Valieva set for another gold after arguing doping was 'mix-up with granddad's drugs'

Russia's star skater said she felt 'tired emotionally' amid the drug test scandal. Credit: AP

Russia's Kamila Valieva has topped the leaderboard in the women's individual figure skating at the Beijing Winter Olympics after she was cleared to continue competing having argued her positive drug test was due to a mix-up with her grandfather's medication.

The 15-year-old at the centre of the latest Olympic doping controversy is primed to succeed in her pursuit of another gold medal.

But she will not be honoured in a medal ceremony because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is concerned she could still be banned after a full investigation of her case.

Her score of 82.16 points put her in first place in the field of 30 in the short programme, with 25 skaters moving on to Thursday's free skate round, which will decide the medals. It would have been 24, but the qualification rule was changed to advance one more person if Valieva made it to the next round.

Valieva's fellow Russian Anna Shcherbakova placed second, and Japan's Kaori Sakamoto edged out another Russian for third.

The teen skater said she was "emotionally tired" after a lengthy hearing on Monday determined she could still compete despite failing a drug test in December. The result only emerged last week after wowing judges when she landed the first quadruple jumps by a woman at the Games and helped win gold for the Russian team.

Valieva became emotional following her first competitive skate since the scandal emerged Credit: AP

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled she would not be suspended from the Games because she is a minor, known as a “protected person,” and is subject to different rules from an adult athlete.

Lawyers for Russia's star skater "brought some doubts about her guilt" and suggested the positive sample of banned heart medication, trimetazidine, was accidental rather than deliberate doping, said a veteran IOC member.

“Her argument was this contamination which happened with a product her grandfather was taking," Denis Oswald, a Swiss lawyer who has prosecuted previous Russian doping cases, told reporters.

An electronic billboard reads 'Kamila, we are with you' on the building of the Cosmos hotel in Moscow, Russia Credit: AP

According to Russian news site Pravda, lawyer Anna Kozmenko said the skater may have drunk from the same glass as her grandfather.

It was argued that the concentration of the drug was "negligibly small" and she may have ingested it from her grandfather's saliva traces on the glass.

Organisers of the Paris 2024 Olympics on Tuesday issued a statement saying they were "100% committed to the fight against doping" and they would do everything in their power to avoid a repeat of Valieva's case so it does not cast a shadow over their Summer Games."

The teen skater said the past few days had "been very difficult" for her and that the entire process had taught her adult life “can be unfair to some extent.”

"I’m happy but I’m tired emotionally," she said.

Valieva testified during the marathon hearing via video link from the Olympic Village on Monday, which ended at about 3am local time.

“I sat there for seven hours, we had one 20-minute break, and I sat there and watched. It was very difficult, but it is apparently one of the moments, of the phases, that I have to go through,” said the teen.

The World Anti-Doping Agency announced this week it will investigate her Coach Eteri Tutberidze, along with the rest of the entourage that has surrounded Valieva in the lead-up to the Olympics.

Tutberidze, the former ice dancer-turned-kingmaker, has been criticised for pushing young skaters to extreme limits in the pursuit of Olympic medals.

Coach Eteri Tutberidze Tutberidze has previously been criticised for pushing young skaters to extreme limits Credit: AP

The IOC has said it will “organise dignified medal ceremonies” once Valieva's case is decided, but that could be months away. It also did not explain where or how they might be held.

Tutberidze, and the rest of the Russian team, have received the vast majority of worldwide backlash.

“The ladies event is a complete joke,” said 2018 Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, who now helps coach one of the American women, Mariah Bell.

“It's not a real competition and it most likely won't even have a medal ceremony. So many Olympic experiences stolen from clean athletes who got here without the help of performance-enhancing drugs.”

Retired pairs skater Chris Knierim said: "Four years of hard work just to wait for UPS to deliver your Olympic medal. Hope they have tracking numbers at least."

US sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson questioned why Valieva has been allowed to continue competing, while she was banned for a similar offence.

Richardson was banned from competing in last year's summer Olympics after testing positive for cannabis. The drug, legal in some US states, isn't considered to be performance-enhancing and Richardson said she had smoked to relieve the pain she felt over the recent death of her mother.

Richardson wrote: "The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady."

Valieva and her teammates are trying to extend an era of Russian dominance in women's figure skating at the Olympics.

It began at the 2014 Sochi Games, when the country's state-sponsored doping scheme first came to light, and Adelina Sotnikova won the gold medal for the host nation.

Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva - who were also coached by Tutberidze - followed with a one-two finish for what was known as the Olympic Athletes from Russia at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.