Olympics 2022: What we know about Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva's alleged positive drug test


Russian figure skating sensation Kamila Valieva has reportedly tested positive for a banned drug. After the medal ceremony for the team figure skating event was postponed on Wednesday for what the International Olympic Committee called "legal issues," Russian newspapers reported that Valieva had tested positive for trimetazidine, a drug usually used to treat heart-related chest pain.

What's next for Valieva? Will she be allowed to compete? What happens to the team event, where Russia won gold? While many questions remain, here's what we do -- and don't know -- so far.

Who is Kamila Valieva?

Valieva, 15, is the brightest star on Russia's dominant figure skating team. In only her first senior season, she has won every competition she's entered and broken record after record. In the team event, she became the first woman to land a quadruple jump in Olympic competition and won both the women's short program and free skate to help Russia secure gold. She is widely expected to win a second gold medal in the women's singles competition, which begins next Tuesday.

Wait, aren't the Russians banned from the Olympics for doping?

In 2019, WADA banned Russia from international competition for four years due to a state-sponsored, years-long doping scheme involving some of the country's greatest athletes. But the ban, later reduced to two years, has been largely symbolic. Russian athletes have still been allowed to participate in the last three Olympics under a neutral flag. In fact, this year's Russian delegation of 214 athletes, competing as "Russian Olympic Committee," is one of the largest in Beijing.

What is trimetazidine, and have athletes tested positive before?

Trimetazidine, also known as TMZ, is a drug with stimulant properties normally used to treat angina, or chest pain due to reduced blood flow to the heart. It is not approved for use in the United States. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) added it to its list of banned substances in 2014, where it is prohibited both in and out of competition. WADA issued an advisory in January 2018 that trimetazidine could show up in urine samples as a false positive for lomerizine, a migraine medication that is permitted.

Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, served a three-month doping ban after testing positive for trimetazidine in 2014. Russian bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva also tested positive for the substance during the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang.

American swimmer Madisyn Cox successfully appealed a two-year ban that was reduced to six months after she proved that a vitamin supplement she had been taking was contaminated with trimetazidine.

What has been said?

On Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee said that a need for "legal consultation" had caused the postponement of the team medal ceremony. "You can bet your bottom dollar we are doing everything [so] that this situation can be resolved as soon as possible," IOC spokesperson Mark Adams told the media. "I cannot give you any more details, but we will do our utmost."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters to "wait for some explanations either from our sports officials or from the IOC."

Valieva has not commented on the situation but liked an Instagram post by former Russian pairs skater Tatiana Volosozhar supporting her. It is not clear if she has applied for a therapeutic use exemption for the drug.

Journalist Vasily Konov, deputy general producer at Russian sports channel Match-TV, posted on social media that the sample in question had been taken in December. He did not cite any sources and claimed that trimetazidine "does not help an athlete in any way."

The Associated Press reported that the sample was allegedly obtained before Valieva won the European championship last month in Estonia.

If the test were in fact taken in December, it raises questions as to why it took so long for the test to be reported. "That would be a screw-up on somebody's part if they're just reporting a December positive now in the middle of the Olympics," veteran sports lawyer Howard Jacobs told ESPN.

Top international sports lawyer Paul Greene also wondered how it could have taken so long to process, but pointed out there's no requirement that tests be reported within a certain period of time. "Sometimes these things get thrown to the lab and the lab sits on it for months, not through anybody's nefarious conduct, just through backups in lab testing, etcetera," he told ESPN.

What happens next?

Several factors make this an extremely difficult case, according to Greene. "This is one of the most complicated situations I've seen and I've done these cases for a long time," he said.

Valieva and the IOC could come to an agreement in which she willingly accepts a sanction, including a warning, Greene said. If not, the case will go to a panel of the Anti-Doping Division of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which hears urgent cases on-site in Beijing.

CAS will likely rule on two questions in Beijing: Whether to strip the Russians of the team medal and whether Valieva can compete in the singles event.

But the case is further complicated by Valieva's age. Because she is under 16, she is considered a "protected person." This means that her case does not have to be reported. "If she were a normal minor in a case not involving the Olympics and not the greatest in the world at her sport, it probably would never get announced," Greene said.

It also means that she could get a lower sanction. Instead of a four-year ban, Valieva could receive anything from a warning to two years, according to both Jacobs and Greene.

What does this mean for the team competition?

Here's where it gets even trickier. If the Russians were stripped of their gold medal, Team USA would move up to gold, Japan would receive silver and Canada would win bronze. But, according to Greene, there is a possibility that Valieva could lose her medal, but the other five Russian skaters could keep theirs.

ISU rules say that a doping violation committed by a member of a team "in connection with an in-competition test automatically leads to disqualification of the result obtained by the team." However, it is not clear whether Valieva's test was in-competition or not.

How does this affect the women's competition?

If Valieva were disqualified, Russia would lose its chance to become the first country to sweep the women's figure skating podium. Her teammates Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova would become the new medal favorites, while Japan's Kaori Sakamoto and Team USA's Alysa Liu could also be contenders.

When will we know?

It's hard to say, but Jacobs expects it to be soon. "I would anticipate that this whole thing will move very quickly," he told ESPN. "If it is actually a positive test that impacts medals, which it seems like it is, I would expect CAS will have a result within 24 hours."

Both WADA and Valieva can appeal CAS decisions. Valieva could be allowed to compete at the Olympics and receive a sanction later on appeal. "Anything that happens at the Olympics won't necessarily be a final decision," said Greene.