Russian teenage figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for a banned substance, Beijing Olympics testers confirmed Friday, while American snowboarding legend Shaun White finished an agonising fourth in his final appearance.
After concerns about Covid, human rights and man-made snow in the build-up to the Olympics in the Chinese capital, doping became the latest controversy to rock the Games.
Reports of doping had swirled around the prodigious 15-year-old Valieva after the medals ceremony for the figure skating team event—in which she played a starring role to lead Russia to gold—was delayed this week.
On Friday, soon after she was seen practising on the ice in Beijing, the International Testing Agency (ITA) confirmed traces of the banned substance trimetazidine were found in a sample she gave in December.
Valieva now faces a fight to stay at the Games and take part in the women’s individual event, which starts on February 15 and for which she is the favourite.
Her case will be decided by the Court of Arbitration for Sport before then.
It is just the latest doping scandal surrounding Russian athletes in recent years at Olympic Games.
Russian competitors are taking part in Beijing as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) after the nation was banned because of a massive state-sponsored doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, which it hosted.
“Such cases are not helpful to the Games,” said International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams on Friday, as the Games reeled from yet another doping scandal.
The Russian Olympic Committee said that Valieva had the right to compete in Beijing and that her team gold medal should stand.
The Kremlin pledged its support too, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters: “We boundlessly and fully support Kamila Valieva and call on everyone to support her.”
For the second day in a row the scandal overshadowed the action on the snow and ice at the Olympics, where an emotional White ended his storied snowboarding career by coming an agonising fourth in the halfpipe, just missing out on a farewell medal.
The three-time Olympic champion from the United States is 35 now and nearly twice the age of some of his rivals.
“It’s been a journey, I’m just so happy and thank you all from the bottom of my heart,” said a tearful White.
“A lot of emotions are hitting me right now, the cheering from the crowd, some kind words from my fellow competitors at the bottom, I’m so happy.
“Snowboarding, thank you. It’s been the love of my life.”
Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, who twice has had to settle for silver in past Olympics, wowed the crowd with a series of gravity-defying tricks to take a dramatic first place with a score of 96.00.
In alpine skiing, Switzerland’s Lara Gut-Behrami added Olympic super-G gold to her world title. Mikaela Shiffrin finished ninth but was relieved just to get to the finish after flunking her first two events.
“I had no strategy at all,” said Gut-Behrami. “I just tried to ski.”
Shiffrin, a double gold medallist in previous Games, struggled between the first two intermediaries and eventually came racing through the finish line 0.79sec off winner Gut-Behrami’s pace.
It was the first time the US ski star had finished a race at these Games after she produced two unusual mistakes in the slalom and giant slalom this week, skiing out early in both.
“There was nothing sad about today, it’s really solid skiing and everything was pretty much on point,” said an upbeat Shiffrin, one of the biggest names at the Games.
She added: “I skied strong and it’s a really big relief to be here now in the finish… that’s really nice for my heart to know that it’s not totally abandoning everything I know about the sport.”