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Following Russian doping decision, the U.S. has 9 new Olympic gold medalists

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Nine American figure skaters are only just now celebrating after learning they are officially Olympic gold medal winners. They're being honored for their performance in the team skating competition at the last Winter Games in Beijing. These results were delayed nearly two years by a doping scandal involving a star Russian figure skater. As NPR's Brian Mann reports, U.S. Olympic officials say this is a victory for clean sport.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: American skater and co-captain of the 2022 U.S. figure Skating team, Evan Bates, said he began this week not knowing his place in Olympic sports history.

EVAN BATES: We really had no idea. We were bracing ourselves. It was going to be silver, and we woke up with incredible news that it's gold.

MANN: Here's what happened. At the Winter Games in Beijing, star Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva competed even though she had tested positive months earlier for a banned substance that roiled the Olympics and triggered a slow bureaucratic process that culminated this week with a ruling from a tribunal in Switzerland called the Court of Arbitration for Sport that disqualified Valieva's Olympic performance. Valieva is banned from international competition through the end of next year. That change was enough to bump team USA from silver to gold. At a press conference Tuesday, American skater Madison Chock, also a team co-captain, described the feeling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MADISON CHOCK: Amazing, quite frankly, a feeling I've always dreamed of and I almost can't believe is here. I'm still wrapping my head around the reality of everything.

MANN: Japanese skaters will now take the silver medal. Despite Valieva being disqualified, the International Skating Union ruled Russian skaters will still receive the team bronze medal ahead of Canada, who took fourth. Canadian sports officials, who hope for the bronze, have protested. Despite that lingering muddle, Sarah Hirshland, head of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, described this as an important victory for clean, drug-free competition.

SARAH HIRSHLAND: A system is growing and improving, ensuring that all athletes from around the world can count on showing up to compete on a level playing field and fair play.

MANN: U.S. athletes and sports officials say they've now begun a process to determine how and where these gold medals will be awarded. Skater Madison Chock says they hope to hold the ceremony at the next Olympics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHOCK: At the Paris Games this summer. That would be the dream scenario.

MANN: This is the first gold medal ever for the U.S. in the Olympic team skating competition.

Brian Mann, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.