Kremlin Bristles at Criticism of Olympic Coaches: Toughness 'Key' to Wins

A Kremlin spokesman bashed International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on Friday, saying the IOC official doesn't like the "toughness" of Russian coaches even though it is essential to Olympic victories.

Bach had recently joined others in criticizing Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva's entourage after the 15-year-old, at the center of a doping scandal, performed poorly this week, the Associated Press reported. Reacting to Bach, the Kremlin's Dmitry Peskov, said, "Everyone knows that in elite sports the coach's toughness is key to the students' victories."

Valieva headed into the free skate event amidst controversy over testing positive for the banned substance trimetazidine. She placed first in the short program but never made it to the podium Thursday after a rocky performance filled with numerous falls. Valieva broke down in tears after stepping off the ice and received cold looks from her coaches that made viewers cringe.

"When I afterwards saw how she was received by her closest entourage, with...what appeared to be a tremendous coldness, it was chilling to see this," Bach said at a news conference on Friday.

Bach's reaction came as a surprise. He has defended Russian athletes in the past, even with a 2014 doping scandal that temporarily banned the country from competing in the Olympics.

The reaction to the Russian figure skater's tears seemed to change Bach's tone, the AP reported. "Rather than giving her comfort, rather than to try to help her, you could feel this chilling atmosphere, this distance," he said.

Valieva sobbed after she missed the podium position by 9.04 points during Thursday's performance. Her Russian teammates Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova won gold and silver, respectively, while Kaori Sakamoto of Japan beat Valieva for the podium position and took bronze.

Several members of the Russian figure skating team were crying and in disbelief after the results. There was little celebration as Valieva, the favorite to win the gold medal, didn't make it to the podium. Trusova initially suggested she didn't want to participate in the victory ceremony and thought about retiring at 17, while Shcherbakova had mixed feelings about winning the competition, the AP reported.

"I was feeling a lot of pleasure because I happened to be in the right time and the right place and did the right things—that's the important thing," Shcherbakova said. "On the other hand, I feel this emptiness inside."

The 15-year-old's shaky performance after a week of extreme pressure and scrutiny raises questions about the mental health of young athletes and if Valieva should have been able to compete with a positive drug test result.

"It is so irresponsible what was done here," former Olympic figure skater Katarina Witt said according to AP. "The whole world was watching, and then she broke. She is 15. She's a child."

A Russian journalist asked Bach at the IOC press conference following the surprising figure skating results if he felt partly responsible for the "media chaos" surrounding Valieva. Bach deflected the blame, saying that "the ones who have administered this drug in her body, these are the ones who are guilty," the AP reported.

Update 02/18/22, 10:01 a.m. ET: This story has been updated with more background and information.

Kamila Valieva After Olympic Skate
Russian Kamila Valieva is embraced by her coach Eteri Tutberidze after competing in the women's free skate program during the figure skating competition at the Beijing Olympics on Thursday. David J. Phillip/AP Photo