How the West Upended the World’s Best Figure Skater To Undermine Russia

I recommend readers take a very pleasant few minutes to watch Kamila Valieva skating two months before the sole positive test so you see what we are talking about.

On 7 February 2022, the  Beijing Olympics was underway and drawing international attention. Under the theme “One world, One family”, the opening ceremony was spectacular. In the first days, the Russian women’s figure skating team won the team skating event. Experts were predicting they would sweep the individual competition.

Then, news broke that one of the Russian skaters had tested positive for a banned substance. It soon emerged that the skater in question was the brilliant young Kamila Valieva. The positive test was not from a recent test, which were all clean, but from the end of December at the Russian National Championships. News of the doping test created one of the biggest international sport controversies of the past 50 years. A single positive test for a banned medication upended the 2022 Beijing Olympics and the hope of “one world, one family”.

The Russians claimed innocence. Media and many western athletes quickly said they were guilty. Although the controversy started over two years ago,  the decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was only issued weeks ago, in early February 2024.

The dispute over Valieva’s doping test is a reflection of  global political contention and the politicization of sports. In this article I will show how the CAS decision was biased and unfair. It is most likely that Russia’s expected medal sweep in figure skating was intentionally sabotaged. The victim was Kamila Valieva. The target was Russia with a side benefit of disrupting the first winter Olympics in China.

What Happened 

The key skating milestone are:

30 Oct 2021 – In her debut as a senior, 15 year old Kamila Valieva wins first place at the Skate Canada International. Her performance leaves the audience and commentators in awe. Her urine sample is “clean” (no prohibited chemicals).

27 Nov 2021 – Valieva wins the Rostelecom Cup (another event in the International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix). She posts the highest score ever recorded. Her urine sample is clean.

25 December 2021 – Valieva wins the Russian national figure skating championship in St. Petersburg. Her urine sample is sent to a laboratory in Sweden.15 January 2022 – Valieva wins gold at the European Figure Skating Championship. Her urine test is clean.

4 February 2022 – Olympic Games begin in Beijing China.

6 Feb 2022 – Valieva performs skating short program flawlessly, earning first place.

7 Feb 2022 – Valieva wows the audience in the free skate (long program), again winning first place. Urine sample is clean.

7 Feb 2022 – The Stockholm laboratory reports there was a tiny amount  (2.1 ng/mL) of trimetazadine (TMZ) in Valieva’s urine sample from the December 25 skating competition.

8 -15 February 2022 – News of the positive doping test rapidly circulates and soon dominates the Olympics. Western media and most western athletes assume Valieva’s guilt and urge her removal from the Games. Because she is a 15 year old minor, the Court for Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decides that Valieva should be allowed to continue competing at the Beijing Olympics with the consequences of the positive test to be determined later.

17 Feb 2022 – Under enormous pressure, Valieva falls apart in the free skate (long program). Team skating medal awards are postponed due to uncertainty whether Valieva will be disqualified. The US team which won 2nd place is angry over the postponement of the medal ceremony.

13 Jan 2023 – After a long delay, the Russian Anti Doping Agency (RUSADA) determines that Valieva bore “no fault or negligence” for the single positive test.

21 Feb 2023 – World Anti Doping Agency (WADA)  and International Skating Union (ISU), both western dominated organizations, appeal to Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to have Valieva banned and all her winnings after 25 Dec 2021 annulled.

26 Sept 2023 – Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) begins the hearing regarding the Valieva positive test.

7 Feb 2024 – CAS announces the decision and reasoning. 

The CAS Decision  

The CAS panel ruled that Valieva  committed an Anti Doping Rule Violation (ADRV), is banned for four years and must forfeit all any titles, awards, medals, profits, prizes, and appearance money subsequent to 25 Dec 2021.

The panel said“The Athlete did not discharge her burden of proving… that her ADRV was not intentional on the balance of probabilities.”

At the same time, the panel acknowledged it was NOT proven Valieva intentionally ingested the banned substance.“The appellants have not established that the Athlete committed the ADRV intentionally… there was no evidence that she had acted intentionally.”

They also said “The Panel most certainly has not concluded that Ms. Valieva is a cheat or that she cheated on 25 December 2021 at the Russian National Championships or that she cheated  when she won gold at the Beijing Olympics (or at any other time).”

The key decision was the level of punishment based on overall considerations and the probability that she had taken the medication intentionally. This was a split 2-1 decision, a judgment call. They acknowledged that the penalty could be seen as “harsh” especially since it was the same penalty as if they have shown she DID commit the offence intentionally.

Critique of the CAS Decision

1/ The panel was biased. 

The panel was comprised of adjudicators from the US, UK and France. Valieva’s legal team appointed French attorney Mathieu Maisonneuve. The appellants, World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) and Ice Skating Union (ISU), appointed American attorney Jeffrey Mishkin. The CAS Appeals Division appointed the president of the panel, James Drake. He is a citizen of the UK and Australia who studied and worked in the USA.

