Nothing should filter from the hearing, held behind closed doors until the end of the week by the three referees gathered in Lausanne, while the young prodigy - now 17 years old - and some of the experts and witnesses will be heard by videoconference.

"At this stage, it is not yet possible to indicate on what date the sentence will be rendered," warned mid-September the CAS. An appeal to the Swiss Federal Court will then be possible within 30 days, but only for limited legal reasons.

Since its revelation in February 2022, the case is paradoxical: the age of the skater, 15 years old at the time, should have guaranteed her total confidentiality, according to the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for "protected persons" under 16 years old.

But the Olympic theatre and the exceptional level of Valieva, who had just won the team event with the Russians by completing the first women's quadruple jump in the history of the Games, gave her a global impact.

Russia's Kamila Valieva performs her short program during the team figure skating event at the Olympic Winter Games on February 6, 2022 in Beijing © Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP/Archives

"Confidentiality is wisely planned, but becomes a bit puppet when dealing with high-level athletes," David Pavot, director of the research chair on anti-doping at the Canadian University of Sherbrooke, told AFP.

"Anti-Russian narrative"

For him, the Valieva case has "highlighted broader ethical questions about a minimum age to participate in the Games". In the absence of IOC rules on the matter, it all depends on the international federations: but if the skating system has raised the threshold for entry into the senior category from 15 to 17 years old from 2024/25 - citing the "physical, mental and emotional health" of athletes - the question remains unresolved for other sports including gymnastics.

Moreover, says David Pavot, Kamila Valieva has been caught "in a spiral bigger than her, with an anti-Russian narrative where everything is mixed", because of the vast system of cheating revealed in 2015 that discredited both Russian sport and its anti-doping authority (RUSADA).

Russian President Vladimir Putin poses with skater Kamila Valieva on April 26, 2022 at the Kremlin during a ceremony held honoring Beijing Winter Olympics © medalists Mikhail KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP/Archives

However, it was RUSADA that had checked the skater on December 25, 2021, on the occasion of the Russian championships she won, before sending her sample to the WADA accredited Stockholm laboratory.

Delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the result fell in the middle of the Olympics: a tiny concentration of trimetazidine, banned by WADA since 2014 because it would promote blood circulation, had been found in the young champion.

More than a year and a half later, the podium of the team event is still up in the air - much to the chagrin of the Americans, Japanese and Canadians, beaten by the Russians - and Kamila Valieva finally cracked under pressure during the individual event, finished in tears and in fourth place.


But in early January 2023, RUSADA's independent disciplinary commission revealed that it had not imposed any suspension on the skater, finding that she had committed "no fault or negligence". She has also returned to competition, taking second place at the end of 2022 at the Russian championships.

Russian skater Kamila Valieva on February 14, 2023 during a gala at the CSKA Arena in Moscow © Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP/Archives

WADA, the International Skating Federation (ISU) and RUSADA, which disapproves of the decision of its independent disciplinary commission, have therefore taken the case to CAS, demanding up to four years of suspension and the cancellation of all its results since the end of 2021, a debate that promises to turn into a battle of experts.

Because the young athlete had invoked a "contamination via cutlery" shared with her grandfather, treated with trimetazidine after the installation of an artificial heart. Doubts have also been surrounding trimetazidine's real interest in sports performance for years.

"WADA has taken this case to CAS for issues of fairness for athletes and for clean sport," a spokesperson for the agency said in a statement to AFP. "We consider that the decision of the RUSADA disciplinary commission (...) violates the terms of the World Anti-Doping Code."

The courtroom of the anti-doping chamber of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) during the inauguration of the new seat of the court, on June 27, 2022 in Lausanne © Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP / Archives

Sports authorities have already recognized in 2018 two cases of accidental contamination with trimetazidine: that of the American swimmer Madisyn Cox, via a food supplement (reduced suspension), and that of the Russian bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva, suspended during the Pyeongchang Olympics and cleared eight months later.

© 2023 AFP