Kamila Valieva deserves sympathy, not scorn after a disastrous end to her Olympics

The shocking end to what was already a disgrace in women’s figure skating at the Beijing Olympics was not justice taking place, or a tainted athlete getting what she deserved.

Kamila Valieva, in the lead after the short program on Tuesday, was the last skater to take the ice. She’s been a favorite for gold for months now, but her Olympics has been marred by scandal.

She recorded a positive drug test that didn’t lead to her being removed from the competition, and became the center of attention in her sport for all the wrong reasons.

Yet, until Tuesday, she had performed with remarkable poise and grace.

Then it fell apart.  Her free skate was a disaster.

Valieva finished fourth, out of the medals. That allowed the IOC to conduct a medal ceremony; it wouldn’t, thanks to the sort of contorted thinking that created this mess, have been held had Valieva earned a spot on the podium.

Before you declare that karma won out, or that Valieva deserved to finish without a medal — before you echo any of the toxic awfulness that we see on social media every hour of every day — here’s a reminder: She’s 15 years old.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Valieva could keep competing because she was under 16, giving her “protected” status that implies she may not — as Time wrote — “have full agency over decisions about medications or other substances she may take.”

The irony of that phrase isn’t lost here. By protecting her status and giving her the green light to compete, the adults who should have pulled her right away allowed a 15-year-old under a horrifying amount of scrutiny to compete and fail in front of the world.

Another reminder before you hit “send” on that tweet or comment about what Valieva deserves — the story is still unraveling. How did she get trimetazidine? Was it really that she accidentally took her grandfather’s heart medicine, as her lawyers claimed?

Or was it yet another case of Russia pushing its athletes with no regard for their health or the rules set forth for fair competition? That wouldn’t be new.

In other words, before we pass any judgement and point fingers, let’s hear about what really happened.

This is on the decision-makers who looked past the fact that a teenager was involved here, that the figure skating world would erupt at the idea of an athlete who had tested positive for a banned substance continuing to compete. Can you imagine trying to perform at this level at that age, with that kind of criticism aimed at you?

This is on the CAS and IOC and the Russian delegation — sorry, ROC, the designation given to the athletes from Russia after a substantial doping program came to light in the last decade — that allowed her to skate.

I hope the image of a devastated Valieva is something that brings about some kind of change, that she’s able to leave Beijing and enjoy being a teenager without a cloud of controversy over her head.

That can start with your sympathy, not your scorn.

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