Don’t cheat your way to the podium

It’s not fair when an athlete takes performance-enhancing drugs.

Kamila Valieva, a 15-year-old ice skater for the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), tested positive for the heart medications hypoxen, L-carnitine, and trimetazidine. 

It’s unlikely that a gifted 15-year-old ice skater would willingly take banned, dangerous heart stimulants. An adult is ultimately responsible for her positive tests simply because she is a child and they are obligated to protect her safety.

The coaches, doctors, and other adults who supervise child athletes need to be held responsible for damage done to young athletes’ bodies, minds, and reputations.

Valieva’s story is not an isolated case of adults exploiting young athletes’ bodies.

Valieva and other young athletes have been doped up. That’s not OK.

Team USA ice skating coach Adam Rippon Tweeted Feb. 14 that when he competed in the Olympics, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency discouraged athletes “from even taking a multivitamin.” American athletes were told not to take cold medicines and pain creams that “might have ‘something’ in them.”

As a coach, Rippon gives his athletes the knowledge to stand up for themselves and avoid substances that might impair or improve their performances. However, other countries’ coaches are not as responsible or ethical as Rippon, including those of the ROC.

Rippon Tweeted about the International Olympic Committee’s decision allowing Valieva to compete in the women’s free skate final, “Her team didn’t want to play by the rules,” and, “They’ve exploited a child for results and continue to cheat and suffer no consequences.”

Coaches need to be banned from coaching if doping and abuse offenses take place under their watch.

Valieva’s reputation is already impacted by her doping test results. She is a victim in a vulnerable position far from home. She’s not in a safe space.

Unlike Valieva, Team USA sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was denied the chance to compete in last year’s summer Olympics after THC – from smoking marijuana – was detected in a drug test. 

Richardson openly admitted that she chose to smoke marijuana in a safe, controlled, and legal manner – to cope with her mental health after her mother’s death, which explained the presence of THC in her body. 

She Tweeted Feb. 14, “Can we get a solid answer on the difference of [Valieva’s] situation and mine? 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.”

Marjuana is not nearly as harmful to the body as the heart medications found in Valieva’s body. The drugs found in her system will have lasting effects on her physical health.

Richardson, a 21-year-old woman, had control over her situation and what she legally chose to put in her body. Because she’s only 15, Valieva is not in a position to control her situation.

On Feb. 17, Valieva fell repeatedly during the women’s free skate final and placed fourth. She did not earn a spot on the podium. 

This was her first major loss as an athlete. She was screaming and crying on live TV after she finished her routine. 

Valieva was on track to earn a gold medal before her doping test results were released. The controversy surrounding her results directly impacted her confidence during her performance. 

After she got off the ice, Valieva’s coach Etieri Tutberidze told her, “Why did you stop fighting? Explain it to me, why?”

Her coach wasn’t supportive. Valieva should have been comforted, not yelled at or ignored by her entourage.

Tutberidze left Valieva behind and went to the podium to support the gold and silver medalists – both from team ROC. During what is likely to become the most traumatic moment in her life, Valieva’s coach abandoned her. 

There have been other instances of Tutberidze being abusive to her athletes. According to The Washington Post, she has defended the banned drug meldonium, claiming it is “harmless.”

Tutberidze is not fit to coach any athlete, let alone minors.

So much pressure is put on young Olympic athletes, but blame for doping and abuse situations should be put on the coaches and officials who push them beyond their limits. These young athletes are being taken advantage of.

The impact of negligent coaches and officials extends beyond competing in the Olympics. 

These coaches and sports officials ruin the lives and reputations of happy, healthy, amazing child athletes who deserve supportive coaches who uplift and motivate them, rather than bring them down and crush their spirits.

Young, protected athletes, should not be drugged by their abusive coaches. 

Tutberidze and the other Russian coaches need to be banned.

There’s supposed to be a system overseen by Olympic officials to prevent coaches from taking advantage of young athletes – and clearly that’s not working.

Olympic officials and national athletic organizations need to enforce sanctions against abusive coaches when they jeopardize the lives and futures of young athletes.