— Published 28 March 2022

Kamila Valieva, a comeback but still questions

Her last public appearance was one of the images of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games. The image of a young girl in tears, leaving the Olympic arena without a word to the media, after a catastrophic performance in the free programme of the women’s figure skating event. Victory was in her grasp. She let it slip away.

A month and a handful of days after her fourth place at the Beijing Games, Kamila Valieva found herself back in the competitive atmosphere. A less hostile atmosphere, in front of a more sympathetic audience, in her own country.

The young Russian skater, who will celebrate her 16th birthday next month, competed in her first competition since the Beijing Games and the doping affair that shook her Olympic experience to the core. She competed in Saransk, Mordovia, in a team competition, the Channel One Cup.

The competition had been rescheduled by the Russian Skating Federation to coincide with the dates of the World Championships, held last week in Montpellier, southern France. This was an opportunity for Russian skaters, excluded from the Worlds by the ISU in reaction to the invasion of Ukraine, to perform on the ice despite their isolation from the international sports movement.

After a simplified but impeccable short programme, finished in first place on Saturday 26 March, Kamila Valieva recovered some of her skating the following day in the free skate. She took second place, with 173.88 points, behind her training partner, Anna Shcherbakova, who won the title at the Beijing Winter Games (176.12 points).

Unlike at the last Winter Games, Kamila Valieva did not try to escape the media. She confided her happiness to be on the ice. “I’m really happy, she explained after her performance. I’m really happy that the Channel One Cup happened. The spectators give you energy when you are tired. You keep going because of them.”

A closed parenthesis? Not yet. Certainly, the young Russian seems to have left behind the torment of her doping case at the Beijing Games. But her case is not yet settled. It should not be for several months.

To date, Kamila Valieva has not been suspended by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA). She can therefore compete, even if Russia’s exclusion forces her to limit herself to national events, at least until the end of the current year.

But according to the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), RUSADA has six months to make a decision on her case, starting from the moment it was informed of the positive test she underwent last December at the Russian championships. Six months from 8 February 2022, i.e. not before the beginning of August.

But RUSADA’s decision will certainly not put an end to the most publicised case of the Beijing Winter Games, especially if it is favourable to the young skater. The other parties involved, including WADA, the IOC and the ISU, will still have to agree on what to do next. And at the end of the procedure, a final result for the Olympic figure skating team event will be reached.

The ranking is still in brackets, with an asterisk meaning that the podium of the competition – Olympic Committee of Russia, USA, Japan – remains provisional. The Americans may have to wait until next year, a year after the competition, before they can reclaim an Olympic gold medal that has never left its box.