Discussion: What’s Wrong with the Pressure-Packed Olympics?


At the 2022 winter olympics, the illegal use of drugs became a topic of public conversation. Staff illustration: Sutton Inouye.

Penelope Stinson and Alex Levitt, Opinions Editor and News Editor

Arguably the biggest talking point of the 2022 Winter Olympics was Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva and the illegal drugs that she allegedly had in her system during competition. What was your reaction to this controversy, and how do you think the International Olympic Committee should have handled it?



During the 2022 Winter Olympics, Kamila Valieva was found to have illegal drugs in her system. Now, there are two possibilities with what could have happened: it could have been an accident, as her grandfather had similar medications that he had been taking and it’s possible that could have contaminated her bloodstream, or it also could have been on purpose, with the drugs given to her by her coaches to enhance performance. Now let’s start off with where to assign blame. Whether it was an accident or on purpose, the fault of this controversy and the drugs in her system are 100% not her fault, and she should not be blamed. She’s 15 years old. That’s the same age as almost 150 sophomores at Menlo Upper School. She’s a child who was primed to compete on the world’s largest stage; her entire life has been about the Olympics and competing as an international athlete. 

Furthermore, her coaches and staff at the Russian Olympic Committee are known to be abusive and harsh; none of the skaters coached by Eteri Tuberidze, Valieva’s coach, have gone on to more than one Olympic competition. That means that these women do one Olympics and then have to drop out because they’re simply too exhausted and overworked. The figure skating stars that compete at this level are held to incredibly high standards, especially during the Winter Olympics. But Camila is one of the stars that is the most at risk. She’s so young and because figure skating values these young skaters, they push them until they’re at their limits. It’s not her fault, and her coaches and staff should be blamed instead of her.



The integrity of the sport, and the Olympics as a whole, are at stake when an athlete uses an illicit substance. There should be a steadfast rule that if athletes are caught with any of these substances, they should be banned from competition until at least when the effects of these drugs are proven to wear off, plus any other suspension. The case of Kamila Valieva is no different. Even though she’s a minor, and even if she was coerced into taking trimetazidine, that endurance-supporting drug in her system could disrupt the level playing field that the Olympics prides itself in.

Doping — as the usage of performance enhancing drugs is often called — also sets a terrible precedent for young athletes. It teaches them that their body will never be good enough, and it teaches them that using drugs to accomplish a goal is acceptable. What isn’t shown is the extreme levels of anxiety, depression and hormone disruption that comes along with these drugs. When an athlete is caught with a PED, swift punishment should be taken, either against the athlete or her coaches.



I completely agree that the International Olympic Committee should have banned Valieva as soon as they found out that she had those substances in her system. Whether or not it was an accident, and regardless of who is to blame, it is simply not fair to allow her to compete with the rest of the athletes. It not only put her in danger, but they also caused issues for the rest of the athletes where if Camila had placed in the top three, the rest of the athletes wouldn’t have gotten a podium. They should have put more effort into questioning the coaches and staff around her, and ensuring that those adults were punished. 



I completely agree: Kamila Valieva is only 15 years old, and should not take the blame for this act of dishonesty and cheating. There’s still blame to place, and that’s on her coaches. They didn’t just put the integrity of the sport in jeopardy, they put the reputation and health of their athlete at stake. The role of the coach is to train their athlete, mentor their athlete, protect their athlete — and the Russian coaches failed to do that. There should be swift repercussions for their actions, with a lifetime Olympic ban considered for endangering a minor and using her for personal gain.


The women’s figure skating competition continued to draw increased attention when a dramatic, chilling scene took place after the free skate. Who’s to blame for this anxiety-fraught moment, and how can athletes and coaches learn from it?



It’s past time that we raise the minimum age for Olympic competition to 18, especially for high-stress, individual events like figure skating. As we saw after the women’s competition concluded, Valieva (15 years old, 4th place) and her Russian teammate Alexandra Trusova (17 years old, 2nd place) both broke down in tears, devastated by the tiny margins by which they didn’t win gold. Trusova, despite winning a prestigious silver medal, almost refused to attend the medal ceremony.

How can we, as a world that prides ourselves on protecting children, continue to allow them to be put in such high-pressure situations where almost every result is considered a failure? The real failure is the fact that coaches and organizations put their profits over the mental health of our children, instead of allowing kids to discover their talents. Then, the kids can start Olympic competition once they’ve reached adulthood and are able to make their own decisions.



What I think athletes and coaches should be learning from the women’s figure skating competition is that athletes shouldn’t be competing when they aren’t in the right mental space. In this case, Valeria clearly wasn’t in the right mental space when she took the ice; she had the world on her shoulders. She’d just been accused of doping, and her coaches practically shoved her onto that ice and expected her to give a stunning performance. 

