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Russian Olympian who tested positive for doping drug allowed to compete in Olympics

Main Media Center, InterContinental Beijing. (International Olympic Committee Media/Released)
February 14, 2022

A Russian figure skater who tested positive for a banned drug designed to improve blood flow has been cleared to continue competing at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games despite concerns the drug could give her an unfair advantage.

15-year-old figure Russian skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for the drug trimetazidine on Christmas Day, USA Today reported Monday. The results of Valieva’s drug test were not reported until Tuesday, Feb. 8, after the Olympic games had already begun and Valieva and the Russian team won gold in the team figure skating competition.

Trimetazidine, also known as TMZ, is a heart medication typically prescribed to older individuals suffering from angina, a condition that causes chest pains due to insufficient blood flow to the heart, the Washington Post reported. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has banned the drug from Olympic competition since 2014.

TMZ has not been approved in the U.S. market but is supposed to work by helping the heart work more efficiently. NBC reported the drug improves blood flow and regulates against rapid changes in blood pressure. While the efficacy of the drug is unclear, it could theoretically allow endurance athletes to compete more effectively over long periods of time.

Aaron Baggish, the director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the Washington Post that it’s unlikely TMZ would be beneficial to athletes competing in sports like figure skating, where endurance isn’t as much of a factor. Baggish also said there’s virtually no reason a healthy teenager would need to take TMZ.

Baggish said in cases where an athlete’s physician sees it necessary to prescribe a substance on the banned substance list, the athlete would need to receive a therapeutic use exemption and their physician would have to explain why there are no suitable alternatives.

Dr. Michael Joyner, a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist and human performance expert told NBC, therapeutic use exemptions are common for athletes taking asthma medication.

Over the weekend, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reviewed Valieva’s case and cleared her to compete in further figure skating events.

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland denounced the decision in a statement Sunday night.

“We are disappointed by the message this decision sends,” USOPC Hirshland said. “It is the collective responsibility of the entire Olympic community to protect the integrity of sport and to hold our athletes, coaches and all involved to the highest of standards. Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field. Unfortunately, today that right is being denied. This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia.”

“We know this case is not yet closed, and we call on everyone in the Olympic Movement to continue to fight for clean sport on behalf of athletes around the world,” Hisrchland added.

Former Team USA skaters Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir also criticized the decision on Monday.

“Clean sport is the only thing that matters at an Olympic Games,” Lipinski said. “What we love about an Olympic Games is that we get to marvel at humans pushing athletic limits and doing the impossible but with one caveat, to do it fairly and cleanly.”

Weir said, “I have to condemn this decision with every ounce of my soul.”

“This is a slap in the face to the Olympic Games, to our sport and to every athlete that has ever competed at the Olympics clean,” Weir added. “It’s hard to make it to the Olympics and anybody that will try to find the easy way out is in the wrong and should not be able to compete at the Olympics.”