Unpacking why Kamila Valiyeva was cleared to compete at Olympics

Russian figure skater Kamila Valiyeva was cleared to skate in women's figure skating at the 2022 Winter Olympics even though she failed a drug test.
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BEIJING (AP) — Worn out after a grueling doping hearing, Russian figure skater Kamila Valiyeva said she was happy nonetheless after being allowed to skate Tuesday in the women’s short program at the Beijing Olympics.

The 15-year-old Valiyeva is the overwhelming favorite for the gold medal alongside Russian teammates Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova, who are aiming for the first sweep by any nation of the women’s Olympic podium.

MORE FIGURE SKATING COVERAGE: Anna Shcherbakova wins figure skating gold as scrutiny crushes Kamila Valiyeva

Valiyeva was cleared to skate even though she failed a drug test taken Dec. 25, the result only emerging last week, after her two brilliant performances in the team competition helped win gold for the Russian team. The Court of Arbitration for Sport gave her a favorable decision Monday in part because she is a minor, known as a “protected person,” and is subject to different rules from an adult athlete.

Lawyers for Valiyeva also “brought some doubts about her guilt,” veteran IOC member Denis Oswald said Tuesday, with their possible explanation of accidental rather than deliberate doping with the heart medication trimetazidine.

“Her argument was this contamination which happened with a product her grandfather was taking,” Oswald, a Swiss lawyer who prosecuted previous Russian doping cases, told reporters.

Valiyeva, who practiced in both of her allotted sessions Monday, told Russian state broadcaster Channel One in comments shown that night: “These days have been very difficult for me. I’m happy but I’m tired emotionally.”

There won’t be a medal ceremony if Valiyeva finishes in the top three because the International Olympic Committee is concerned that she could still be banned after a full investigation of her doping case. The three-member court ruled only on whether she could skate at the Olympics and did not consider the full merits of the case.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) already had said Valiyeva testified during its lengthy hearing, which ended at about 3 a.m. Monday. Valiyeva said she watched the entire hearing by video link from the Olympic Village.

“I sat there for seven hours, we had one 20-minute break, and I sat there and watched. It was very difficult, but it is apparently one of the moments, of the phases, that I have to go through,” Valiyeva said, adding that the entire process had taught her that adult life “can be unfair to some extent.”

Valiyeva is scheduled to perform in the final group, 26th among the 30 women taking part in the individual competition on Tuesday in Beijing. Trusova and Shcherbakova, who like Valiyeva are coached by the controversial Eteri Tutberidze, skate shortly after her, before Kaori Sakamoto of Japan finishes the short program.

The free skate to decide the medals is Thursday at Capital Indoor Stadium.

Valiyeva and her teammates are trying to extend an era of Russian dominance in women’s figure skating at the Olympics. It began at the 2014 Sochi Games, when the country’s state-sponsored doping scheme first came to light, and Adelina Sotnikova won the gold medal for the host nation. Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva followed with a one-two finish for what was known as the Olympic Athletes from Russia at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

Zagitova and Medvedeva also were coached by Tutberidze, the former ice dancer-turned-kingmaker who has been criticized for pushing young skaters to extreme limits in the pursuit of Olympic medals.

The World Anti-Doping Agency announced this week it will investigate Tutberidze along with the rest of the entourage that has surrounded Valiyeva in the lead-up to the Olympics. Tutberidze also could be subject to prosecution in the U.S. under a recently enacted law that criminalizes doping schemes in events involving American athletes and sponsors.

It has been Tutberidze, and the rest of the Russian team, that has received the vast majority of worldwide scorn.

“The ladies event is a complete joke,” said 2018 Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, who now helps coach one of the American women, Mariah Bell. “It’s not a real competition and it most likely won’t even have a medal ceremony. So many Olympic experiences stolen from clean athletes who got here without the help of performance-enhancing drugs.”

The IOC has said it will “organize dignified medal ceremonies” once Valiyeva’s case is decided, but that could be months down the road. The organizing committee also did not explain where or how it might be held.

“So everyone’s medals are going to be shipped to them? Yay for Olympic moments,” said retired pairs skater Chris Knierim, whose wife, Alexa Knierim, and partner Brandon Frazier helped the U.S. win team silver last week.

That medal ceremony also will not be held in Beijing because the Russian team could eventually be disqualified.

“Four years of hard work just to wait for UPS to deliver your Olympic medal. Hope they have tracking numbers at least,” Knierim said jokingly. “It’s going to take extra long because we all know how fast customs is.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto captures Olympic bronze with empowering free skate

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”