Olympic Chief Criticizes Valieva Coach’s ‘Chilling’ Reaction, Kremlin Hits Back

By Reuters
February 19, 2022 Updated: February 19, 2022

BEIJING—The Kremlin on Friday responded to comments by the Olympic chief, in which he said he was “disturbed” watching Russian teen skater Kamila Valieva crumble under pressure and hit out at the 15-year-old’s coach for her “chilling” reaction.

In a press conference earlier on Friday, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said he had been “disturbed” watching Valieva’s error-filled fourth place performance in the women’s individual figure skating event at the Beijing Olympics Thursday night.

Bach also said he was confounded by her coach’s harsh reaction afterward and called for governments to look into the role of entourages around young athletes.

The Kremlin hit back by saying that the harshness of Valieva’s coach won medals.

“Thomas Bach is a very authoritative person in the sports world. Of course we respect his opinion but we do not necessarily agree with him,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call later on Friday.

“He doesn’t like the harshness of our coaches but everybody knows that the harshness of a coach in high-level sport is key for their athletes to achieve victories.

Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee during training with the Russian Olympic Committee coach Eteri Tutberidze, at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Feb. 12, 2022. (Aleksandra Szmigiel/Reuters)

“And we are seeing that the athletes are achieving victories. So let’s be proud of our winners, congratulate our medalists. Valieva was fourth but in high-level sport, the strongest wins.”

Valieva, who had been leading the women’s figure skating event after the short program, cracked in her free skate on Thursday night, and stumbled down to fourth place as compatriot Anna Shcherbakova skated to gold.

Kamila Valieva
Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee competes in the women’s free skating program during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing on Feb. 17, 2022. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

The 15-year-old failed a doping test at her national championships last December but the result was only revealed on Feb. 8, a day after Valieva had already helped the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) win the team event.

She was cleared to compete in the event despite a doping controversy hanging over her and the Games.

High Pressure

“I must say I was very, very disturbed yesterday when I watched the competition on TV,” Bach told a press conference. “How high the pressure on her must have been.”

“To see her struggling on the ice, to see her, how she tries to compose herself again, how then she tries to finish her program and you could see in every movement, in the body language, you could feel that this is immense, immense mental stress and maybe she would have preferred to just leave the ice and try to leave this story behind her.”

Valieva left the ice hiding tears behind her hands and sobbed in the “kiss and cry” area as her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who received a state award from Russian president Vladimir Putin after the 2018 Olympics, confronted her.

Kamila Valieva reacts
Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee reacts after her performance in the women’s free skating program during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing on Feb. 17, 2022. (Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

“Why did you let it go? Explain it to me, why? Why did you stop fighting completely? Somewhere after the axel you let it go,” Tutberidze said.

That reaction confounded Bach, who said it was “extremely important” to look into Valieva’s entourage.

“When I afterwards saw how she was received by her close entourage … it was chilling to see this,” said Bach.

“Rather than giving her comfort, rather than to try to help her you could feel this chilling atmosphere, this distance and if you were interpreting the body language of them, it got even worse because this was even some kind of dismissive gestures.”

Kamila Valieva
Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee (C) reacts to her score with choreographer Daniil Gleikhengauz (R) and coach Eteri Tutberidze (L) after the Women’s Single Skating Free Skating on day thirteen of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing on Feb. 17, 2022. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Government Support

The saga has opened a debate on the suitability of the Olympic environment for minors, but Bach said the IOC had limited means of action.

“We see we have extremely limited means to address it,” he said. “We are not the police, we cannot interrogate and have a formal prosecution procedure; and our sanctions are extremely limited.

“In the end, it’s a question where we need the support of governments.”

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has said it was launching an investigation into Valieva’s entourage, which also includes, among others, figure skating team doctor Filipp Shvetsky, who in the past had been suspended for doping athletes.

Bach also said the IOC would also look into the rules applying to minors at competitions as Valieva was cleared to compete also due to the mitigating factor that she was 15.

“In a fair competition the same rules have to apply to everybody,” Bach said.