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HomeTechnologyOlympics 2022: Kamila Valieva failed her drug check. Blame her coaches.

Olympics 2022: Kamila Valieva failed her drug check. Blame her coaches.


The massive query surrounding 15-year-old Kamila Valieva is whether or not or not she’ll be allowed to skate within the Olympic girls’s particular person occasion.

The Worldwide Testing Company (ITA) mentioned that Valieva, who helped the Russian girls win the workforce occasion and have become the primary girl in historical past to land a quadruple bounce on the Olympics, examined optimistic for trimetazidine, a banned coronary heart remedy that’s purported to enhance endurance. Russia desires her to skate, claiming a misunderstanding and maybe Western jealousy. The ITA and the World Anti-Doping Company (WADA) will attend a listening to on behalf of the Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC) to enchantment Russia’s choice to let her skate. The Worldwide Skating Union (ISU) will decide medals and outcomes after the listening to, which is able to occur earlier than Tuesday’s occasion.

Misplaced within the shadow of this information, maybe, are different necessary questions: how a 15-year-old lady received the remedy, and why she would really feel like taking it was a good suggestion.

Valieva, alongside along with her quad-landing teammates Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova, all practice with coach Eteri Tutberidze. Tutberidze is the only most dominant coach in girls’s determine skating, as her women — most of her skaters change into champions earlier than the age of 18 — have taken dwelling Olympic golds and silvers, World Championships, European Championships, and worldwide champions.

However amid all that success, none of Tutberidze’s champions have gone to a number of Olympics. They’ve retired, many citing harm, in four-year home windows. Much more distressing is how there appears to be a sample of abusive practices in the case of eating regimen restriction and over-training.

When the IOC, ISU, and Russia convene, they’ll resolve Valieva’s future. However it might behoove them and the game to look past the athlete in query and likewise deal with the adults in cost.

Tutberidze’s women land jumps no different girls on the planet can do and are a few of the most superb skaters on the planet. However what’s the worth they pay to change into so?

Kamila Valieva’s coach Eteri Tutberidze has a historical past of injured skaters and eating regimen restrictions

The unlucky reality about girls’s determine skating is that puberty is seen because the enemy. Smaller, leaner skaters have a bonus due to the physics concerned. Lighter skaters have a better time getting up within the air; having much less mass and being slim permits them to spin quicker (consider a pencil, spinning between your fingers). As a result of puberty tends so as to add weight, top, and extra fats to a lady’s physique, it’s not unusual to see it adversely have an effect on feminine skaters. We’ve seen that skaters can hit tougher jumps earlier than they hit puberty, after which lose these jumps as their our bodies change. It’s not not possible for feminine skaters to regain these extremely troublesome jumps post-puberty, however they continue to be the exception quite than the norm.

The draw back to this, as you may count on in any elite sport, is coaches and athletes will attempt to bodily change athletes’ our bodies to maintain or acquire these benefits. Therefore, girls’s determine skating is a sport that’s peppered with athletes who’ve had consuming issues like bulimia and anorexia.

Yulia Lipnitskaya performs on the Sochi Olympics.
Fredrik von Erichsen/image alliance by way of Getty Photographs

And a few of these tales have come from Eteri Tutberidze’s former college students.

Again in 2014, Yulia Lipnitskaya turned one of many Olympic Video games’ breakout stars when she received a gold medal at 15. She was recognized for her spins and unimaginable flexibility. After Sochi 2014, she had middling outcomes and ended her profession in 2017 whereas affected by a knee harm. In September of that yr, she revealed to the Russian press she had been affected by anorexia for “not only for one yr, or two, or three” years and sought remedy at a rehab heart in Israel. On the time, there have been stories that Lipnitskaya was inspired by Tutberidze’s workforce to maintain herself by “powdered vitamins” to maintain the load off.

Lipnitskaya by no means made it to the 2018 Olympics, the place Tutberidze’s dynamic duo of Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva shined. Zagitova and Medvedeva mixed for the silver within the workforce occasion, after which went gold and silver, respectively, within the girls’s singles occasion. On the time, Zagitova was 15 and appeared like an improved model of Lipnitskaya who may land very troublesome jumps. She nabbed a gold that yr.

