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Banned Russian skater’s strawberry dessert defense failed to prevent doping ban

World sports’ top court rejected Kamila Valieva’s explanation that a positive test may have been caused by her grandfather’s heart medication, handing her a four-year ban.
Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva has been disqualified from the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The verdict from the Court of Arbitration for Sport comes almost two years after Valieva's doping case caused turmoil at the Beijing Games.
Kamila Valieva’s positive doping test came to overshadow the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. David J. Phillip / AP

Could a strawberry dessert be behind Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva’s crumbling career?

Not likely, according to sports’ highest court, which rejected her lawyers’ claims that a positive doping test may have been caused by her grandfather preparing the dish on a chopping board he also used to crush his heart medication.

Valieva, a teenage star whose case overshadowed the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, was last week?banned for four years. Her efforts to contest the verdict were revealed in the full 129-page ruling published online Wednesday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The alleged strawberry dessert is mentioned 43 times in the documents laying out why the three-member panel rejected her explanation.?

In the documents, Valieva’s lawyers contend that a banned substance called trimetazidine (TMZ) could have ended up in her system because of accidental contamination.

They argue that her grandfather used the chopping board to crush a pill of TMZ that he allegedly takes for a heart condition, and that the residue could have ended up in a strawberry dessert he made for Valieva ahead of the Russian national competition in late 2021. The phenom, then 15, tested positive at the event, but the result did not emerge until she had already helped the Russians win team gold ahead of the U.S. at the Winter Games months later.

The revelation follows the CAS decision last month upholding an appeal from the World Anti-Doping Agency, which had asked for the four-year penalty after a Russian tribunal effectively cleared her. Valieva was handed a light punishment by a Russian tribunal. TMZ is a prohibited substance and its use in sport is banned at all times, as it could help the heart to function better, according to CAS.

The court said Valieva did not contest that the substance was in her system but sought to offer an explanation that would exonerate her or shorten a potential ban.

The submissions released on Wednesday shed more light on how Valieva’s lawyers presented her case, including the claim that Valieva’s grandfather has been taking TMZ since 2018 and was on it in December 2021 when she tested positive for the substance. But the court said that the only evidence provided in support of the strawberry dessert theory was his own assertion, and that there was no evidence he was using the drug beyond his own words.

As such, the court ruled that while it found Valieva to be “an honest, straightforward and credible witness,” her explanation was “not corroborated by any concrete evidence” and she was therefore not able to establish that she had not committed the doping violation intentionally.

“There are too many shortcomings in the evidence, and too many unanswered questions, for the panel to decide that her account is more likely than not,” the ruling said.

Valieva was a favorite to win singles figure skating gold at the Olympics in Beijing and was widely considered one of the biggest talents to take the ice in decades.

The news that she tested positive came midway through her individual competition schedule in China, due to a delay in sending the results of her December 2021 sample from a lab in Sweden. By that time, she had already won gold as part of the team competition with the Russians.

Those medals were never awarded, as Valieva’s case became the focus of the media attention.

She was allowed to continue competing in the individual competition, but, under intense scrutiny, she fell far short of expectations and went on to finish fourth with an error-riddled free skate.

The CAS decision on Valieva last month led the International Skating Union to also disqualify the Russian team that won gold in the team event, nearly two years after that competition. The Russians were bumped down to the bronze medal position when her score was removed from the team’s total. Team USA, which came in second, was allocated the gold.

The Russian Olympic Committee said its lawyers will challenge the decision.

The Russian committee criticized the decision to ban Valieva and questioned why the skater’s positive sample, collected several months ahead of the Olympics, was only made public in Beijing after the Russian team won gold. It said the decision showed that “a war has been declared on Russian sport.”

Valieva’s coach, Eteri Tutberidze, said in a statement on Instagram that all her athletes “were and remain clean,” and that she still had a lot of questions about what happened to Valieva.

The Kremlin slammed Valieva’s disqualification as “politically motivated.”

She has not discussed the details of her doping case in public but thanked her supporters online after the CAS decision to ban her.

Valieva has been widely supported in Russia since the saga began, in particular because of her young age. The decision to ban her for four years caused a new wave of public indignation in the country, where figure skating is one of the most popular sports and Russian skaters have long been seen as a dominant force on the ice.

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