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A doping scandal at the Olympics has some questioning the Games' credibility


A star Russian figure skater is at the center of a doping scandal at the Winter Games in Beijing. Today, officials said the skater tested positive for a banned substance but then still competed. NPR's Brian Mann reports on the investigation now underway.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Here's what we know. Back in December, 15-year-old Kamila Valieva skated in the Russian Figure Skating Championships in St. Petersburg.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Favorite for Olympic gold, Kamila Valieva.

MANN: She skated a masterful performance, gliding effortlessly, spinning through the air, showing why she's one of the best in the world. But according to a statement released this morning by an organization called the International Testing Agency, Valieva failed a drug test at that competition. The ITA reports she was using a banned heart medication known to enhance athletic performance. Because of the violation, Valieva was informed she wouldn't be allowed to compete in Beijing. But for reasons still unclear, it appears the International Olympic Committee wasn't informed of her suspension. Valieva did skate in the Olympic team figure skating competition, leading Russia to what appeared to be a first-place finish, with the U.S. in second. Days later, officials still haven't handed out medals.

TRAVIS TYGART: I think the world and athletes and the public and the fans deserve answers.

MANN: Travis Tygart heads the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which handles drug testing for Olympic sports teams in the U.S. He says it appears Valieva was caught up in the systemic and widespread use of banned drugs that's plagued Russian athletes and their sports programs for decades.

TYGART: She's 15. So the abuse on this athlete, like we saw in the past of them abusing young athletes, is really unacceptable. And when is the world going to step up and say, we're not going to allow that to happen on our watch?

MANN: International sports officials now have two big questions to answer. Who gets that gold medal in the team figure skating competition? And will Valieva be allowed to compete in the individual women's figure skating competition on Tuesday? Her eligibility will be decided at what's being described as an urgent meeting of another international body called the Court of Arbitration for Sport. In the meantime, the spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, Mark Adams, refused to say how this mess developed with Valieva competing in Beijing despite a failed test. He said because of her age, the probe has to remain confidential.


MARK ADAMS: Legal cases can be very difficult, but it's really important that people get full justice.

MANN: Adams said the investigation will extend to the people around Valieva - coaches and others in Russian figure skating.


ADAMS: We don't just look at athletes involved in these cases. We do look at the entourage. It is very important.

MANN: But critics say the IOC's silence and slow response are unacceptable. U.S. Olympic officials issued a fiercely worded statement saying the credibility of the Olympic movement is teetering. Russian athletes were already competing in Beijing on probationary status because of repeated past doping scandals. They're not allowed to identify themselves as Russian. Nor can they fly the Russian flag. But Travis Tygart with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency believes those punishments weren't enough. He says the IOC was bullied into allowing Russia to take part in these games without making serious reforms.

TYGART: It's simple. Power and money - that's at the heart of the decisions that have been made to not give a meaningful consequence to Russia from day one.

MANN: Kamila Valieva hasn't spoken publicly about the international controversy that now surrounds her. She was allowed to practice yet again today while sports officials decide her fate. Brian Mann, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.