An Olympic Scandal
When is a Russian athlete not a Russian athlete?
But you wouldn’t have known that from the International Olympics Committee, which allowed Putin’s country to skirt a two--year ban on its athletes competing in
the Olympics, Paralympics or World Championships by letting young men and women march into the Peking Winter Games as members of the ““Russian Olympic Committee.”
The problem is that a rose by any other name still smells as sweet, and a rotten egg still smells as awful.
Just how awful the stink coming from these games might get first became clear when the IOC decided that the preternaturally talented teenager Kamila Valieva, who’d tested positive for an illegal drug back in December, wasn’t immediately ordered to get on an Aeroflot jet headed back to Moscow. Instead, when the drug test became public, the cowardly committee announced that her participation on the Russian figure skating team precluded a formal ceremony where the team was to have been presented with its gold medal.
But it kept Kamila and the world-at-large cooling all their skates for a decision on whether she would be allowed to continue trying for the gold in the women’s singles competition. The delay would otherwise have been inexplicable as well as cruel, but the IOC obviously wanted the games’ biggest star to get back on the ice by hook, crook or any “split the baby” maneuver it could conceivably present with a semi-straight face. Anything to keep the huge viewing audience, the big-spending advertisers and the even bigger Russian bear reasonably happy.
The contorted result was a ridiculous farce, a quadruple axel of greed above any duty to a greater good, totally devoid of humanity. It was based on the hope that the 15-year-old could withstand the stress and still deliver a stunning performance, while allowing the IOC to take the supposedly high road by not giving her a televised medal if she won gold, silver or bronze. Some high road. It was, instead, a recipe for tragedy that ended in the chilling car crash that was Valieva’s performance. It was painful to watch this young girl’s public humiliation, as she repeatedly fell during her program and then wept on the sidelines afterwards with her berating her for losing.
If the head of the IOC thought he did anything for the committee’s prestige by expressing his official disappointment over how the Russian coach treated her protégée, he has another think coming. What could have been prevented by any responsible adult acting in this child-woman’s best interests was lost when she was allowed to compete in the first place.
Whether she will ever compete again, whether Putin, not known for sympathetic gestures, will offer her a second chance or a one-way ticket to the Russian purgatory of ““non-personhood” is anyone’s guess. What is known is that at the tender age of 15, her life has been forever changed and almost certainly not for the better. Whether skating and the IOC can ever overcome the stain on their reputations is another question, but one for which the answer should be a resounding ““no.”
The new motto for these Olympic Games is “Citius, Altius, Fortius –Communiter,” which translates,”“Faster, Higher, Stronger– Together.” Together, my grandmother’s antique samovar.
It’s a sad state of affairs that a teenager ever became a pawn in a battle of wills between her homeland and the IOC. But it’s sadder still when it matters not how fast, how high or how strong an individual athlete is, but only how far the Olympic rules can be bent, ignored and trampled upon, its famous medals having turned into fool’s gold before our disbelieving eyes.