© Copyright – 2022 – Athletics Illustrated

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) fell down during a key moment of truth at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games. They failed by lifting the suspension of Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva after it came to light that she had tested positive for the banned performance-enhancing drug trimetazidine, which is used to treat angina.

Let’s not forget that Russia is competing under the purposeless nomenclature “Russian Olympic Committee” or ROC for short. ROC because the country is banned from all international competition with some exceptions. This is a country that has proven to provide systematic doping, cover-ups, and is generally corrupt throughout its sporting organizations including the Russian Athletics Federation and Russian Anti-Doping Agency.

The ROC had the audacity to request the suspension to be lifted. The CAS agreed.

What is trimetazidine?

Trimetazidine allows more blood flow to the heart, ameliorates swings in heart rate, and is used to treat angina. This is something that a figure skater can benefit from during competition and training. A figure skater’s program lasts for two minutes and 40 seconds and pairs programs go 10 seconds longer. In comparison, on the track, an 800m race at the international level will be run in the time of 1:55-2:00 for women or around 4:00 in the 1500m distance. The athletes will train for up 50 to 90 miles (80 – 150kms) per week throughout the year. Enhancing blood flow is the primary goal through high-volume training.

A salient illustration of this is when American figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi competed in the 1992 Albertville Olympic Games. During her training period, Yamaguchi’s coach reached out to athletics coach Arthur Lydiard of New Zealand to find out what Yamaguchi could do to improve her performance. Her problem was that she would lose form late in her program. Lydiard recommended that she skate more, a lot more, to develop a stronger aerobic system. She did just that and went on to earn the gold medal, as well as two World Championship golds. The Lydiard-advised training was all about aerobic strength. A shortcut would have been to take EPO, a blood booster, or some other drug like trimetazidine.

If complicit in supplying or administering the PED, Valieva’s coach or advisors should be banned for life.

Other Russian athletes have tested positive for trimetazidine. For example, during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, bobsled athlete Nadezhda Sergeeva tested positive, which is amazing considering the machinations that Grigory Rodchenkov went through to hide positive tests at Sochi. There was also Olympic gold medal-winning Chinese swimmer Sun Yan among others.

Sha’Carri Richardson

American Sha’Carri Richardson tested positive for THC which she admitted was consumed while smoking cannabis. THC is not a performance enhancer, however, oddly continues to be on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of banned drugs. Richardson was suspended just long enough to keep her out of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

It was the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that banned her. Ironically, two-time drug cheat Justin Gatlin recently retired from the sprints. He was permitted to compete to age 40. Although he apparently did not test positive when reinstated the second time or thereafter. His performances continued to be world-class until he was at least 38 years of age. At age 37, he ran 9.87 in the 100m event. At age 36, he picked up a silver medal at the Rio Olympic Games clocking a 9.89 performance. Not quite but almost red flag performances.

Richardson is just 21 and lost her mother shortly before her positive test. She said that she was dealing with her mother’s passing when she smoked cannabis. Regardless, THC is not a performance enhancer unless there is a Doritos-eating competition or she was to sing at the NFL’s halftime show with Snoop Dog.

Shelby Houlihan

Twenty-eight-year-old American record-holder in the 1,500 and 5,000m, Shelby Houlihan, is serving a four-year suspension for testing positive for nandrolone. She was unable to prove her claim that the positive test for the anabolic steroid was caused by eating a burrito purchased from a food truck located near her home in Beaverton, OR. Allegedly, she did not have the proposed pork burrito rather a beef burrito that was cooked on the same grill, and therefore there may have been cross-contamination. The CAS wasn’t buying it and her four-year ban was upheld.

So, the optics of comparing Richardson’s and Valieva’s cases aren’t a good look for Olympic sports. WADA, the International Testing Agency, IOC, and the International Skating Union all filed appeals to reinstate the suspension. Apparently, the appeals fell on deaf ears at the CAS.

Richardson feels that the issue is about skin colour and Tweeted her thoughts writing, “Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mines?”

“The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady.”

“It’s all in the skin.”

“THC is definitely not a performance enhance!!!

The difference, Sha’Carri, is that Valieva is a minor at age 15 and there are legal hurdles related to her age, and more importantly Russia has influence and IOC members, it’s an exclusive club that you will never be a part of. The CAS claim that a suspension to the Russian would cause irreparable harm to her and her career. But somehow magically not yours. This is where some level of bias has crept in.

However, comparing the two cases directly, the discrepancy indeed appears to be about racial bias in favour of the white athlete, however, Houlihan is serving a four-year suspension and is white. Meanwhile, Gatlin, a black athlete, enjoyed the fruits of a long athletics career even though he tested positive at least twice for banned performance-enhancing drugs.

While there very well could be racial bias in Richardson’s suspension it fails to be so in comparison against the Russian athlete or Gatlin’s two-decades-long career.

The bigger questions are, who supplied the drug and how is it that three organizations failed during the appeal process with the CAS to uphold the suspension? Finally, why is ROC a thing? Russia is either banned or Russia is not banned, which is it?