Nearly 600 days since Olympic skater's positive drug test revealed, doping hearing starts

LAUSANNE, Switzerland —The Alpine sun shone brightly Tuesday morning as the lawyers and other players in the Kamila Valieva Russian doping saga stepped out of taxis and waited to be buzzed into the headquarters of the Court of Arbitration for Sport for the first day of one of the highest-profile doping hearings in Olympic history.

No one said a word to the few reporters assembled near the door. Then again, no one expected them to. The magnitude of this moment, 596 days in the making, was already known to all.

Following three or four days of closed hearings this week, then another month or two of deliberations and preparation of the findings, a decision will finally be announced: Valieva will be found guilty, or she will be found innocent, and the official results of the Beijing Olympic team figure skating competition that ended Feb. 7, 2022, will at long last be known.

“We counted,” U.S. Figure Skating CEO Tracy Marek said in a phone interview last week. “We’re almost at 600 days. It’s remarkable.”

That it certainly is. On that long ago day at the Beijing Games, Russia won the gold medal, the United States won the silver medal and Japan won the bronze. The following day, those results were thrown into disarray when Valieva, the then-15-year-old star of the Russian team, was found to have tested positive for the banned substance trimetazidine on Dec. 25, 2021, at the Russian championships, forcing the unprecedented cancellation of the event’s medal ceremony.

Kamila Valieva's doping hearing finally began on Tuesday in Switzerland.
Kamila Valieva's doping hearing finally began on Tuesday in Switzerland.

While other members of the U.S. team declined to speak in the days leading up to this week’s hearing, male singles skater Vincent Zhou issued a long statement detailing the utter frustration he has felt in the more than a year and a half since the revelation of Valieva’s positive drug test.

“As my team’s empty medal boxes show, the global anti-doping system is failing athletes,” Zhou wrote. “The revered elitism of the Olympics is dependent upon the principles of clean sport and fair competition.”

He continued: “Whenever finally held, the awards ceremony for the Beijing 2022 Figure Skating Team Event will be a symbol of the gross failures of the IOC (International Olympic Committee), CAS, RUSADA (Russian Anti-Doping Agency), and other global sporting administrators. Justice delayed is justice denied, and my teammates and I will never get back the chance to stand before the world to celebrate a lifetime’s worth of hard work culminating in a career-defining achievement.”

Zhou’s concern is an American concern.

“We certainly are very eager for it to come to a fair conclusion so that our athletes can move forward,” Marek said. "It certainly has been a frustrating process.”

And at times, very confusing.

“The IOC plays a certain role, CAS plays a certain role, the International Skating Union plays a certain role, WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) plays a role, RUSADA plays a role. There are a lot of acronym organizations who have a role to play in this and it is cumbersome and clunky,” U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said recently.

“We spend a lot of time in our organization talking about how we can do a better job of helping athletes navigate that reality,” she added. “So I have a lot of empathy for the confusion and the frustration, not only the time but the process, and we’re doing what we can to try to be helpful there, but it doesn’t make it any easier and it hasn’t made it any faster.”

WADA spokesman James Fitzgerald said Tuesday in front of CAS headquarters that he understands the U.S. concerns. WADA is asking that Valieva be banned for four years and that her Olympic results be disqualified.

“We share their frustrations in how this case has dragged on,” Fitzgerald said. “We want a just outcome of the case, based on the facts, and will continue to push for this matter to be concluded without further undue delay.

“At every point in this case,” he continued, “WADA has pushed the relevant authorities to proceed in a timely way. Indeed, following an unacceptable delay by RUSADA in rendering a decision in this matter, we had referred it directly to CAS. We’re here because we do not believe justice was served in this case.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olympic skater Kamila Valieva's doping hearing finally begins