Now, over a year ago in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Simone Biles was able to recognize that she was not in the right mental space to be able to compete and dropped out of competition. Biles, one of the most prominent Olympians at the time, was able to prioritize her mental health and her safety. Although it’s particularly difficult for these Russian athletes who face harsh criticism and expectations from their coaches, no athlete should be forced to compete when they don’t feel mentally healthy. 

Figure skating is a dangerous sport; it just takes one bad fall to ruin a skater’s life. Valeria could have been seriously hurt that day, and the International Olympic Committee needs to set certain standards and expectations for the mental health of athletes before they are allowed to compete. 


After these particularly emotional Olympic Games, how do you see the future of athletic competition in relation to mental health?



Sports are known to cause a degree of anxiety, but these Olympics taught us a key distinction: the antics of individual sports are significantly different from those of team sports. In individual competitions, we’ve seen Mikaela Shiffrin, Nathan Chen, Valieva and Trusova, and many others break down due to their miscues. But in team events, we’ve seen the United States hockey and curling teams pick each other up after tournament-ending defeats and walk away with their heads held high. Team sports are proven to create bonding opportunities between teammates, but there’s no equivalent in individual competitions. If you fail, you fail alone.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t enjoyable, positive aspects of individual sports, but we have to be more careful with the mental health side of them. There should be oversight from the IOC and other governing bodies on the coaching tactics employed at the top levels. We all know that this heartbreaking problem isn’t limited to the Russian figure skating team.



After these Olympic Games, it’s clear that mental health is being prioritized more often. However, mental health is still this topic that is shrouded in a lot of stigma and not taken seriously for many different countries. Now, teams and organizations can pretend that they care about mental health, but when push comes to shove, they want athletes who will compete and they want athletes who will win. 

Simone Biles had the luxury of being able to step out of competition when she felt like she was not ready to compete because of her mental health, but Simone Biles had already reached the highest possible level of competition and success at her individualized sport. But for athletes who are getting into the sport, for athletes who are at their first Olympics, they can’t consider mental health because their country and their fans won’t let them if they want to win. If athletes want to be recognized as the greatest in their sport, which is the goal for most, they can’t stop competing, and they can’t afford to think of their mental health. 


Alex: I think you highlighted an important point there: elite athletes only have one definition of success, and that’s a gold medal. That mentality isn’t unique to the Olympics; however, as competitive athletes internalize the “second place is the first loser” mentality at a very young age. Unlike other aspects of life, where you don’t need to be the best student in the classroom or the best artist in the studio, elite individual sports propagate this mindset. One small mistake, and your dreams are crushed. That’s not a healthy way to approach life, and it’s not how athletes should be coached.



Agreed. It’s a flawed system, and the International Olympics Committee needs to step in. I think providing more resources to therapists and mental health resources could be a step in the right direction for the athletes who compete. I also think putting more restrictions on teams, such as the Russian Olympic Committee, who are known to be incredibly restrictive and harsh to their athletes, could set a good example for how teams are supposed to function. 


Should the Olympics be political, should athletes be allowed to make political statements?



Yes — athletes should be allowed to make statements about political situations. Free speech is a core value of democratic countries, and using it on the biggest platforms is a right that athletes deserve, whether or not we believe in their causes. A lot of American media companies called for more protests against the Chinese government’s genocide of Uighur Muslims or the Russian threat in Ukraine, and rightfully so. But these same voices criticized the NFL and NBA for openly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, telling these organizations to “stick to sports.”

We can’t have it both ways. None of us are going to agree with all of the political activism shown at sporting events, but that’s okay. The best way to allow all voices to be heard is to allow athletes to show their beliefs wherever they want, whenever they want.



Currently, Olympic athletes are prohibited from doing political statements during metal, opening and closing ceremonies. However, under new rules recently created by the Olympic Committee, athletes are able to express their views on the field of play before competition. While these new rules are an improvement, athletes should still be allowed to make political statements during medal ceremonies and opening and closing ceremonies. These ceremonies tend to be some of the most-watched events, and a place where athletes are recognized and celebrated for their hard work. 

The Olympics should not be allowed to say that athletes have to separate sports and politics. They can’t try to prevent athletes from having a say in human rights violations or for speaking up for their country. Most athletes don’t want to remain neutral, and most of their fans don’t want them to remain neutral. Athletes have the responsibility of being the representatives from their country, and it’s a responsibility that they should be allowed to have certain privileges with. One of those privileges being the ability to make political statements.