By: Anna Cox
With the Summer Olympics ending in August, the Winter Olympics swiftly came in, but not without controversy. As it comes around every four years, people will get together with friends and family to watch the best athletes in the world compete, but what about the athletes? They train for their entire lives up until this point to win a medal and retire young. In this year’s winter olympics, figure skating was one of the most popular sports to be viewed due to some controversy that sparked surrounding a certain team. When it comes to international competitive figure skating, Russia is one of the nations with the most success in the sport. Russia has won 26 medals (14 gold), and the former Soviet Union won 24 separate medals. And with great teams and high prestige, does not come ethical practices.
Russia started the figure skating competition on quite a high, with 15-year-old Kamelia Valieva becoming the first woman to land a quadruple jump in Olympic history. As the competition progressed, Valieva was projected to win the gold medal. That was until February 8th when it was revealed that Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine at the St. Petersburg Russian Figure Skating Championships in late December. Trimetazidine is a drug banned by the Olympics. It works by increasing blood flow to the heart and restricts rapid blood pressure changes. This news had not come to light when Valieva performed her historical performance, but once it did, her integrity was questioned. After the discovery of the banned heart medication in Valieva’s system, she was allowed to finish the competition; her age makes her a “protected person” and void of immediate consequences. This brought even more controversy to the event, with debates about whether or not she should be banned surfacing across the internet. And, after the medal ceremony, Valieva placed fourth and her teammates, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, won the gold and silver. After the young skaters won the two highest medals at the competition, they were not reacting in a way that most thought was normal. Shcherbakova told the New York Times, “I feel this emptiness inside.” Trusova was distraught after the results and was filmed shouting “I hate this sport. I won’t go onto the ice again.” The opinion of most is that the coaches are to blame.
Eteri Tutberidze, the coach of Trusova, Valieva, and Shcherbakova, does not have a good reputation when it comes to abusive coaching claims by her previous skaters. She is regarded as an expert at creating routines and training girls for competition, but her methods are not hidden. Some of her skaters have reported not being able to drink water during competitions, as it puts weight on them, and they may not be able to jump as well. Instead of drinking water, they swish it in their mouths and then spit it out. She also urges them to try and delay puberty by eating portions that are far too small. Many skaters have also performed while injured or sick, with Shcherbakova skating with pneumonia in fall of 2020. The abuse is not confined to being physical, as the girls are forced to do public weigh-ins every day and verbally abused in front of their teammates. The abuse has been questioned in the past, with people wondering why all of Tutberidze’s skaters seemingly retire in their teenage years, but people have never had such widespread discourse over the subject.
This story is not the only story of abuse at the hands of coaches. This issue plagues the world of sports and this situation has been able to shed a critical light on it.