Le Pays De France - Russia's Valieva - 'fragile little girl' in doping spotlight

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Russia's Valieva - 'fragile little girl' in doping spotlight
Russia's Valieva - 'fragile little girl' in doping spotlight

Russia's Valieva - 'fragile little girl' in doping spotlight

Aged just 15, Russian prodigy Kamila Valieva came to Beijing favourite for figure skating Olympic gold. Now she is at the centre of a doping scandal that threatens to torpedo her fledgling career.

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"When I was three years old I would tell my mother, I want to be an Olympic champion," she said on Monday after she led the Russians to gold in the team event.

"I believe my next dream will come true too," she added, an apparent reference to the women's individual event next week.

But on Friday, the International Testing Agency confirmed a test done by Valieva at the Russian championships had come back positive for trimetazidine, a substance banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) because it can increase blood flow efficiency and help endurance.

Both her medal and dream are at risk, with her right to compete in the Chinese capital set to be decided at an urgent hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Up until now Valieva had seemed unstoppable, winning every major competition she entered in the 2021-22 season.

At one of them, she broke the world record for short, free and overall programme scores.

Her ability to land the most difficult jumps, apparently effortlessly, is matched by a talent for passionate performance and balletic grace.

The teenager came to Beijing fresh off the back of winning the Russian and European Championships -- and promptly became the first woman to land a quadruple jump in Olympic competition on Monday.

The Russian championships were in late December but confirmation of the test result only came through on February 8, after Valieva had already competed twice in the team event.

- 'Not to blame here' -

Former figure skater Katarina Witt said Valieva "is not to blame here".

Witt won gold in 1984 and 1988 for East Germany -- whose entire medal-winning strategy has since been revealed to have been based on state-sponsored doping.

"As an athlete, you always follow the advice of your confidants, in this case she probably followed her coach and medical team," Witt wrote on Facebook. "You are taught from a very young age to trust them."

She added: "No doping would have helped her to land these (quads)!!!"

Russian competitors are taking part in Beijing as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) after the nation was banned because of a massive state-sponsored doping scheme at its home 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Valieva trains with Eteri Tutberidze, a household name in Russia known for producing teenage skaters capable of technical brilliance.

The coach's success has been stalked by controversy, with several of her previous students leaving her or retiring early.

On Valieva's Beijing 2022 athlete page, Tutberidze is listed as her hero.

- 'I feel this burden' -

Valieva comes from Kazan, in Russia's southwest, and started skating aged three.

She moved to Moscow with her mother three years later for training.

She had already wowed the figure skating world as a junior -- her dog Liova, a Pomeranian who features heavily on her Instagram account, was a gift from her fan club after a competition win.

But Valieva told International Figure Skating Magazine in 2020 she didn't like the attention that came with her fame.

"I know that it is there and I try to prepare for it," she said.

On the ice, she seems almost ethereal, and far older than her 15 years.

Off it, her youth is apparent.

"I do feel this burden a bit, this pressure, because this is my first season among adult skaters," she told a press conference in Beijing, breaking into giggles when team captain Nikita Katsalapov protested.

"I believe that I’m coping with this pressure -– sometimes it even pushes me forward, it helps me," she continued.

The 30-year-old Katsalapov said: "This is a very fragile little girl and yet she is a concentration of all the best qualities of a figure skater. She is the motivating factor for the entire team."

Asked to clarify what he meant by "fragile", he said she was "still strong, stronger than I am".