When 15-year-old Kamila Valieva took to the ice to warm up for her short program on February 15 after reports of her testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, many were skeptical of her competing, causing a widespread uproar throughout the figure skating and Olympic communities. 

A sample provided from Kamila Valieva to an antidoping laboratory before the Beijing Winter Olympics included three substances: Trimetazidine, Hypoxen and L-carnitine, which when combined, can help increase endurance, reduce fatigue and promote greater efficiency, allowing more oxygen to the heart. Only Trimetazidine is a banned substance, but the positive test may have been an error according to the ROC and Olympic officials. The decision was later made for Valieva to keep competing, but if she were to place in the top 3, the medal ceremony would be canceled. Keira Denny, a student and athlete here at Franklin High School strongly disagrees with the decision: “I believe she should not be competing. She used performance enhancing drugs. End of story. It shouldn’t matter [what] her age [is]. It’s not fair to others who weren’t allowed to compete over the same things.”

Russia has a longstanding history in the Olympics. In 2014, host country Russia closed the Sochi games with 33 medals, doubling the nation’s medal count from the 2010 Vancouver Games, and topping all countries in the Winter Olympics. In 2015, an independent commission from the World Anti-Doping Agency accused Russia of running a state sponsored doping program, describing destroyed urine samples and surveillance on lab workers by Russian intelligence. Days later, Russia was banned from track and field international competitions, which to this day still stands, along with also being banned from competing in many national competitions like the FIFA World Cup, Youth Olympic Games and the Paralympics. In a later act of punishment, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) banned Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, but allowed 168 Russian athletes to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” more commonly known as the ROC(Russian Olympic Committee) today.

Many athletes begin training at a very young age. The window of opportunity for mostly all sports, especially at a professional level is very small; most top athletes peak before they turn 20 and even before then if injuries occur. Because of this, an athlete’s life can completely revolve around their sport, doing anything they can to reach the top at a relatively early age. Many athletes might be willing to risk everything to reach a national or Olympic stage. Tara Lipinski, former professional skater and sports commentator, said in a NBC report, “You have to imagine the enormous pressure that was on her shoulders and again that’s why she shouldn’t have competed in this event. And again I wish the adults were able to step in and help guide her.”

Doping, or the use of drugs, has been used by athletes to enhance abilities in almost every sport to gain muscle, endurance or even focus. Some athletes have been willing to risk using a drug if they thought it would help them win an event/game, others being coerced into using drugs by coaches, or not understanding the effects/repercussions of their actions. “I believe it’s 100% possible to naturally compete in sports without the use of drugs. I understand the point that the user wants to be the best they can be, but they will be forever dependent on those drugs for gold. I think that with stakes higher at a professional level it matters more, but starting young forever creates a dependency on enhancers,” Denny says. Many have brought up Sha’Carri Richardson testing positive for marijuana in the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympic trials. In response to the doping situation with Valieva, Richardson responded on Twitter, suggesting there was racial bias in the decision: “Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mine? My mother died and I can’t run and was also favored to place top 3. The only difference I see is, I’m a black young lady.” This also brings up race and national backgrounds and what role they play in sports, but age must also be taken into account.

This brings up young athletes, especially those competing at a national level, like in the Olympics and how they differ from adult athletes. In Valieva’s situation, she was given the favorable decision because she is a minor and is subjected to different rules compared to adult athletes. Many argued that if Valieva was to be suspended it would have an irreversible effect on her mental and physical health. Similar to gymnastics, figure skating is known for its intense and abusive training tactics and eating disorders. Skaters must keep to a certain weight to be able to make their jumps, well also, like other athletes, must stay in peak physical condition. These training tactics are hard on all athletes of different ages, but are younger athletes more susceptible to this treatment? Many federations focus solely on the doping taking place, but not the context of why it happened in the first place. The issue of doping and fair play in events like the Olympics has been talked about time and time again, but there’s so much more going on under the surface that needs to be addressed. 

Kamila entered the competition as a gold medal favorite, many expecting her to dominate the competition. But despite Kamila Valieva placing fourth, her ROC teammates Anna Shcherbakova and Aleksandra Trusova received gold and silver, Kaori Sakanoto of Japan following in 3rd. Valieva finished her final skate on the verge of tears, only to walk off the ice to be told by Coach Eteri Tutberidze she wasn’t “trying hard enough” and that she “gave up,” while her teammate Anna Shcherbakova stood completely alone after receiving her scores. And we saw fellow teammate Aleksandra Trusova yelling and crying after receiving her scores, saying that she hates the sport and that she doesn’t want to skate again. Tara Lipinski said in a NBC report, “When I saw Anna standing there by herself, not a coach in sight, just looking not knowing what to do, I thought, is this a face of a newly crowned Olympic champion?” 

Emotions ran deep throughout all the freeskates and the medal ceremonies, Shcherbakova and Sakanoto striding onto the podium waving and smiling to the crowd, clearly proud. Trusova with her head hanging low with teary eyes, glancing around the stadium. In an interview after the medal ceremony Aleksandra Trusova addressed her emotions as she came off the ice to World Media: “I did what I could. I’m not happy with the result, that’s why I was angry, I was disappointed. For the first time I skated with the five quadruples, I waited for this moment [for] a long time and it worked out.” This reveals how no matter how amazing an athlete performs, they feel that their accomplishments add up to nothing if they don’t get gold. The Olympics has been used to reflect the best of each country through their athletes as a time to come together and celebrate. But with many athletes’ careers ticking away, the pressure to outperform everyone else can be unbearable, anything other than gold insufficient. 

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