(Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that teenage figure skater Kamila Valieva’s performances could not have been achieved with the help of any banned substances.
Valieva, who turned 16 on Tuesday, failed a doping test at the Russian national championships last December but the result was only revealed on Feb. 8, a day after she had already helped the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) win the team event at the Beijing Games.
The case cast a shadow on Russians’ participation at the Games as they already faced increased scrutiny over separate doping sanctions that saw them compete without their flag and national anthem.
"Through her work, she brought the sport to the level of a real form of art," Putin said Valieva at a televised awards ceremony at the Kremlin for medallists from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
"Such perfection cannot be achieved dishonestly with the help of additional substances, manipulations. We very well know that these additional substances are not needed in figure skating."
Valieva, favourite to win Olympic gold, was cleared to compete in the women’s single event in Beijing by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but stumbled to fourth place with an error-laden free skate. She became the first woman to land a quadruple jump at the Olympics during the team event.
Valieva’s case instigated questions over whether the minimum age for competitors in figure skating, currently 15, needs to be raised to protect minors.
Putin said Russian and Belarusian Paralympians, removed from the Beijing Paralympic Games after Russia sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, was a case of discrimination based on nationality.
"The suspension of athletes from Russia and Belarus not only directly violated the fundamental principles of sport but their most basic human rights were… openly, cynically violated," Putin said at a ceremony with Olympians and Paralympians at the Kremlin.
Putin also criticised the International Swimming Federation (FINA) for handing Russian Olympic gold medallist Evgeny Rylov a nine-month suspension for attending a rally backing Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, calling the move "completely absurd."
Many international sports federations have barred both Russian and Belarusian athletes from taking part in international events over Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.
(Reporting by Reuters; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Christian Radnedge)