Guest post by James Higgins
Watching Kamila Valieva this morning as her life as a young 15 year old, crashed and burned in front of the world was nothing less than disheartening and nothing short of child abuse. She may be realizing that her only true trusted friend today, is her little Pomeranian, Lyova (Leo), a reward she received in 2019 for winning a Jr. competition. It is difficult to imagine that the adults around her guided her down a path of inevitable destruction for their own selfish benefit. But I am thinking like an American, not a parent from Kazan, a city about 450 miles east of Moscow. When did the exploitation of this winning machine begin? Who knows, but with obvious talent, her mother moved to Moscow when she was only 6. The pressure of developing Russian athletes from a young age to win at any cost remains unchanged. “For the motherland!”
World competition of athletes has always supposed to be non-political, and the athletes are supposed to be left out of the politics and compete for themselves with the spirit and pride of their flag and country. The don’t care where the person next to them is from, they just want to have the best performance. The athletes themselves have everything in common, unlike the countries they may represent. But depending on where they live, personal accomplishments can be secondary to winning for country.
Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) have been around as long as athletes have been competing, way before a list of ban substances was implemented. Every individual has a different body composition that requires different training techniques and nutrition to optimize each individual. As an NCAA athlete in the late 70’s, my regiment was different from teammates. I remember one guy on our team always had better clock times after having a few beers the night before, his personal PED, but not banned, other than by our coach. Meanwhile, everyone knew that on the world stage, the Soviets and E. Germany were cheating their way to the podiums at world championships and to the pinnacle of all, the Olympics, with no respect as the who was truly the best athlete. No doubt PEDs had started in the 30’s, but kudos to Jesse Owens to slam their experiments right in front of The Fuhrer himself.
Each generation learns about this underground world with current situations. No need for anyone to be taught history, as there will always be people that cheat. Sound familiar? For decades, pro athletes were banned from competing in the Olympics. This was for amateurs. This was always controversial as many felt the best athletes from the US were not allowed to compete. The free press in the US kept a tight reign on who was a pro and who wasn’t. The same held true for college athletes until recently. Everyone profited from the hard work of young athletes, except the athlete. For decades the world knew that the USSR athletes were nothing less than pros. State sponsored programs, coaches paid by the state, and a much better standard of living for Soviet athletes was accepted by the Olympic Committee. Definitely an unfair advantage. For the baby boomers it was the 1980 Olympics when the US hockey team, a group of young college players, took on the more experienced USSR hockey ‘pros’ who’s sole purpose for years was training to play international hockey. In an event of the century, the Americans won and went on to win the gold. The “Miracle on Ice” became a triumph over cheaters right in the midst of the cold war.
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In the mid 80’s, I was an assistant coach for ice dancers Robert Nardozza and Dorothy Rodek and helped them rise from a 14th ranking to placing 6th in the 83’ US Championships, almost making the 1984 Olympic team. Only the top four go to the Olympics. Had they trained another four years they would gone for sure. Dorothy decided to head to Disney on Ice and Robert still teaches I believe in Colorado. So I am well aware of the work that these athletes put in for their entire young lives. At the time, the free world dominated this event & Torvill & Dean from Great Britain ruled. Figure skating was more artistic and less about power performance, but there was always talk of the individuals competing for the USSR. Scott Hamilton winning gold and Brian Boitano silver, was a major win for the US.
Moving on the the 2000’s, PEDs became almost accepted. Controversies in the NFL and the MLB (baseball) proved PEDs were ingrained in sports. Short term suspensions became common. Most of the public excused this so they can see gladiators perform and entertain and wanted them back on the field. The leagues still negotiate when suspensions are implemented so playoffs won’t be affected.
Then came one of the most famous cheaters of all time — Lance Armstrong. Profiting for years, and lying his way to stardom all came crashing down, and Lance was disgraced as he should have been. But he still took all the glory that should have been given to others. Those rewarding moments of a lifetime were literally stolen and cannot be relived for those that were cheated out of the glory of winning. The money that comes along with that, went into Armstrong’s pocket. Playing the victim with his fight with cancer, deflected attention to the truth of his unmatched winning reign. Even his charity was another deflection of attention. Who would dare blow the whistle on ol’ Lance? The people he cheated.
