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2022 Olympic figure skater doping case opens Tuesday

NEW YORK (AP) – The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland has started hearing the doping case of teenage Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva that shocked the 2022 Beijing Olympics on Tuesday.

The highest court in sports begins a hearing set for at least three days with Valieva, now aged 17, 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 the Russians and their star performer Valieva.

The centre of Valieva’s defence has been that her positive test for a heart medication banned in sports was caused by accidental contamination – maybe from a glass or plate – by tablets her grandfather claimed he took.

Valieva and her legal team “intend to conduct further investigation and present the results” at future hearings in the case, the first Russian anti-doping tribunal to judge the case said in February last year.

The key future hearing is now about to start – more than 19 months after a first CAS panel of judges let Valieva continue skating in Beijing despite a failed doping test on her record.

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

WADA has asked the three judges to ban Valieva for four years 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 seeks a ban of at least two years and disqualification. The Russian anti-doping agency also joined the appeal and suggested a reprimand would do.

Valieva’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 United States figure skating team could be upgraded to gold in an event where no medal ceremony ever was held.

On the same day, February 7, 2022, that Valieva’s free skate in Beijing helped seal the Olympic team title, a laboratory in Sweden notified 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.

Kamila Valieva will give evidence by video link and not come to Switzerland for a hearing into her doping case that rocked the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The Court of Arbitration for Sport says Valieva and Russian officials are among “parties, witnesses and experts” giving testimony remotely at a closed-doors hearing in Lausanne from September 26 to 29. PHOTO: AP

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 favourite. The three judges then, who are not involved this week, ruled Valieva faced serious harm in her career by the anti-doping system’s “failure to function effectively.”

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

The reaction rinkside by Valieva’s storied coach, Eteri Tutberidze – sternly criticising her 15-year-old protégé’s errors — fuelled 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 medallists in Beijing, should herself be investigated because anti-doping rules require it of the entourage when a minor is implicated in doping. That, however, should be in Russia where this year she got an honour from the Kremlin.

Valieva has not skated internationally since Beijing because of an ISU ban on Russians during the country’s war on Ukraine.

First, three CAS judges from Australia, the US and France – picked respectively by the court, WADA and Valieva’s lawyers – will preside over a momentous Olympic case.