Beijing CNN  — 

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva placed fourth in the women’s figure skating final at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Thursday, capping off more than a week of controversy after the teen was cleared to skate despite testing positive for a banned substance.

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) still dominated the program, with compatriots Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova clinching first and second respectively. Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto finished in third.

Valieva was tipped for gold in the event but fell numerous times during her free skate routine. Standing by the 15-year-old was her coach Eteri Tutberidze on whom the spotlight now falls.

In a sample taken in December, prior to the Olympics, Valieva tested positive for the banned heart medication trimetazidine, a drug commonly used to treat angina and which experts say can enhance endurance by increasing blood flow to the heart.

Kamila Valiyeva (R) talks to her coach Eteri Tutberidze during a training session in Beijing. Pictured behind them is ROC physician Filipp Shvetsky.

Valieva blamed her positive drug test on a mix-up that occurred with her grandfather’s medication, Denis Oswald, the Chair of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Disciplinary Commission, told reporters Tuesday.

However, the results only came to light during the Olympics. Last week, the Court of Arbitration for Sport gave Valieva the green light to continue competing in the Games because of the exceptional circumstances of her being a minor.

The fact that Valieva is a child and failed a drug test has put renewed focus on the adults around her and the alleged dark underworld of Russian figure skating beneath the glittering surface.

“It is clearly a wish and a decision of the IOC but also WADA to examine all aspects of this case including the situation of the entourage, because of course you can imagine a girl of 15 would not do something wrong alone – so yes, the entourage will be investigated,” said Oswald.

Global Athlete, an athlete-led group working for change across the sporting world, called Valieva’s positive drug test “evidence of abuse of a minor.”

Kamila Valyeva of the Russian Olympic Committee in action Thursday night at Beijing's Capital Indoor Stadium.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which regulates the use of drugs in international sport, said it will be investigating the 15-year-old’s entourage – the adults responsible for her skating and welfare.

CNN has reached out to the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) for comment from Tutberidze and ROC team doctor Filipp Shvetsky on the points raised in this story but has not received a response.

“These (past few) days have been very difficult for me,” Valieva told Russia’s Channel One earlier this week, after training. “It’s as if I don’t have any emotions left. I am happy, but at the same time, I am emotionally tired.”

Valieva’s coach in the spotlight

At the center of the controversy – and the Russian skating world – is Valieva’s coach, Eteri Tutberidze.

Frequently called the most powerful woman in figure skating, Tutberidze is the driving force behind Russia’s dominance in the sport. Her studio in Moscow attracts the best female figure skaters from around Russia, who are trained from an early age to break records and perform dazzlingly complex jumps, multiple coaches and skaters told CNN.

Valieva made history last week by becoming the first woman to land a quad at the Olympics, and recent female Russian skaters have been known for pushing boundaries on the tricks they can do, from triple axels to triple flips and other difficult combinations.

“We are absolutely sure that Kamila is innocent and clean,” Tutberidze told Russian TV last week.

Tutberidze is also infamous for her brutal training regimens.

In a December interview with Russian TV, she said her skaters train 12 hours a day, saying they can “always do more, demand more from yourself.”

Yulia Lipnitskaia (R) and her coach Eteri Tutberidze during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 20, 2014.

The coach has trained a string of Olympic medalists, but scrutiny has also been cast on how her best protégées have had short-lived careers.

Like Valieva, Yulia Lipnitskaya was 15 when she helped Russia win gold in the team event at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. But at 19 years old, Lipitskaya retired from figure skating following a battle with anorexia and injuries.

Evgenia Medvedeva was 18 when she won two silver medals at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics, one each for the single and team event. The two-time world champion unofficially retired from competition last year citing back injuries.

And Medvedeva’s teammate Alina Zagitova, who won gold in PyeongChang at the age of 15, announced an indefinite break from competition at 19. Zagitova’s dominance was record breaking: she was Russia’s first skater to win Olympic gold, the World Figure Skating Championships, European Figure Skating Championships and the Grand Prix of Figure Skating.

All three were coached by Tutberidze.

But Tutberidze also has a lot of supporters. Russian figure skater-turned-coach Anna Pogorilaya, who briefly trained with Tutberidze at her studio, described her as “an iron lady,” in an interview with CNN.

“She is so dedicated to her vocation… for her, every athlete is like her own child,” she said, adding that she doesn’t believe Tutberidze would pressure her skaters to take performance enhancing drugs.

“I am 100% sure she cannot force her athlete to take anything… I am 100% sure they are clean,” Pogorilaya said.

