Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed support for figure skater Kamila Valieva on Tuesday, saying she did not compete "dishonestly" after her doping case dominated this year's Winter Olympics.
Valieva was on the gold-medal winning Russian squad for the figure skating team event at the Beijing Olympics but no medal ceremony has been held because she is facing an unresolved doping case resulting from a positive test at the Russian national championships in late December.
"Through her work, she raised the sport to the level of true art," Putin said. "It is impossible to achieve that kind of perfection dishonestly, with the help of some kind of extra substances or manipulations."
Russia competed at the Beijing Olympics without its flag or anthem following years of doping sanctions and legal battles across numerous sports. Russia denies any doping was state-sponsored.
Putin gave Valieva a state award as part of a televised ceremony celebrating Russian medalists and congratulated her on her 16th birthday Tuesday. Valieva said "it’s a big honor for me."
After Valieva's positive drug test came to light during the Olympics, she faced a possible suspension from competition until the case was resolved, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport allowed her to continue competing. She placed fourth in the individual women's competition as fellow Russian Anna Shcherbakova skated to gold.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, athletes and teams from Russia and its ally Belarus have been excluded from many international sports events, and Russia has been stripped of the rights to host various competitions. Putin said Russia should set up new events in their place.
"The cancelled competitions need to be compensated with our own new formats. And we can get it done fast," Putin said, adding that Russia should invite "international athletes, clubs, teams."