Kamila Valieva was not going to have a low-key Winter Olympics.
The Russian figure skater came into the 2022 Beijing Games having set world records and after a dominant 2021, which included winning the Russian and European championships. She is only 15 years old and sometimes appears at press conferences with her favorite stuffed rabbit.
Last week, she helped the Russian team to gold in the team event, becoming the first skater to perform a quadruple jump at the Olympics.
But they never gave him the gold. After days of rumors, it was confirmed that she had tested positive for a banned substance a few weeks ago.
Valieva was cleared to compete in the remainder of the Games, where she will start as the favorite in women’s singles figure skating.
The case raised questions about the adults around her and about the Russia’s doping history in elite sports competitions. But at the center of the controversy is a teenager who made her senior debut just a few months ago.
Since I was three years old
For Valieva, being an Olympic champion is a childhood dream. “Probably since I was 3 years old I tell my mom: ‘I want to be an Olympic champion!’” she said.
Born in Kazan, in the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, Valieva started skating at 3 years, and also practiced ballet and gymnastics. But her mother wanted her to choose a sport, so she chose skating. She moved to Moscow when she was 6 years old.
Train with Eteri Tutberidze, who has groomed several skaters for international success, but whose methods have been criticized as excessively harsh. Several of his former students dropped out early.
Valieva has spoken positively about working with Tutberidze, telling Russian magazine La Personne: “We need a coach like Eteri.”
He also gave a candid assessment of what it takes to rise to the top of competitive sport.
“Figure skating starts very early, at the age of 3 or 4,” he told La Personne.
“The boy must be taken to training, first three times a week, then four, then six times a week. And this is not for a year or two. For example, I have been training for 12 years. Parents have no days off, no holidays, no vacations. That is to say, they practically need to give their lives.”
As a junior competitor, she skated a routine inspired by a Picasso painting, prompting a message of admiration from the painter’s granddaughter, Diana.
Another program was dedicated to the memory of his late grandmother, saying that the feelings he has when thinking about why he skates gives him a lot of energy to act.
Valieva has admitted to feeling uncomfortable with the attention her success has drawn, telling IFS Magazine: “I don’t like it very much, but I know it’s there and I try to prepare for it.”
He did, however, thank his fans, one of whom gifted him with a Pomeranian puppy.
The incredible quadruple jump
Before coming to the Olympics, she was already well known in the world of figure skating, combining artistry with the ability to pull off the most difficult moves.
The quadruple jump is a rarity in women’s sportand was only introduced to men’s competition in the late 1980s.
It requires competitors to jump, spin four times in less than a second, and land on a single backwards blade.
When Valíyeva performs the move she stands upright, and it’s a bit like seeing a corkscrew floating in midair. Biomechanist James Richards told Scientific American that don’t think it’s possible this is overcome and that a skater turn five times in the air.
Beyond the ice rink, he has said he hopes to travel, learn languages or ride a motorcycle. She also said that she could become a psychologist.
“But… all this and much more, later,” he told La Personne. “Now only figure skating.”
The delight of the Russians that Valieva has been allowed to compete in the individual event this week has been matched by dismay from other bodies and Olympians.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport cited his age as one of the reasons it made the decision. The world anti-doping agency Wada said it was “disappointed” by the move.
Still, there remains widespread sympathy for Valieva. The Global Athlete group said the fact that she tested positive “is evidence of abuse of a minor.” “Sport should protect its athletes, not harm them,” she added.
Former German figure skater Katarina Witt said Valieva was “not at fault this time.”
“As an athlete you always follow the advice of your confidants, in this case she probably followed her coach and medical team,” Witt wrote on Facebook. “They teach you from a very young age to trust them.”
“No amount of doping would have helped her land these (quads)!!!” he added.
Now you can receive notifications from BBC World. Download the new version of our app and activate it so you don’t miss out on our best content.