It's been a year since the biggest debacle at the Beijing Winter Olympics
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
It's a not-so-happy Olympic anniversary today. A year ago, Russia won the team figure skating event at the Beijing Winter Games, powered by teenage phenom Kamila Valieva. But her subsequent positive drug test marred the games and left the team results in limbo. Valieva's case remains unresolved. And the Olympic athletes, including second place finishers from the U.S. team, still don't have their medals. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: On the first day of the Olympic team event last February, Zach Donohue and his U.S. ice dance partner Madison Hubbell did their part.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RHYTHM NATION")
JANET JACKSON: (Singing) Say, we are a part of the rhythm nation.
GOLDMAN: Their personal best score helped stake the U.S. to an early lead. But on the final day of competition a year ago today, 15-year-old Kamila Valieva made history with two quadruple jumps and led the Russians to victory just ahead of the U.S. Donohue remembers, the next day, team members were getting ready to head to the ceremony to claim their silver medals.
ZACH DONOHUE: We were dressed in our ceremony gear in a room, waiting to take a bus to the venue. And we're told, so this is canceled. And we're all like, (laughter) yeah, right. Funny joke. It's cool. Let's go.
GOLDMAN: A team official told them, no joke. There's a doping issue. We can't say more.
DONOHUE: So for all of us, the first step was kind of incredulous wonderment.
GOLDMAN: More emotion followed, like frustration and disappointment, as information emerged. Valieva tested positive for a banned drug from a sample taken more than a month before the Beijing Games. Her case should have been resolved, but wasn't, by the time the Olympics started. And then, Donohue says, as the months rolled by, still without resolution...
DONOHUE: Outrage and just disbelief that this is still the situation.
GOLDMAN: Donohue says the delay goes beyond the still unclaimed medals and their potential to provide the athletes with bonuses and sponsorship opportunities.
DONOHUE: This decision being postponed for so long really detracts from the integrity of the Olympic image and the Olympic values. And I think it takes a lot away from the integrity that the majority of athletes choose.
TRAVIS TYGART: Here we now are throwing salt on those wounds.
GOLDMAN: The salt in the wounds, says U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart, was last month's decision by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency to clear Valieva of wrongdoing. Tygart says the decision lacked transparency and independence and was done by an organization declared, in 2015, non-compliant.
TYGART: For their involvement as an instrument of the state, running an intentional, state-sponsored doping program where they knowingly gave and assisted athletes from Russia to use drugs and then knowingly sent them to international competition.
GOLDMAN: The World Anti-Doping Agency says it's likely to appeal last month's Valieva decision. WADA, as it's known, is not beyond blame in this case, nor is figure skating's international governing body. Both, Tygart says, could have taken the case out of Russian hands and pushed to get it resolved months ago. Instead, anti-doping efforts in Olympic sport have taken another credibility hit. And athletes from the U.S., third place Japan and, yes, Russia wait and wonder about their medals. Although, not always, says Zach Donohue. Along with teammates, he's received several email updates on the case.
DONOHUE: I have to be honest, there were multiple times that I would look at that email and go, oh, my God. I forgot that I'm waiting on a medal. It's been so long that it's not even relevant.
GOLDMAN: Donohue says it will be once Valieva's guilt or innocence finally is decided, and when all the athletes gather to accept whatever medals resolution brings. Donohue says he's heard a lot of the waiting athletes want their stolen Olympic moment truly Olympic this time, meaning a possible award ceremony at next year's Summer Games in Paris - assuming the case is closed by then.
Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.