three CAS judges come from Australia, the United States and France — picked respectively by the court, WADA and Valiyeva’s lawyers.

The United States figure skating team could be upgraded to gold in an event where no medal ceremony ever was held. In Beijing, Japan took bronze and Canada placed fourth.

“We share their frustrations in how this case has dragged on,” Fitzgerald said about the skaters’ long wait to get any medals.

On the same day, Feb. 7, 2022, that Valiyeva’s free skate in Beijing helped seal the Olympic team title, a laboratory in Sweden notified sports authorities of her positive test from a sample given six weeks earlier at the Russian national championships. The lab later cited staffing issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The medal ceremony was postponed and a frenetic week of legal hearings in Moscow and Beijing led to the first CAS panel letting her enter the women’s individual event as the gold-medal favorite. Those three judges, who are not involved this week, ruled Valiyeva faced serious harm in her career if she had been denied the right to compete because the anti-doping system’s “failure to function effectively.”

Amid the intense and stressful attention on her, Valiyeva produced a mistake-filled free skate and finished fourth.

The reaction rinkside by Valiyeva’s coach, Eteri Tutberidze — sternly criticizing her 15-year-old protégé’s errors — fueled further controversy.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach spoke in Beijing of “a tremendous coldness, it was chilling to see this.” He also rebuked a Russian journalist who suggested the IOC was partly responsible for bullying a child.

Bach replied “the ones who have administered this drug in her body, these are the ones who are guilty.”

Tutberidze, who also coached the individual gold and silver medalists in Beijing, could also be investigated. Anti-doping rules require an investigation of the entourage when a minor is implicated in doping. That, however, would be in Russia, where this year she got an honor from the Kremlin.

Valiyeva has not skated internationally since Beijing because of an ISU ban on Russians following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.