Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old Russian superstar who was expected to deliver her nation its third straight Olympic gold medal in women’s figure skating, practiced as usual on Thursday, hours after reports surfaced that she had tested positive for a banned substance.
Valieva tested positive for the heart medication before the Beijing Games, the Russian newspaper RBC reported.
The sample was reportedly obtained before Valieva won the European championship last month in Estonia, a performance that solidified her status as the leader of Russia’s “quad squad” of elite women’s figure skaters.
It’s unclear if Russia is appealing or fighting the result, though her light-hearted appearance at her regularly scheduled practice implies that the federation isn’t accepting any finding that would eliminate her.
“She is not suspended,” Russian figure skating federation spokeswoman Olga Ermolina said, offering no further detail.
The International Skating Union, the sport’s governing body, said in a statement it “cannot disclose any information about any possible anti-doping rule violation.”
Valieva ran through her program and skated with teammate Alexandra Trusova while getting pointers from coach Eteri Tutberidze at the practice rink. Valieva flashed a smile to one of her coaches near the end of the roughly 30-minute session, and none of the skaters took questions from reporters.
When Valieva left the media area, she gave a gesture with a fist in the air. It appeared that she responded to something inaudible that was asked by a journalist speaking to her in Russian.
A positive test could not only cost Russia the gold medal from the team competition but threaten Valieva’s chance to win the individual competition. It starts Tuesday and she is the overwhelming favorite to win gold.
The drug detected, trimetazidine, is a metabolic agent that helps prevent angina attacks and treats vertigo, according to the European Union’s medicines agency. It is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency because it can help endurance and increase blood flow efficiency, both of which could help a figure skater.
The most famous case of trimetazidine in sports doping involved Chinese star swimmer Sun Yang, the three-time Olympic champ who served a three-month ban in 2014. Russian bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva also tested positive for it at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics; she was disqualified from the two-woman bobsled event and served an eight-month ban.
It is unclear whether Valieva applied for a therapeutic use exemption or has a history of heart problems.
Russian athletes are in Beijing competing as ROC, short for Russian Olympic Committee, after the country was banned because of a massive state-sponsored doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.