jessica calalang

Illinois Skater Calls ROC Doping Scandal ‘Triggering' After Cosmetic Debacle

The figure skater representing the ROC at the Beijing Games, is at the center of a doping case after she failed a pre-Games drug test

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Jessica Calalang knows all too well the feeling of an Olympic future hanging in the balance over a positive drug test, but with the Illinois figure skater's now-cleared case dramatically altering her 2022 Winter Olympic dreams, she finds the Russian Olympic Committee's latest doping scandal "triggering."

"I am traumatized by my suspension," she wrote on Twitter Monday morning, following a ruling in ROC figure skater Kamila Valieva's case. "This is very triggering for me. And for a decision to be reached within a WEEK. While my case took MONTHS, based off of a substance that NO OTHER ATHLETE HAD EVER TESTED POSITIVE FOR."

Valieva, a figure skater representing the ROC at the Beijing Games, is at the center of a doping case after she failed a pre-Games drug test.

The Russian 15-year-old is expected to make a run for her second gold medal in Beijing as she begins the women's individual program early Tuesday, where she is a favorite for gold.

Valieva tested positive for a banned substance in a test taken in December. The results of the test weren't released until after she had completed her first performance at the Games, sparking a hearing over whether she could continue to compete.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport released its ruling less than 12 hours after a hastily arranged hearing that lasted into early Monday morning. The ruling stated Valieva does not need to be provisionally suspended ahead of a full investigation.

The court gave her a favorable decision in part because she was a minor or “protected person" and was subject to different rules from an adult athlete. The CAS panel also cited fundamental issues of fairness in its ruling, the fact she tested clean in Beijing and that there were “serious issues of untimely notification” of her positive test.

But for Calalang, things didn't move so swiftly.

The U.S. pairs skater, who was a potential Team USA contender, had a suspension from the sport overturned in late September after she tested positive for banned substance 4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid (4-CPA), a known metabolite of meclofenoxate, a USADA-prohibited stimulant, the Associated Press reported. The Elk Grove Village native reportedly tested positive in January of 2021 at the national championships, but it took eight months for her name to be cleared.

During her suspension, Calalang was unable to participate in any U.S. Figure Skating sanctioned or sponsored events and her U.S. Figure Skating funding was frozen, the AP reported.

It wasn't until months after her suspension started that a similar case involving UFC fighter Rob Font found chlorphenesin, a non-prohibited cosmetic preservative found in shampoos and lotions, can also metabolize into 4-CPA, the AP reported. Calalang had reportedly been using similar cosmetics and she was later fully cleared of any wrongdoing, but not in time for her to compete in many of the events in the runway to the Olympics.

Her first event back, alongside her skating partner Brian Johnson, wasn't until Skate America, where they placed fifth overall.

“If Jessica did not have the resources and support to retain a lawyer to assist her, this could have easily been another case where an innocent athlete ends up serving a lengthy ban,” her attorney, Howard Jacobs, told the AP. “While we cannot go back in time and give Jessica the opportunity to participate in the world championships that were wrongly taken from her, we do hope that the anti-doping authorities will quickly remedy this flaw in their testing protocols, and that they will do so in a transparent manner.”

Flash forward to the 2022 Winter Olympics as Valieva tested positive for the heart drug trimetazidine. The sample was taken on Dec. 25 at the Russian nationals but the result from a Swedish lab didn’t come to light until a week ago, after she helped the Russian Olympic Committee win the team gold.

Reasons for the six-week wait for a result from Sweden are unclear, though Russian officials have suggested it was partly because of a January surge in omicron variant COVID-19 cases, which affected staffing at the lab.

Her case has caused havoc at the Olympics since last Tuesday when the team event medal ceremony was pulled from the schedule.

The Russian anti-doping agency (RUSADA) immediately suspended her, then lifted the ban a day later, putting into limbo the awarding of the medals. The IOC and others appealed and an expedited hearing was held Sunday night. Valieva testified via video conference.

Athletes under 16 like Valieva have more rights under anti-doping rules and typically aren’t held responsible for taking banned substances. The focus of any future investigation will hone in on her personal team - coaches, doctors, nutritionists, etc.

The recent ruling only addresses whether Valieva can keep skating before her case is resolved. It doesn’t decide the fate of the one gold medal she has already won.

Valieva landed the first quadruple jumps by a woman at the Olympics when she won the team event gold with the Russian Olympic Committee last Monday. The United States took silver and Japan the bronze. Canada placed fourth.

That medal, and any medal she wins in the individual competition, could still be taken from her.

Those issues will be dealt with in a separate, longer-term investigation of the positive doping test that will be led by RUSADA, which took the sample in St. Petersburg.

The World Anti-Doping Agency will have the right to appeal any ruling by RUSADA, and also said it wants to independently investigate Valieva's entourage.

With the Valieva case, questions raised by an often-proven culture of doping in Russian sport has been a major theme for a sixth straight Olympic Games, including the past three winter editions at Sochi, Russia; Pyeongchang, South Korea; and now Beijing.

“This appears to be another chapter in the systematic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia,” US Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said in a statement.

Hirshland said the USOPC was “disappointed by the message this decision sends” and suggested athletes were denied the confidence of knowing they competed on a level playing field.

The ruling sparked reactions across social media, including from Calalang and other athletes plagued by doping cases.

Fellow Illinois skater who competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics, Bradie Tennell, also voiced her frustration at the decision.

But while some expressed their disappointment in the ruling, others offered compassion for Valieva, including Calalang, who retweeted this message:

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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