Figure skating-Nassar whistleblower says Valieva case highlights vulnerability of young athletes

Former gymnast Denhollander makes a statement during the sentencing hearing of  former team USA Gymnastics doctor Nassar in Charlotte
Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander makes a statement during the sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte, Michigan, U.S. February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

BEIJING, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse, told Reuters that Russian skating prodigy Kamila Valieva's failed drug test is a reminder of how vulnerable young athletes remain.

The 15-year-old Valieva helped Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) to a team gold in Beijing after landing the first quadruple jump in Games competition on Monday.

But she was thrust into controversy after the International Testing Agency (ITA) said she had tested positive for banned heart drug Trimetazidine in a sample collected on Dec. 25. read more She is one of the youngest Olympians ever to test positive.

"A child does not make a choice to take those kinds of medications unless they're given to her by somebody who's in authority," Denhollander told Reuters.

"What we're really seeing is the incredible damage that has come yet again to a child who has been under the control of adults who value her, not for who she is but for what she can produce for them."

A former competitive gymnast who works as an attorney and advocate for victims of abuse, Denhollander went public with her allegations against Nassar in 2016, prompting more than 350 other women to come forward and a reckoning within one of the most powerful national governing bodies in sport. read more

She sees Valieva's case as a reminder that while there is greater awareness of the abuse young athletes can face in sport, little has been done to prevent it.

"It's not like we haven't known that we're raising our kids in the environment where they're valued for what they could produce," she said.

"The problem is not raising awareness, the problem is caring enough to do something about it. And right now, these organisations are still staffed and run by authority figures who do not care enough to do something about it."

Valieva is due to compete again on Tuesday in the women's individual event, but The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is expected to ruled on her case before the event which could end her Olympics.

Valieva's positive test has rocked the Beijing Games, and prompted outcry from some of the biggest names in Olympic sport.

Denhollander stopped short of calling for a boycott of the Olympics but said her example shows a need for greater oversight.

"What we're missing is the public pressure and the outcry to say we will no longer tolerate this," she said. "We will no longer participate in Olympic Games, where countries are allowed to do this to their children."

Reporting by Amy Tennery in Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.