After the Olympics, she was requested in an interview with the Russian web site, Sport Specific, about her development spurt and puberty. She informed them that her and her coaches’ plan to take care of the modifications of puberty was to limit her eating regimen.

“And when it comes to puberty, whenever you change into fats — it appears to me that these are all fictions. You simply must shut your mouth and don’t eat! Or no less than slightly. I eat, however in small portions,” Zagitova mentioned.

Granted, there is likely to be nuances misplaced in translation. On the time, Zagitova was 15 and should not have chosen her phrases correctly. However this wasn’t the primary time she talked about what seems like, at greatest, a really restrictive eating regimen and, at worst, an consuming dysfunction.

In a 2019 interview with Russian Glamour, Zagitova defined that she and workforce Tutberidze restricted her meals consumption and that she abstained from consuming water. She primarily used water as a rinse. She mentioned:

No, I don’t like chips. Effectively, maybe it’s as a result of I don’t eat them. I like sweets — chocolate, sweet. Typically, I restricted myself through the Olympic Video games. I used to be, you’ll be able to say, not consuming water in any respect. That’s, we simply rinsed our mouths and spit all of it out.

In one other 2019 interview, Zagitova lamented that the sport had handed her by, that she was too outdated (at 19) to hit quads, and that if she had any hope at touchdown one, she’d must first shed weight. Zagitova has since retired from the game.

Medvedeva, who was Zagitova’s primary rival, had a profession punctuated with again and foot accidents. She left Tutberidze after the Olympics to coach in Canada with coach Brian Orser. Orser is thought for teaching champions like Yuna Kim and Yuzuru Hanyu.

Whereas in Canada, Medvedeva opened up about how the coaching strategies had been totally different, and the way Orser’s membership didn’t pit her towards her rivals. In a 2019 interview with the Russian website RSport, she defined how she had severely restricted her eating regimen and was now working with a nutritionist with Orser. She appears to allude to the identical calorie restriction and water weight that Zagitova references:

I understood that I needs to be as “dry” as potential. I weighed in Pyeongchang one and a half kilograms lower than a yr earlier than the World Championships in Helsinki. It was a troublesome interval, however I had no different alternative … I didn’t have too many muscle mass then, and on this case the physique retains water very a lot. You change into heavy and “swollen.” Due to this fact, all the pieces was actually very robust and precipitated respectable harm to the physique. Now, fortuitously, all these issues are previously.

Medvedeva returned to Tutberidze in 2020 due to the pandemic. And in a 2021 interview with Russian media, Tutberidze mentioned that Medvedeva gained weight and blamed Orser and Medvedeva for her poor scores. Tutberidze hasn’t been afraid of lashing out towards Medvedeva and different skaters who’ve left her coaching academy. Usually these skaters, like Medvedeva, return.

“So we did all we may for her underneath the circumstances,” Tutberidze mentioned. In that very same interview, she mentions that she trains her college students 12 hours a day.

Medvedeva has since retired, citing everlasting accidents to her again. She will be able to solely flip it a method.

Whereas Lipnitskaya, Zagitova, and Medvedeva are all retired now, the tales alluding to weight restriction and harm amongst Tutberidze’s present crop of scholars proceed.

In a 2019 interview with Russian sports activities channel Sport24, Daniil Gleikhengauz, who choreographs at Tutberidze’s faculty, talked about Anna Shcherbakova. Shcherbakova is a favourite to medal this yr. The interviewer talks about how she was amazed that Shcherbakova can eat “two shrimps” for dinner and be full.

Once more, there might be nuances and humor misplaced in translation. The host is seemingly joking about Scherbakova’s urge for food and willpower. However given Lipnitskaya’s historical past, Zagitova’s mentality about weight reduction, and Medvedeva’s frank solutions to the Russian press, the concept Scherbakova severely restricts her eating regimen doesn’t appear to be a joke.

As former Olympic skaters, physicists, and consultants defined to me earlier this month, skating is an extremely taxing sport on the physique. Therefore the accidents that skaters energy by to win. It’s much more terrifying to think about these accidents on the our bodies of younger women who’re extraordinarily skinny, severely proscribing their eating regimen, or in a state of affairs like Lipnitskaya’s, not consuming in any respect.

