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Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended teenage figure skater Kamila Valieva, who was at the center of a doping scandal at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

The Russian skater’s performances could not have been achieved with the help of any banned substances, Putin claimed in comments on April 26.

Valieva failed a doping test at the Russian national championships in December but the result was only revealed on February 8, a day after she had helped the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) win gold in the team event.

“The whole country, figure skating fans all over the world, were especially worried about Kamila,” Putin said during a televised ceremony with Russian Olympic and Paralympic medalists at the Kremlin.

Valieva has “absorbed all the most complex elements of figure skating — its flexibility, beauty, power, and tenderness…and with her work brought the sport to the height of real art,” Putin said.

“Such perfection cannot be achieved dishonestly with the help of additional substances, manipulations,” he added.

Putin gave Valieva a state award and congratulated her on her 16th birthday, which was April 26.

During the Beijing Olympics, Valieva was cleared to compete in the women’s single event by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but she finished in fourth place after falling several times in the individual free skate.

Russia competed at the Beijing Olympics as the ROC without its flag or anthem following years of doping sanctions and legal battles across numerous sports. Russia has denied any doping was state-sponsored.

Putin also claimed that the removal of Russian and Belarusian Paralympians from the Beijing Paralympic Games after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 was a case of discrimination based on nationality, and he criticized the International Swimming Federation (FINA) for handing Russian Olympic gold medalist Yevgeny Rylov a nine-month suspension for attending a rally backing Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine.

Since Moscow invaded Ukraine, athletes and teams from Russia and its ally Belarus have been excluded from many international sports events, and Russia has been stripped of the rights to host various competitions. Putin said Russia should set up new events in their place.

“The canceled competitions need to be compensated with our own new formats. And we can get it done fast,” Putin said, adding that Russia should invite “international athletes, clubs, teams.”

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa

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