2022 Beijing Olympics – Figure Skating – Women Single Skating – Free Skating – Capital Indoor Stadium, Beijing, China – February 17, 2022. Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee reacts with coaches Daniil Gleikhengauz and Eteri Tutberidze after her performance. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
February 18, 2022
By Karolos Grohmann
BEIJING (Reuters) -Olympic chief Thomas Bach said on Friday it had been “chilling” to witness Russian teenage skater Kamila Valieva crumble under pressure at the Beijing Olympics as a doping scandal continued to swirl, hitting out at the 15-year-old’s entourage.
The saga has opened a debate on the suitability of the Olympic environment for minors, but Bach said the International Olympic Committee had limited means of action.
Valieva, who had been leading the women’s figure skating event after the short programme, cracked in her free skate on Thursday night, and stumbled down to fourth place as compatriot Anna Shcherbakova skated to gold.
“I must say I was very, very disturbed yesterday when I watched the competition on TV,” Bach told a news conference.
“How high the pressure on her must have been.”
Valieva failed a doping test at her national championships last December but the result was only revealed on Feb. 8, a day after Valieva had already helped the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) win the team event.
The Russian Anti-Doping Agency lifted a provisional ban on her and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Monday rejected an appeal by the IOC, the International Skating Union (ISU) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to re-instate the suspension – therefore allowing her to compete in the single event on Tuesday and Thursday.
CHILLING TO SEE
“To see her struggling on the ice, to see her, how she tries to compose herself again, how then she tries to finish her programme and you could see in every movement, in the body language, you could feel that this is immense, immense mental stress and maybe she would have preferred to just leave the ice and try to leave this story behind her,” said Bach.
Valieva left the ice hiding tears behind her hands and sobbed in the ‘kiss and cry’ area as her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, confronted her.
“Why did you let it go? Explain it to me, why? Why did you stop fighting completely? Somewhere after the axel you let it go,” Tutberidze said.
“When I afterwards saw how she was received by her close entourage… it was chilling to see this,” said Bach.
“Rather than giving her comfort, rather than to try to help her you could feel this chilling atmosphere, this distance and if you were interpreting the body language of them, it got even worse because this was even some kind of dismissive gestures.
“All of this does not give me much confidence in Kamila’s closest entourage.”
Bach admitted that the IOC, while it was addressing the matter, could not do much to control an athlete’s entourage.
“We see we have extremely limited means to address it,” he said. “We are not the police, we cannot interrogate and have a formal prosecution procedure; and our sanctions are extremely limited.
“In the end, it’s a question where we need the support of governments.”
(Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ossian Shine;)
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