Trusova and Scherbakova have reportedly been coping with nagging accidents as they skate. Aliona Kostornaia, who was as soon as seen as a lock for the Olympic workforce and medal menace, pulled out of the Russian Nationals this yr on account of an unspecified harm. And Daria Usacheva, who’s one in every of Tutberidze’s prized pupils and Russian junior champion, appeared to undergo a really painful and severe harm this previous November. Accidents are often saved near the vest within the Russian press.

Are skating and the media that covers it complicit?

Amid Valieva’s failed doping check and accounts of what positive looks as if disordered consuming and careers reduce very quick on account of harm, it raises the query of what skating’s governing our bodies are doing about this. The reply appears to be rewarding her.

In 2020, the Worldwide Skating Union awarded Tutberidze its “greatest coach.” And if you happen to’ve been watching NBC’s determine skating protection, commentator and former skater Johnny Weir has been — up till information of Valieva’s failed doping check broke — speaking about spending time at her teaching facility and the luxurious time he had attending to know Tutberidze and the women. Weir posted on Instagram in November, about how grateful he was to go to the varsity. In hindsight, these selections haven’t aged nicely.

Russian skating coach Eteri Tutberidze.

Eteri Tutberidze appears to be like on!
Dimitris Isevidis/Anadolu Company by way of Getty Photographs

“If folks begin to look underneath the hood of what’s happening in Group Tutberidze, which may truly be optimistic for the game as a result of it might actually shine a light-weight on adolescent women being abused bodily, mentally, emotionally. And now pharmacologically, with these medication,” mentioned Dave Lease, who runs the skating evaluation YouTube channel The Skating Lesson.

Whereas he acknowledges that Tutberidze’s skaters are proficient, Lease has been important of Tutberidze on his present, particularly calling into query her coaching practices. He has spoken with visitors about allegations of consuming issues and potential doping (previous to Valieva’s optimistic check). He says what’s occurring at Tutberidze’s faculty is analogous to the abuse that occurred at US Gymnastics and the Karolyis’ ranch. Saying that Tutberidze’s teaching practices are “abusive” has gotten Lease harangued within the Russian press.

“It doesn’t take a genius to appreciate that there’s one thing aberrant going down with Tutberidze’s coaching strategies versus coaching strategies round the remainder of the world,” he mentioned. “I don’t assume that any clever one that follows determine skating needs to be stunned. The clues have been there.”

The clues Lease refers to are accounts from former skaters, but in addition Russian press interviews about diets, the accidents from over-training, interviews with coaches about potential doping, and Russia’s historical past with state-sponsored doping.

Because the information broke, former skaters like Adam Rippon and Katarina Witt have spoken out about holding Russia and the adults surrounding Valieva accountable. And in an interview with the French newspaper 20 Minutes, prime ice dancing coach Romain Haguenauer mentioned the end result hadn’t stunned him. He mentioned:

When Valieva’s title got here out, I wouldn’t say folks weren’t stunned, however let’s say it’s been stuff that’s been round for years. … To see these children between the ages of 12 and 15 doing quadruple jumps … it’s true that there are all the time questions from the [jumps] specialists. I’m not one, however I do know loads of people who find themselves and all of them have all the time been extraordinarily stunned that it occurred impulsively. Earlier than Sochi, Russia didn’t shine in girls’s skating. … After which, impulsively, yearly they create out 4 new children rocking quads.

One of many issues surrounding skating is that it goes mainstream as soon as each 4 years, not in contrast to gymnastics. Mainstream curiosity peaks through the Olympics and wanes sharply after, so except there’s one thing newsworthy that occurs — like Valieva’s failed check — most viewers don’t observe the skaters or Tutberidze sufficient to know her or her skaters’ historical past. In Russia the place these girls are thought of prime athletes, Lease says, Tutberidze’s success outshines any criticism.

It’s additionally particularly troublesome for informal viewers to know concerning the controversies when you’ve got NBC and commentators like Weir speaking glowingly concerning the academy. For a lot of religious skating followers, although, Tutberidze’s strategies have been an open secret for years.

“I do know many clever individuals who observe the game and like to look at the game, however perhaps they aren’t fully immersed. And so they choose to look at skating and see these lovely younger skaters and be amazed and select to look the opposite method,” he mentioned. “Or they select to not know, and never look too far into why they’re so superb.”



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