You would think that with the efforts made by the Olympic Committee and doping organizations that Russia would curtail the past antics of the former Soviet Union. But lets be real, who is the leader of modern day Russia? Putin, direct from the KGB. Did anyone really expect things to change? I have traveled to Russia many times. It is beautiful and it’s people are not much different than us. They love their country but they don’t like the stain put on them from cheating. There is a quiet saying amongst the people, “You can pick your spouse, but you can’t pick your President”.
The former USSR and current Russia like other socialist countries, isolate themselves from the rest of the world in many forms. Communications, citizen restraints etc. This creates an inherent lack of transparency to the rest of the world. Accountability of what goes on inside is out the window. This tight control on society allows countries such as North Korea, Iran, and Russia, to orchestrate devious activities under the radar, including not only allowing but assisting in the doping of athletes. Win at any cost. Even to the detriment of the athlete themselves.
The leaders feel that winning public competitions will elevate their status and bring pride to the citizens, like throwing a bone to an abused dog. They will love you because you bring them occasional gifts, no matter how it was obtained. The propaganda convinces their people that they are victims and would never cheat. “It must be a lab mistake.” Masters at propaganda through state media, they will spin any negative narrative to say that they were treated unfairly. Having control over media has major advantages as to shaping how the public views their leaders. I wonder if our current media graduated from the KGB or CCP University of Propaganda. Oh wait, they did….. Harvard, Brown, Berkley ….. Everyone loves to win, and there is nothing more prideful than athletes that represent the flag of an entire country.
Before the Olympic Committee decided to openly allow professional athletes to compete, It was difficult to prove that Russia’s athletes had been pretty much pros for decades. But, doping is something a bit more concrete to prove through testing. Now the game is, if something is banned, chemists simply look for a different formula that won’t be detected, or a way to mask the substances taken. The 2008 summer Olympics in Mexico proved the point that nothing had stopped. Seven Russian athletes were not allowed to compete, testing positive for then banned PEDs.
The 2014 Olympics in Sochi is considered one of the worst. Years after, documents were uncovered that a state sponsored doping program coverup had been in place for years, and medals were stripped. But again, what about those that did not have the moment on an Olympic podium and all the lifetime rewards that come with it? It is just despicable.
In 2019, Russia was banned from competing in the Olympics completely. No Russian flags, no Russian national anthems. Originally for 4 years, then negotiated down to only 2 years. So what did they do? Just change the name. Now this is insanity. To work around the ban to compete in this years winter Olympics, Russian athletes now compete under the name “Russian Olympic Committee”. But did all this stop the issues? As we watched a young teenager’s life destroyed, obviously not. Her life was on a path of destruction years before. They don’t care, they are only finding spins to claim it is all a mistake. Her grandfather takes the drug and she must have had a drink from the same glass? Typical Russian spin. It is difficult to blame Kamila. She spent all her time training and doing what she was told. “Here, take this vitamin, it will give you energy”. She is undoubtedly incredibly talented and has worked hard from 4 or 5 years old, with Olympic dreams. The same as young American girls, she assumed that her coaches and handlers had her best interests at heart. Why wouldn’t they? she thought. It can be devastating to learn the truth about the people around you. To realize that you are only a minion that can be manipulated. But she lives in Russia. It is not about her success, it is about the Motherland and its propaganda driven pride. Hopefully she will recover enough to have a future, but the cloud will never leave her. Shame on the people This is true child abuse. Instead of a mother living her lost dream by pushing her daughter into child pageants, this is state controlled pressure on children and families, to get to the top of the podium with the flag. Anything else is total failure. Maybe she will move to the US, start over, and leave her coach and mother behind. But at 15, she has no place to turn except to Leo.