The Kamila Valieva saga at the Winter Olympics forces a change in the rules of figure skating
Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, 15, is still under investigation after failing a doping test in an explosive saga that marred the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics
No 15-year-old figure skater will be allowed to compete in the 2026 Winter Olympics following controversy surrounding Russian national champion Kamila Valieva at this year’s Beijing Games.
A new age limit for figure skaters at senior international events was adopted by the International Skating Union (ISU) on Tuesday. The motion was approved by a dominating vote of 110 to 16 which will raise the minimum age to 17 ahead of the next Winter Olympics in Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
“It’s a very important decision,” commented ISU President Jan Dijkema. “I would say a very historic decision.” The raised threshold will be phased in with 16-year-olds allowed to compete in the 2023/24 season, rising to 17 the following season, which is the last before 2026.
The change was happening even before figure skating at the Beijing Olympics was dominated by the emotional stress placed on the 15-year-old. Valieva was favorite to win individual gold after helping Russia win the team event, but the contest was thrown into chaos when a positive December 2021 doping test result emerged midway through the competition .
The teenager tested positive for the banned substance, an angina medication that has the potential to promote blood circulation and improve cardiovascular performance. It was suggested at the time that the Covid-19 pandemic had caused a backlog at the Stockholm laboratory responsible for the sample, causing the results to be delayed.
Valieva was cleared to train under intense scrutiny and cleared to compete pending the full investigation in Russia, while an ongoing hearing was also scheduled with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The youngster’s main Olympic routine was filled with mistakes amid the media circus, and coach Eteri Tutberidze was seen berating her charge after she fell to fourth.
Sergei Bobylev (TASS via Getty Images)
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This led to pushback from IOC President Thomas Bach, who criticized the coach for his handling of Valieva after a crushing result. “When I saw afterwards how she was received by those closest to her, with such, what seemed to be enormous coldness, it was chilling to see that,” Bach remarked at the time.
“Rather than comforting her, rather than trying to help her, you could feel this chilling atmosphere, this distance.” Russia nevertheless won individual gold and silver, but champion Anna Shcherbakova said she felt an “emptiness inside” after her victory.
The ISU has drafted an age limit proposal stating that “burnout, eating disorders and long-term consequences of injury” are a risk for young adolescent skaters who are pressured to perform more quadruple jumps. The governing body said it had “a duty of care to protect the physical and psychological health and safety of all athletes, including elite adolescent athletes”.