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The Olympic medals for team figure skating are delayed, raising 3 big questions

Members of the Russian Olympic Committee team celebrate at the flower ceremony after the figure skating team event. The team won gold in the event, but the medal ceremony has been delayed for unspecified legal reasons.
Sebastien Bozon
AFP via Getty Images
Members of the Russian Olympic Committee team celebrate at the flower ceremony after the figure skating team event. The team won gold in the event, but the medal ceremony has been delayed for unspecified legal reasons.

The Olympic team figure skating event ended Monday — but the medals haven't yet been given out because of what officials describe as a legal issue. The ceremony was planned for Tuesday night, but it didn't happen. There are reports, which have not been confirmed by NPR, that a failed drug test is involved.

The U.S. won silver and Japan won bronze in the competition. The Russian Olympic Committee team won gold in a performance that made history, as teenager Kamila Valieva landed two quadruple jumps.

But two days later, none of the skaters have received their medals. Providing only the barest of details, Olympic officials say they've been consulting with the International Skating Union.

As of Wednesday, a number of questions remain open:

Who failed the test? A report from theInside the Gamessite suggests that Valieva is the athlete who allegedly tested positive. If that is true, her age — 15 — could further complicate how the case is handled because of privacy concerns.

What drug was found — and when? If a prohibited drug was detected, was it a performance-enhancing substance or a recreational drug? Some drugs are banned at all times, while others are only illegal during competition, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency's most recent list of prohibited substances.

Will this shake up the podium? If the legal process that's underway results in a change to the final results, Canada could see its team awarded a medal, as it finished in fourth place. But for now, the outcome is unclear.

"The situation arose ... at short notice, which requires legal consultation with the ISU," Olympics spokesman Mark Adams said on Wednesday.

Adams said he couldn't comment at length, citing "legal implications involved" in what he described as an emerging issue.

Adding more intrigue to the mix, several Russian skaters apparently didn't appear at a scheduled practice on Wednesday — and Valieva was reportedly among them.

Russian athletes came to the Beijing Games while the national team is under Olympic sanctions — punishment for the latest in a string of doping-related infractions. In 2016, the World Anti-Doping Agency said Russia's government sponsored a widespread cheating program that, among other things, saw officials swapping out athletes' drug-tainted samples for clean ones.

In late 2020, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said Russia was still not complying with international anti-doping rules, but it reduced a four-year ban to a two-year punishment.

While many Russian officials and agencies are officially barred from the Olympics and other international events, the country's athletes are free to compete if they can prove they're clean and not aided by performance-enhancing drugs.

The sanctions force the Russian Federation's athletes to compete under several restrictions. Their uniforms can't bear the Russian flag and must include the words "neutral athlete" if their country's name appears. As at earlier Games, the Russian national anthem is forbidden; instead, Russian medalists hear a piano concerto by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

The delayed medal ceremony quickly triggered questions in Moscow, where the Kremlin says it's awaiting a full explanation.

"As of now, we heard no official statements," Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, urging observers not to make a judgment based on media reports only, according to official news outlet Tass.

Peskov urged people to wait for explanations from Russian sports officials and the International Olympic Committee.

When Adams was asked whether the skaters might face a limbo, in which they leave China with the issue unsettled, he said officials are working to prevent that from happening.

"We have athletes and medals involved," Adams said. "I can't give you any more details because I don't actually know. We will do our level utmost to make sure it is resolved as quickly as possible. As you know, legal issues can drag on."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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