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Russian figure skater was allowed to compete in the Olympics despite failed drug test


There's a mystery at the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Why was Russia's star figure skater allowed to compete despite failing a drug test? NPR's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Once again, a Russian athlete - in this case, 15-year-old Kamila Valieva, one of the best figure skaters in the world - is at the center of an Olympic doping scandal. Valieva led Russia to an apparent gold medal win in the team competition in Beijing, with the U.S. placing second. But days have passed with no medals awarded, and International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams says he doesn't know when that will happen.


MARK ADAMS: We hope that the whole issue can be expedited in the interests of every athlete, not just the Russian.

MANN: The plot thickened early this morning when an organization called the International Testing Agency issued a statement confirming Valieva took a doping test in December that later showed she had used a banned heart drug known to improve athletic performance. But it's unclear who knew about the test results, and Valieva was allowed to skate in Beijing.

The whole mess is now expected to be sorted out at an emergency meeting of another international sports body called the Court of Arbitration for Sport. But Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which tests athletes in American sports programs, says it's already clear the IOC bungled past efforts to rein in widespread sports doping by Russian athletes and coaches.

TRAVIS TYGART: Not only did it not deter behavior, but it probably incentivized behavior because even if you get caught, you're not going to suffer much of a consequence.

MANN: After the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, investigations found numerous Russian medal winners involved in a state-sponsored doping program, which critics say still operates. But the IOC has allowed Russian athletes to compete and win medals at the Olympics that followed, including Beijing, while taking the symbolic action of banning the playing of the Russian national anthem and the flying of the Russian flag.

U.S. Olympic officials have issued a statement demanding quick resolution of the Valieva matter, saying the credibility of the Olympic movement hangs in the balance. Russian sports officials, meanwhile, say Valieva has passed numerous more recent drug tests, including ones here in Beijing, and should be allowed to skate. As of now, the young Russian is scheduled to compete in the individual women's skating competition Tuesday. Today, Valieva was allowed to train for that event.

Brian Mann, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.