The Kremlin leaped to the defense Friday of a coach who harangued 15-year-old Olympic figure skater Kamila Valieva after a humiliating competition at the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“The harshness of a coach in high-level sport is key for their athletes to achieve victories,” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters.
Valieva fell twice in the free skate on Friday, dropping from first place to fourth in the individual competition. The bungled performance occurred after a week when it was revealed that she had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
As Valieva left the rink in tears, coach Eteri Tutberidze berated her for the mistakes: “Why did you let it go like that? Why did you let it go? Why did you stop fighting? Explain!”
The dressing down of the young athlete, who was likely provided the banned drug by the adults around her, was viewed on TV around the world as it unfolded.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who watched what happened on TV in Beijing, said he found Tutberidze’s behavior and how others around Valieva reacted “disturbing.”
“When I afterwards saw how she [Valieva] was received by her closest entourage … it was chilling to see this,” Bach added.
“Rather than giving her comfort, rather than to try to help her, you could feel this chilling atmosphere, this distance,” he recalled. “If you were interpreting the body language of them, it got even worse because this was even some kind of dismissive gestures.”
Bach said the pressure on Valieva was “beyond my imagination.”
"It was chilling." International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has criticized Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva’s entourage for their treatment of the 15-year-old after she made mistakes in her free skate at the Beijing Olympics.
— The Associated Press (@AP) February 18, 2022
Peskov later noted on a conference call with reporters that Bach “is a very authoritative person in the sports world. Of course, we respect his opinion, but we do not necessarily agree with him.”
He “doesn’t like the harshness of our coaches, but everybody knows that the harshness of a coach in high-level sport is key for their athletes to achieve victories,” Peskov said.
Valieva’s situation is triggering a debate in the Olympics about an age minimum so that nations don’t burn through — and abuse — young athletes, then move on to the next teenager.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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