The way 15-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva was treated by her coach after her two falls in her figure skating routine on Thursday evening was “chilling” and does not inspire any confidence in her entourage, the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has said.
In an unusually strong intervention, Bach admitted that he was shocked to see the controversial Russian Olympic Committee coach Eteri Tutberidze berate Valieva as she came off the ice, barking at her “why did you stop fighting?” even though she had been under enormous mental stress ever since her positive drugs test was revealed last week.
“I must say I was very disturbed yesterday when I watched the competition on television,” said Bach. “First in her performance, how high the pressure must have been on her. I know from my athlete time a little bit about pressure. But this pressure is beyond my imagination, in particular for a girl of 15 years old.
“To see her struggling on the ice, seeing how she tries to compose herself again and finish her programme, you could see in every movement in the body language, you could feel this was an immense mental stress.
“But this was not all,” Bach added. “When afterwards I saw how she was received by her closest entourage, with what appeared to be a tremendous coldness, it was chilling to see this.
“Rather than giving her comfort, rather than trying to help her, you could feel this chilling atmosphere, this distance. And if you were interpreting the body language, it got even worse because there were even some dismissive gestures I saw on TV.”
The gold medal was won by world champion Anna Shcherbakova, who narrowly pipped her Russian compatriot Alexandra Trusova despite a more conservative free skate routine. Both are 17 years old and also coached by Tutberidze. Afterwards, Trusova was visibly upset by the judging but appeared to get little support from Tutberidze – something Bach also spotted.
“I am pondering whether you could really be this cold to your athlete,” Bach said. “All of this does not give me much confidence in this closest entourage in Kamila, neither with regard in the past nor in the future.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency is now investigating Valieva’s coaches, doctors and other adults around her but Bach admitted that the IOC’s options were “extremely limited”.
“We are not the police,” he said. “We can not interrogate. We can not have a formal prosecution procedure and therefore we need the support of governments. We need to reinforce our efforts to speak to governments so they take disciplinary measures regarding entourages.”
Valieva was allowed to compete in the women’s event after the court of arbitration for sport ruled against re-imposing a provisional suspension on her. That decision came after a week of media scrutiny that followed the news that she had tested positive for angina drug trimetazidine on 8 February, a day after she helped the ROC win the team event.
However Bach accepted that Valieva was unlikely to have taken the banned drug in isolation and stressed it was of “extreme importance” that those around her be properly investigated given her age.
On Saturday Tutberidze insisted that her skater was clean but accepted that the situation was “very controversial and difficult”.
When asked if Tutberidze had any place in the Olympics, Bach said: “This is why we have asked for the inquiry to shed light on all this. We trust this will come to light and we will not hesitate to implement the appropriate measures. And these will be tough measures.”
Bach also signalled that the IOC would look into rules regarding age limits for adult competition, as well as whether minors should face the same doping penalties as senior athletes. But he added “this needs careful deliberation”.
The IOC president’s comments provoked an angry response from Russia’s deputy prime minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, who told Inside The Games: “We are deeply disappointed to see an IOC president weave his own fictional narrative on the feelings of our athletes, and then present these publicly as the voice of the IOC. This is frankly inappropriate and wrong.”