US figure skaters, still on the hunt for medals, speak out about doping issues

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BEIJING — Their fate had become one of the biggest stories of the Olympics, and in the hours leading up to the closing ceremonies, American figure skaters who had yet to receive their silver medals from the event by team would not leave quietly on Sunday afternoon.

“It’s extremely discouraging to leave the Games empty-handed,” said ice dancer Evan Bates as he stood in a room under the stands at Capital Indoor Stadium.

The previous night, Bates had been locked in his bedroom in the Athletes’ Village, giving video evidence to an ad hoc panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, one last chance for him – as co-captain of the US figure skating team – to force the International Olympic Committee to give their medals to the nine members of the team. But shortly before midnight on Saturday, he learned that the CAS had sided with the IOC’s decision to suspend the medal presentation until its investigation into Russian skater Kamila Valieva’s positive doping test was completed.

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Given that Valieva was part of the Russian group that won gold in the team event, the silver for the United States could possibly be gold. But the push by U.S. skaters to get their medals — which included a meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach, scathing statements from U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland and Saturday night’s appeal to CAS — became a kind of spontaneous anti-doping movement.

“Hopefully it won’t be seen as pressure for a medal,” said fellow ice dancer Zachary Donohue. “There is going to be a medal at some point; it’s not my concern. . . . We need to take more decisive action against any type of doping problem and protect the integrity of sport.”

Or as Bates put it, “There are a lot of things at stake with the medal ceremony and then the bigger picture.

Asked what those things are, he replied: “What has plagued our sport for many years.”

It seems an odd group to take a stand against doping at the Olympics. American figure skaters have won two bronze medals and now a silver in three Olympic team events. Aside from stars such as Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou, the US skating team isn’t filled with big names or prominent voices. But the attention generated by the denial of her medals and international outrage over CAS’s decision last week that allowed Valieva to skate in the women’s individual competition have given the US team a platform to which it does not. didn’t expect.

“It’s an opportunity for this sport to progress, and it would be a shame if it got buried under the rug,” Donohue said. “One of the main points [is] lobby [on the IOC], like: “The world is watching us, and we have a chance to stand up for something more than just one Games, but for the future of the integrity of sport.” ”

They were talking between performances during the traditional final day skating exhibition. Normally this is a lighthearted event, a chance to wear different costumes and skate without the pressure that has built up over the previous two weeks.

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This is an old American team. Bates and Donohue and their partners are all at least 29 years old; Chen is 22 years old; and Zhou is 21 years old. They have all known the sport for a long time and understand its challenges. They are at times when they feel empowered to speak up and have something to say.

“Obviously this is a much bigger problem than [getting] a medal or not,” Zhou said. “It is only a superficial sign of the circumstances. The big picture is obviously clean sport and the importance of clean competition.

When asked if he thought Team USA’s stance would create positive change, he nodded.

“I hope so,” he said. “I hope all of this, including the media storm…that the bigger picture is that everyone can see the importance of clean sport and fair competition.”

Their newfound power came quickly, growing in the days after the IOC canceled the medals ceremony minutes before it was due to start on the evening of February 8. Town. They were seated in chairs arranged in a circle, two of the Americans said. The conversation lasted 1 hour 40 minutes, with many American skaters making impassioned remarks about how they were being punished for testing someone else positive and what they saw as failures in how the doping is controlled.

“Emotions are running high, and it was great that he allowed us to say exactly how we felt, and I can say from my personal perspective that I didn’t hold back,” said partner Madison Hubbell. from Donohue. “It’s a tough conversation to have, and so I absolutely felt like he was listening.”

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She said that Bach had promised American skaters that he would “do the [medal] ceremony of our dreams, whatever they may be.

Bates described what Bach offered as “a worthy medal ceremony”.

When it will be, no one seems to know. In a way, it didn’t matter. Their last chance to get their medals here had been denied late the night before. They will leave Beijing without the biggest victory many of them have ever had in skating.

But by late Sunday afternoon, it was clear they had found something else: a voice. So they kept talking.

“I think it’s going to take a while to get over it,” Bates said, his voice beginning to crack. “And when we get our medals, I’m not sure that will cure enough of the harm that’s been done to all the clean athletes who haven’t gotten their medal moment.”

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