Team doctor was banned for doping violations

Another adult close to Valieva is the ROC team doctor Filipp Shvetsky.

The World Rowing Federation confirmed to CNN that Shvetsky was team doctor for the Russian rowing team.

He was banned by Russia in 2007 over doping violations, according to Jim Walden, a lawyer for Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, who is under witness protection in the United States

World Rowing says three members of the Russian Rowing Federation were declared ineligible for two years because of violations of the World Anti-Doping Code. He was reinstated by Russia in 2010.

“But this guy (Shvetsky) who’s got a history with performance enhancing drugs suddenly shows up as the doctor for this 15-year-old skater… and allegedly, she tests positive for a performance enhancing drug,” said Walden.

ROC figure skating coaches Dannil Gleikhengauz, Eteri Tutberidze (L-R front) and team doctor Filipp Shvetsky attend a training session in Beijing.

Walden said Valieva’s situation should be looked at within the context of Russia’s state-sponsored doping scandal.

Russian athletes competing at the Olympics are already under the shadow of a history of illegal doping: WADA barred Russia from international competitions in 2019 over doping violations. Under the ban set to expire later this year, they’ve only been able to participate as neutrals in the Games.

Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory, defected to the US and formed the basis of the 2016 McLaren Report which found that more than 1,000 Russian athletes benefited from a systematic doping program between 2011 and 2015. Dozens of Russian athletes were banned after the 2014 Sochi Olympics – where Russian athletes won more medals than any other country.

Russia continues to deny Rodchenkov’s accusations and has said he had personally given drugs to the athletes, who were unaware they were taking banned substances.

Under the ban set to expire later this year, Russian athletes have only been able to participate if they can prove they are clean. They compete under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee, not technically under the Russian flag.

“Russia’s not writing on a clean slate. Russia has had a state sponsored doping program since at least the 1960s. It is very well established, it is heavily documented. And so when any Russian athlete tests positive, the Russian state is not doing anyone any favors because there is now a presumption of guilt instead of a presumption of innocence, which for a 15-year-old skater is terrible,” Walden said.

In 2020, the US government signed into law the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, allowing it to impose criminal sanctions on individuals involved in doping activities at international sports competitions that feature American athletes, sponsors and broadcasters.

Walden suggested the US could use the law against Valieva’s entourage.

“I’m very sure that the FBI and the Department of Justice are going to be investigating already to try to make an example out of the Russian trainers, doctors, coaches, etc. that were responsible for putting this young athlete in harm’s way,” he said.

Russian athletes and heart medications

Valieva tested positive for the banned heart medication trimetazidine and the investigation into the merits of that positive test is ongoing. But it is not the first time Russian athletes have been pulled up for using the drug, or a “close relative” of the drug, Walden said.

Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova served a 15-month suspension after testing positive for the banned substance meldonium in 2016. Sharapova denied doping and said she was first prescribed meldonium in 2006 for heart issues and was unaware the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had recently added it to the banned substance list because she was taking the drug prescribed under another name.

The normal course of treatment, according to the drug’s prescribing label, is a matter of days to weeks. It is not known why Sharapova’s doctor continued to prescribe the drug for years.

In PyeongChang 2018, two Russian athletes – mixed doubles curler Alexander Krushelnitckii and bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva – were excluded from walking behind the national flag during the Closing Ceremony after testing positive for banned substances. Krushelnitckii tested positive for meldonium and Sergeeva tested positive in an out-of-competition test for trimetazidine.

Kamila Valieva (R) and Eteri Tutberidze attend a training session on February 12, 2022.

“So not only does Russia have a long history of state-sponsored doping, they have a history with this specific drug,” Walden said.

In an interview with Russian TV in 2019, Valieva’s coach Tutberidze defended meldonium as harmless, saying that it just “helps to recuperate the heart muscles.”

The ROC said in previous statements that Valieva had “repeatedly passed doping tests” while already in Beijing, adding that it is taking measures to keep Valieva’s “honestly won” gold.

“The doping test of an athlete who tested positive does not apply to the period of the Olympic Games. At the same time, the athlete repeatedly passed doping tests before and after December 25, 2021, including while already in Beijing during the figure skating tournament. All the results are negative,” the ROC statement said.

“The Russian Olympic Committee is taking comprehensive measures to protect the rights and interests of the members of the ROC Team, and to keep the honestly won Olympic gold medal.”

All of the figure skaters have poured years of blood, sweat and tears to be at the Olympics, but the doping scandal has threatened to steal their moment, and the Games may best be remembered not by performance, but by performance enhancing drugs.