Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old Russian figure skater who tested positive for a banned substance ahead of the Beijing Olympics, will still be allowed to compete in her event, officials announced Monday. If she wins, however, no medal ceremony will be held until the investigation is complete.
Arbitrators said the decision was because the athlete is considered "a protected person" due to her age, adding that it would be unfair to suspend her and would cause her "irreparable harm." Valieva, who is seen as the favorite to win the women's singles event starting Tuesday, tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart medication that may boost stamina.
The decision drummed up widespread outcry, particularly because of Russia's history of Olympic doping scandals.
But the ruling also raised comparisons to another recent Olympic drug testing incident — one that was handled very differently for another athlete who, like Valieva, was favored to win her event.
In July 2021, US track star Sha’Carri Richardson was disqualified from the 100-meter race at the Tokyo Olympics and faced a one-month ban after testing positive for cannabis. The 21-year-old athlete said she used it to cope with her mother's death.
In an interview on NBC's Today show after she was disqualified, Richardson apologized for her actions and explained she had ingested cannabis after the news of her mother's death sent her into an "emotional panic."
“I want to take responsibility for my actions," Richardson said. "I know what I did, I know what I'm supposed to do, what I'm allowed not to do, and I still made that decision."
Following Monday's ruling, Richardson questioned why she lost her chance to compete at the Olympics, but Valieva won't, suggesting there was racial bias in the decisions.
"Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mines?" Richardson tweeted. "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," she said.
Richardson also alluded to the fact that trimetazidine was a performance-boosting drug, while cannabis wasn't.
"THC definitely is not a performance enhance[r]!" she tweeted.
She recalled how her drug test results were "posted within a week and my name & my talent was slaughtered."
"It’s all in the skin," Richardson said.
A representative for Richardson did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
In an interview on CNN on Tuesday, former Olympic figure skater Kaitlyn Weaver said her “heart goes out to Sha’Carri Richardson” over the ruling.
"What about the people that can't compete because of the same rules?" Weaver said. "I just don't understand why we have to treat this case differently."
Travis Tygart, the head of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), told CNN that Russia had "stolen the moment from clean athletes" and that the ruling had been "rushed."
In a statement, CEO of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) Sarah Hirshland said, "We are disappointed by the message this decision sends," adding that the ruling denied athletes the right to compete on a "level playing field."
"This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia," she said.
The stark inconsistency also sparked outrage online, with many calling the ruling unfair and some accusing the International Olympic Committee of racial discrimination.
Many have also pointed out the contrast in what drug each athlete tested positive for. Trimetazidine is a performance-enhancing medication, but cannabis is widely considered not to be and was in fact legal in Oregon, where Richardson consumed it.