What to Know About Kamila Valieva’s Reported Positive Drug Test and the Heart Medicine’s History in Doping

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After a day of swirling rumors and anonymous leaks, the Russian newspaper RBC reported that the star of the Russian figure skating squad, 15-year-old Kamila Valieva, tested positive for a banned substance.

The AP, citing the Russian newspaper, reported that Valieva—the gold-medal favorite who just days before became the first woman to land a quadruple jump in the Olympics—apparently tested positive before the Beijing Games, and even before the European Championships in January. International athletes are tested randomly at any time, both during and outside of competitions. Valieva reportedly tested positive for the drug trimetazidine, which is a heart medication generally prescribed to patients with angina to maintain blood flow and prevent blockages that can stop the heart. It can also reduce inflammation and relax blood vessels, and helps people who have had stents or heart operations to maintain the steady flow of blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
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Trimetazidine’s history in doping

The drug has had a darker history in recent years, however, as a doping agent by athletes looking for an extra edge in endurance, whether for training or for competition.

Since 2014, the World Anti-Doping Agency has listed trimetazidine as a metabolic modulator for that reason, since it can give athletes an unfair chemical advantage. Chinese swimmer Sun Yang served a three-month ban in 2014 after testing positive for the drug, while Russian bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva was disqualified from the 2018 Olympics and served an eight-month ban for the same drug.

It’s unclear whether Valieva has a heart condition or has another reason for legitimately using the drug. If either is the case, she would also have had to receive a special dispensation or medical allowance to use the medication.

What happens next after Valieva’s reported positive drug test

The medal ceremony for the team figure skating event, scheduled for Feb. 8 in Beijing, was postponed indefinitely. Neither the International Olympic Committee (IOC) nor the International Skating Union (ISU) has issued a statement about the apparent violation. In explaining the delay at its regular press briefing on Feb. 9, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams would only say that “a situation arose today on short notice which requires legal consultation with the ISU…It’s an emerging issue, and I can’t add very much.”

The Russian team is already competing at its second Olympics as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), since the country is still serving a two-year ban for a state-sponsored doping program. From December 2020 to December 2022, no athlete can represent or compete under the Russian flag at the Olympics, Paralympics, or World championships.

Athletes can appeal doping violations, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport does have an office in Beijing to hear time-sensitive cases. If the Russian news reports are true, it could disqualify the ROC team, stripping them of the gold. That would mean the U.S. earns gold, current bronze medal winners Japan would be elevated to silver, and fourth-place Canada the bronze.

Depending on the process, it could also prevent Valieva from competing in the women’s event that she was widely expected to win, due to start next week. Valieva, the Russian national champion, provided a glimpse of her stunning talent in the team event, skating both her short and free programs and making history as the first female skater to land a quadruple jump at the Olympics. That accolade too could also come with an asterisk if the reports are confirmed that she has been using a banned substance without receiving a medical exemption.

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