CAS rules say that the president of a panel should be selected considering the criteria of “expertise, diversity, equality and turnover of adjudicators”. Drake was a poor choice for both equality and diversity.  Two of  the adjudicators have strong connections to the US which is hostile to Russia and whose figure skating team stood to benefit if Valieva was disqualified.

2/ The panel created a straw man to knock down. 

The panel exaggerated the theory that Kamila accidentally imbibed TMZ  through her contact with her “grandfather”. Mr. Solovyov was called her grandfather but was actually the father of a previous partner of Kamila’s mother. Since the mother was working, Mr. Solovyov acted as driver and guardian for Kamila who trained three hours in the morning, went home for lunch and rest, then trained three hours in the afternoon. Solovyov was taking heart medication including TMZ due to previous heart attacks. After the surprise news that Valieva tested positive for the heart medication trimetazadine (TMZ), Kamila and her mother speculated that Kamila may have imbibed TMZ from drinking from the same glass or by consuming a strawberry dessert that grandfather made with a cutting board on which there were TMZ particles from his medication.  Media and the panel poured skepticism on this theory, The exaggeration of this explanation is shown in the report with 96 references to “grandfather”, 75 references to “dessert”, 43 references to “strawberry”, and 98 references to “Solovyov”. The panel effectively said they are skeptical of the “grandfather” explanation and that is all there is.

In contrast, Valieva’s legal team put forward the “grandfather” contact as one of three possibilities. Another theory was that some food or permitted supplement that Valieva consumed was contaminated with TMZ. This happened to a Russian bobsledder at the 2018 Peyongchang Winter Olympics.

The third theory was sabotage. This is the most likely cause of the positive doping test as I will show below. 

3/ The panel minimized what was most important: Valieva had no motive to take a banned substance.  

As shown at international events in October and November 2021, Kamila Valieva was at the peak of her profession. She was the best figure skater in the world. She was not only winning skate competitions, she was setting all time records.  She was training  6 hours per day under a very successful coach. She was well schooled in the dangers of anti doping violations. Since 2016 Russian athletes have been widely accused of being the worst violators of doping standards. Ugly and unproven accusations, such as from WADA’s Richard McLaren, have been widely broadcast. When Russian athletes are exonerated, it is ignored in the West.  The probability that Kamila Valieva would risk her reputation and career to intentionally take a banned medication prior to an event where she will certainly be tested is near zero.

Adding to the unreality of this case, the medication Trimetazadine (TMZ) is of no value to a figure skater. It is for people with heart troubles, not young athletes. When it has been used by athletes, it is for endurance sports where heart palpitations may occur. As heart specialist Dr. Benjamin Levine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School said, “The chance that trimetazadine would improve her performance, in my opinion, is zero… The only chance would be for it to hurt her.”

One of the  side effects of TMZ is dizziness, the worst thing for a figure skater.  The panel dismissed the significance by glibly saying, “It is enough to say that not all side effects manifest in all people.”

Dr Levine noted that it is the legs, not the heart, that gets tired in figure skating. If one looks at Valieva’s performances, it is clear she in fine shape and not even breathing hard at the end of the performance. The trace amount of TMZ detected once in her system would have no effect at all. Dr. Levine notes that the US equivalent of trimetazadine,  ranolazine, is PERMITTED.

The legal challenge for Kamila Valieva’s team was to show that she did not intentionally take the banned substance. The CAS panel minimized the fact that Valieva had every reason and motive to NOT take a banned substance. Her dedication to the sport and talent is obvious. It should have been also obvious that this sole positive case for a trace amount of  TMZ is odd and suspicious.

4/ The panel minimizes the problems and violations of the Swedish laboratory   

According to International Standards for Laboratories,  “Reporting of “A” Sample results should occur in ADAMS within twenty (20) days of receipt of the Sample. The reporting time required for specific occasions  may be substantially less than twenty (20) days.”

So the Swedish laboratory took TWICE as long as the maximum expected under normal circumstances.  But the circumstances were not normal. The European figure skating championship was in January and the Winter Olympics in February.

Why was this failure ignored? Media has reported the delay was due to staffing shortages caused by Covid 19. However the report describes a different reason for the extreme delay: there  were two incidents of  “unsatisfactory quality control” plus the need to find a “new confirmation method”. A Swedish scientist and chemical analysis expert gave his confidential assessment: “It is obvious that they were not prepared for the task and had even to develop a new procedure.” Despite the reporting failure and quality control issues at the Swedish laboratory, there was no criticism or comment by the panel or in the media.

The report says there were “lengthy submissions in relation to the conduct of the Stockholm Laboratory in its analysis and reporting of the AAF” but they do not say more. The panel has thus swept this crucial issue under the carpet.

5/ Valieva’s legitimate medications and supplements were distorted.

WADA and ISU made much of the sixty medications and supplements that Valieva was authorized to take. Evidently this was a list of all the permissible medications that she COULD take if she or her doctor wished. As it was, she only took a few: There is nothing devious about supplements. Most professional and top amateur athletes use them.  Valieva’s supplements included a spinach extract, a multivitamin, and a supplement that is naturally present in meat.

