Russian Doping, and Poor Ratings: The 2022 Winter Olympic Games

Are These Medals Tarnished?

Patrick Moore, Staff Writer

The 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing provided the world with many exciting results. For example, Eileen Gu, born in America but representing China, achieved spectacular results on the slopes, winning three gold medals while American Nathan Chen gave an incredible performance in figure skating, winning gold and silver medals. Norway won the gold medal count and overall medal count, while the Americans placed 4th in gold medals and 3rd in overall medals, only behind the Germans and Chinese respectively. Although these Olympic Games had world records and impressive athletic feats, controversies surrounding the “cheating” of a 15-year-old Russian figure skating star took precedent. China’s controversial human rights record and the cheating scandal culminated in low TV ratings and discussions throughout the world. 

During the games, the historic rise of Kamila Valieva, a 15-year-old Russian figure skating star, was incredible to watch and it also created a buzz in Russia and around the world. Despite her meteoric rise, which included a first-place finish in the “Team Event,” she was caught utilizing the drug trimetazidine, a banned drug according to the IOC. Trimetazidine works, (according to, by “producing a good supply of oxygen for the cells of the heart.” In a sport that requires strong stamina to produce spectacular jumps for an extended period of time, having an artificial advantage in supplying oxygen to the heart is unfair. Despite trimetazidine being a banned substance, the IOC allowed her to compete in the individual competition for Women’s Figure Skating. With many questioning if Valieva was conscious when taking the drug and if the Russian government forced her to take it also caused debate about Russia’s role in the situation. The IOC had previously banned Russian athletes from competing under the Russian National Team from 2018 to 2022 due to widespread, state-sponsored doping during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, so the decision to allow her to compete came as a surprise. Russia (now competing as the ROC) denies the claims of Valieva doping and the positive drug test, as a spokesperson for the Kremlin Dmitry Peskov explained that “We’re absolutely, fully without any doubts supporting our Kamila Valieva. And urge everyone to support her. And we say Kamila – Kamila, don’t hide your face. Hold your head up. You’re a Russian. Go proudly and beat everyone.”  She fell twice in the individuals and finished out of the medals.

As a result of the decision, and the controversial Russian response, outrage ensued throughout the sporting world, with World Anti-Doping Agency Deputy Director-General Rob Koehler explaining that “[Valieva’s allowance to compete] is a glaring example of why Russia needed to be suspended because they need to have a culture change and embrace the clean sport.” During the competition, Valieva’s performance in the Women’s Figure Skating final was underwhelming compared to her normal abilities, as the pressure overwhelmed her and she finished a disappointing fifth place. While many would assume this tragic story would generate interest in the Olympic Games, this actually did not occur and ratings were poor.

Ratings for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics were an underwhelming and historically low 7.25 million on the last day of competition. On the first day of competition, usually one of the higher days, viewership was also very low as “Viewership plunged 55% from NBC’s first night of coverage at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics four years ago (16.00M) and 64% from night one of the Sochi Games in 2014 (20.02M).”

There were multiple reasons for this massive rating decline. First, ratings have been down across the board during the Covid era and with more people returning to in-person daily life, the Olympics are struggling with garnering day-time views. Second, many sponsors wanted to stay away from China’s poor human rights record, as “Only two of the 20 official Team USA sponsors had aired spots pegged to the Olympics as of Wednesday, according to Reuters, with both focusing on the athletes while downplaying the host nation.” China’s poor treatment of minority groups, notably the Uyghurs and Tibetans, has upset many in the United States as some people and organizations, including the United States Government, have protested the games. This has led to less buzz around the games and consequently hurt ratings. While other countries that have a poor human rights track record, such as Russia in 2014, have hosted the Olympic games, the Chinese games elicited a very cold atmosphere. For example, athletes were put through numerous Covid testing and isolation measures; with few to no fans, there was an uninspiring atmosphere. 

Despite some incredible achievements, these Olympic games included numerous controversies. The Russian doping scandal highlighted the dark side of Olympic sport and also showcased the limits that the already banned Russian government would go to win Olympic Gold. The Beijing Olympics suffered historically catastrophic ratings as a result of the Chinese government’s abusive treatment of ethnic minorities and the overall dispirited atmosphere surrounding these games. While these games may not have been the best, Milan 2026 could feasibly bring back the Winter Olympic Spirit.