International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has criticized Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva’s entourage for their “tremendous coldness” toward the 15-year-old skater after her mistake-filled free skate at the Beijing Olympics.
“When I afterwards saw how she was received by her closest entourage, with such, what appeared to be a tremendous coldness, it was chilling to see this,” Bach said at a news conference on Friday. “Rather than giving her comfort, rather than to try to help her, you could feel this chilling atmosphere, this distance.”
Bach’s tone surprised Olympic observers — accustomed to hearing him defend Russian athletes despite the massive 2014 doping scandal — and drew a quick rebuke from Moscow.
“He does not like the toughness of our coaches, but everyone knows that in elite sports, the coach’s toughness is key to the students’ victories,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later Friday.
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Valieva, who has been at the center of a controversy over a positive doping test, finished fourth overall despite placing first in the women’s short program earlier in the week.
The IOC president did not name Valieva’s coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who was seen on camera telling a visibly upset Valieva “Why did you let it go? Why did you stop fighting?”
Tutberidze and other members of Valieva’s entourage will be investigated over the teenager’s positive test for a heart medication ahead of the Olympics.
Bach says the pressure on Valieva was “beyond my imagination.”
Minutes after Bach’s comments about Valieva’s team, a journalist wearing a Russian Olympic Committee team jacket questioned the IOC.
Did Bach, he asked, feel partly responsible for “media chaos” around Valieva that included “hate speeches … bullying of a 15-year-old … political propaganda?”
Replied Bach: “The ones who have administered this drug in her body, these are the ones who are guilty.”
Valieva tested positive for the banned heart medication trimetazidine at the Russian championship in December, but the result was not revealed until last week, shortly after she helped to win a team gold medal that is now also in doubt.
She was cleared to compete in the free skate when the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that she had protected status as a minor and would suffer “irreparable harm” if she was not allowed to perform. The court did not rule on the full scope of the case, leaving that to anti-doping investigators.
Valieva has claimed the trimetazidine entered her system accidentally. But the World Anti-Doping Agency filed a brief stating that two other substances she acknowledged taking, L-carnitine and Hypoxen — though both legal — undercut the argument that a banned substance could have been ingested in error.
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