How and Why Kamila Valieva was Sabotaged

Since 2014, the US and western allies have imposed sanctions, waged information war and treated Russia as an enemy. The US does not hide its animosity and goal to weaken Russia.  The  2019 Rand Report titled Overextending and Unbalancing  Russia is an example. Commissioned by the US Defense Department, the report discusses tactics and strategies to “weaken Russia”.

The report recommends, “Undermining Russia’s image… diminishing Russian standing and influence… Western efforts to damage Russia’s international prestige can be effective if broadly implemented. Further sanctions, the removal of Russia from non-UN international forums, and boycotting of international events are largely within the power of Western states to unilaterally implement and would damage Russian prestige… the loss of international sporting events or access to key forums is likely to deepen concerns within Russia that the current regime might not be effectively pursuing policies that are returning Russia to glory.”

International sports, with the Olympics being paramount, is an important part of a nation’s image abroad and at home. With its goal of “undermining Russia’s image”, the US establishment had a clear MOTIVE in preventing Russians from excelling at  the Olympics. Figure skating is one of the most widely watched Olympics events and a Russian sweep of the medals, with Valieva leading the way, would impress the international audience and enhance Russia’s image. It is impossible to look at Valieva skating and not be impressed with her artistry and skill.

At the end of October 2021, US secret services knew that Valieva was likely to win the figure skating the Olympics in February. Commentators at Ice Skate Canada International made that clear.  That may be when the decision was taken to sabotage Valieva.  All they had to do was insure she had one positive doping test.

Was it incompetence or worse at the Stockholm Lab?

A remaining question is regarding the extraordinary delay in reporting from the Swedish laboratory. Some experts have questioned why there is not a time limit. In this case, the finding was extremely late and the CAS report reveals that there were multiple “quality control” errors at the lab. They even had to develop a “new confirmation method”. Why was this allowed?

The late report was hugely disruptive to the Beijing Olympics. Instead of being sorry, the Biden administration may have been pleased. China is officially an official “adversary” of the US. The Biden administration had already criticized the China Winter Olympics. US lawmakers had even urged that the the Beijing Olympics be moved or “postponed”. Senate leader Nancy Pelosi tried to get world leaders to support a boycott with the baseless accusation that China was committing “genocide”.  The US and a few allies actually carried out a  diplomatic boycott.  Sadly, the immense disruption of the Beijing Olympics was in the interests of US foreign policy driven by neoconservatives and dedicated to undermining “adversaries”.

The western dominated World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) was relaxed and permissive with the Swedish lab failures which caused one of the biggest Olympics disruptions ever. Incredibly, they blamed the lab reporting failure on the Russian Anti Doping Agency and hid the lab quality control failures.

Mission Accomplished

The positive doping test for the Russian skater distracted from the other events at the Games, undercut the Russian figure skating team achievements, renewed allegations of excess doping in Russia and disrupted China’s first winter Olympics. For the US foreign policy establishment, in a cold war with both China and Russia, this was a victory.

Jingoistic athletes and commentators derided Kamila, assumed she was guilty, and said she should not be competing. Pretending to “defend” her, many critics accused Valieva’s coaches and doctors of “child abuse”. Like the athlete herself, Kamila’s coach and doctors had no reason to encourage a banned substance. They had every reason and motive to NOT allow that.

Unfortunately, the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) and some athletic federations have become part and parcel of  Western  hybrid warfare against “adversaries” Russia and China. WADA has expended enormous resources and efforts to ban top athletes from China and Russia. The International Skating Union  “welcomed”  the decision to ban 15 year old Kamila Valieva for four years. The top US men’s figure skater, Nathan Chen, said  that Valieva’s banning was a “win for clean sport.” On the contrary, it was a win for dirty politics, the politicization of sport and undermining the Olympic charter and its honorable ideals.

The news had the desired effect of provoking hostility and Russophobia. It is a shame that so few announcers and athletes expressed any skepticism. They immediately assumed Valieva’s guilt and condemned the coach Eteri Tutberidze and doctors. This was done with crocodile tears of concern for “child abuse”.  When Valieva faltered under the immense pressure, announcer Christine Brennan fumed, “You could not help but see the results of the abuse of a child… This is one of the greatest talents we have ever seen… Shame on Russia. Shame on those coaches for putting her in this position.”  Patrick McEnroe opined, “Russians – are you happy now?… An absolute disgrace.”

What was the cause of the positive test?

In summary, there are four possible causes of Valieva’s positive test for TMZ:  1) from contact with the  grandfather  2) from a contaminated legitimate medication  3) intentional use by the Athlete  4) intentional sabotage by enemies of Russia.

The third possibility is the least likely because she had nothing to gain and everything to lose. She had seventeen clean tests, both before and after the sole positive test. The contention that she or her coaches would risk everything by seeking to ‘enhance’ her performance with a drug of no value is illogical, indeed preposterous.

Considering the geopolitical circumstances and timing, the fourth possibility is the most likely. There is motive, means and opportunity.

Rick Sterling is a journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be reached at