Stacey Kaliabakos ‘23
To be honest, I have not been the slightest bit interested in the Winter Olympics this year. This is unfortunate, because watching the Olympics used to be a big part of my childhood. I vividly remember sitting with my parents during the months of July, August, and February to watch athletes from all across the world show off their talents. It was truly exhilarating for me to watch the athletes compete. I remember that I especially loved (and still love today) watching the ice skating competitions. Perhaps this fascination stemmed from jealousy, as I was not allowed on ice as a kid due to my unparalleled clumsiness in skates. In any case, I thought that the flips and twirls and dances figure skaters would perform at the Olympics every four years were beyond human ability. It was like watching people fly.
I kind of forgot that the Olympics were happening until one of my professors asked one of my classes if we were watching the Beijing Winter Olympics. Besides the fact that I am a busy college student who doesn’t have much free time to watch the Olympics, I also cannot in good conscience support watching them when they are taking place in Beijing. Because of the ongoing Uyghur genocide and human rights violations happening in the province of Xinjiang, I think it is unreasonable to be hosting the Olympics in China this year. However, that is an article for another time.
What really grabbed my attention about the Olympics was not a broken record or a major participant pulling out of their competition (like the Simone Biles situation over the summer), but the recent controversy surrounding Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva and American track athlete Sha’Carri Richardson. I had never heard of Kamila Valieva before but was astonished to read a news alert saying that the 15-year-old had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Valieva reportedly tested positive for a banned heart medication at the Russian figure skating championships back in December 2020; however, the results of her test were not made public until early February when she was supposed to compete in the Olympic games. Her situation impacted her whole team, since she had helped the Russian Olympic Committee get a gold medal in their team competition. The medals were unable to be awarded to the ROC because of the positive drug test.
In July 2021, U.S. track star Sha’Carri Richardson tested positive for marijuana after winning the 100-meter sprint in the U.S. trials before the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. She was forced to miss the games, serving a mandatory 30-day suspension. This was especially unfortunate for her, as she was not only favored to gain a place in the top three at the Olympics but was also dealing with the loss of her mother at the time. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is known for their strict roles in terms of drug testing and Richardson accepted their punishment. However, I remember that the whole internet was very angry about the decision, and there was definitely reason to be. Given Richardson’s personal situation, many people believe that the USADA should have not punished her so severely, especially since her prospects were so high.
After Kamila Valieva’s positive drug test came to light, Sha’Carri Richardson took to Twitter to voice her opinion, saying “Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mines? My mother died and I can’t run and was also favored to place top 3. The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady.” Although it may be said that there is inequity for black people not just in America, but globally, Richardson’s comment seems to be a bit unfair in this situation. If Team U.S.A had allowed a white woman who tested positive to compete after booting Richardson, that would undeniably be blatant racism. However, Valieva is from a different country and federation that functions by very different rules. The consequences of their actions cannot be the same if the countries they hail from deal with them differently, and that is neither woman’s fault.
Additionally, there has been a lot of speculation that Valieva’s coach, Eteri Tutberidze, has been abusing her athletes by means of substances. She has a reputation for mistreating and overworking her students and has also been accused online of drugging some of her athletes in order to increase their performances in competitions. After Valieva competed and placed fourth due to two uncharacteristic falls during her routine (most likely from the international pressure that was thrust upon her), Tutberidze’s reaction was to tell the disheartened 15-year-old girl “Why did you let it go? Why did you stop fighting?” All of her students who competed in the Beijing Olympics seemed upset after the event, including gold-medalist Anna Shcherbakova, who said she felt an “emptiness” even after winning. It is disguisting for a coach to make her students feel this way, and it is relieving that Tutberidze will soon be undergoing an investigation for her actions.
Ultimately, although Richardson has the prerogative to remain unhappy about her unfair situation, it is incorrect for her to shame a 15-year-old for something that, to me, seemed completely out of her control. It is not right to pit these athletes against one another since a large reason that Valieva was still allowed to compete was that the IOC could not find her “guilty” of drug use, since the Olympic Committee’s rules state that those under 16 years of age can not be found guilty of a crime like this. Even though Richardson should not have been banned from the Tokyo Olympics, this is not an issue of race; rather, it is an issue of an adult doing wrong by a child. I hope that all of the Russian athletes involved in this story (if they are indeed being pushed to take drugs by their coach, a person they should be able to trust unequivocally) are removed from their situation and can find the space to heal from their past experiences.
Photo courtesy of Reuters