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'Of Course They Take It': Russian Teen Figure Skater Regrets Claims Of Widespread Doping

Many fellow athletes and fans chalked up Anastasia Shabotova's comments to youthful naivete.
Many fellow athletes and fans chalked up Anastasia Shabotova's comments to youthful naivete.

A teenage figure skater has caused an uproar among sports officials in Russia after publicly stating that doping is the only way of ensuring consistent results on the ice.

On January 21, in a webchat with her followers on Instagram, 13-year-old Anastasia Shabotova addressed one fan's question about ways to raise performance.

"Take a lot of dope, and you'll perform consistently," she said. "And that's it."

A little later, asked about the use of banned substances at Khrustalny, a celebrated ice-skating rink in Moscow where Olympic champions train, Shabotova said, "Of course they take it."

Within hours, news of her revelations provoked shock in the Russian sports community, and a scramble among officials to deny the claims.

The Russian Figure Skating Federation dismissed Shabotova's comments as "nonsense" and "drivel," the newspaper Sport Ekspress reported.

Yury Ganus, the head of the Russian anti-doping agency, told the paper that Shabotova -- a youth finalist at the 2018 Russia Cup -- would be disciplined. "The main thing is we must all together instill in society a culture of intolerance toward doping," he said.

But Russia instills little confidence abroad when it comes to such matters.

A 2016 investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), based on testimony from Russian whistle-blowers, concluded that the Russian state ran a covert doping operation from 2012 to 2015, peaking at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

The findings led to dozens of Russian athletes being barred from international competition, and to the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee. In the 2018 Winter Olympics, Russian athletes had to compete under the neutral Olympic flag.

Russian officials deny any state involvement in the doping of athletes. However, they have at times acknowledged that systemic problems exist.

In February 2015, as Russia faced growing calls to respond to allegations of state-sponsored doping, Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told Russian media that child athletes in the country were given banned substances while still at school by youth coaches under pressure to get results and ensure their charges win competitions.

Shabotova's coach, Svetlana Panova, said that she had warned her athletes in May about the need for caution on social media. In comments to Sport Ekspress she said she planned to speak to Shabotova, but hopes that no punitive measures will be taken against her by sports officials. "It'd be a shame to destroy a girl's career because of some statement that was not meant seriously," she said.

Anastasia Shabotova in action during the 2018 Rostelecom Cup
Anastasia Shabotova in action during the 2018 Rostelecom Cup

She was among many fellow athletes and fans who chalked Shabotova's comments down to youthful naivete. Shabotova only turned 13 last week.

"It seems to me that the poor girl, speaking most likely in jest, didn't even think that her words could provoke such a scandal!" Irina Slutskaya, a former two-time figure-skating world champion, wrote on Instagram. "Although it seems that if you asked her what doping is and how it's used, she'd struggle to answer."

In an interview with the agency, Irina Shabotova dismissed her daughter's comments as a stupid mistake. "Well, kids, you can understand them: they gossip with each other, across different schools, and make such conclusions. Incorrect ones, of course."

As for Shabotova herself, she seemed mightily surprised by the scandal her off-the-cuff comments had unleashed. Later on January 21, she posted a short video to Instagram in a bid to end the issue. "I said something stupid, maybe because I lost in my latest competition. I didn't think they'd misunderstand me."

Shabotova's Moscow club told RFE/RL all requests for comment must go through the Moscow Sports Committee. The latter didn't immediately respond to an e-mail request.

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    Matthew Luxmoore

    Matthew Luxmoore is a Moscow-based journalist covering Russia and the former Soviet Union. He has reported for The New York Times in Moscow and has written for The Guardian, Politico, The New Republic, and Foreign Policy. He’s a graduate of Harvard’s Davis Center and a recipient of New York University's Reporting Award and the Fulbright Alistair Cooke Journalism Award.

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