Rus­sia hopes for swift end to track and field dop­ing ex­ile


More than a year into Rus­sia’s ex­clu­sion from in­ter­na­tional track and field, high jump world cham­pion Maria Kuchina feels like she’s stag­nat­ing.

“I need emo­tion, I need com­pe­ti­tion, I need ri­vals,” Kuchina said.

That’s all miss­ing be­cause Rus­sian track and field ex­ists in limbo, banned since Novem­ber 2015 as a se­ries of in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­vealed wide­spread dop­ing and al­leged gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials helped to cover it up.

Sun­day saw Rus­sia’s big­gest meet of the year so far, though it fea­tured only Rus­sians, with very mixed qual­ity in many events. Kuchina eas­ily won her event in Moscow, but her re­sult of 1.91 me­tres was far be­low her best.

How­ever, af­ter a string of false starts, Rus­sia is inch­ing closer to a re­turn.

On Mon­day, track’s world gov­ern­ing body, the IAAF, will hold a coun­cil meet­ing with the stated aim of draw­ing up a road map for Rus­sia’s re­turn though, in some ways, the process has qui­etly be­gun.

Over the win­ter, the IAAF has been ac­cept­ing ap­pli­ca­tions from top Rus­sian ath­letes who want to com­pete in in­ter­na­tional events as neu­tral ath­letes, rather than rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Rus­sia’s still-sus­pended track fed­er­a­tion.

As of Wed­nes­day, 33 Rus­sians had ap­plied, send­ing off forms list­ing their drug-test his­tory un­der newly re­laxed IAAF rules which no longer in­sist on Rus­sian ath­letes train­ing out­side their home coun­try. If the IAAF ac­cepts all of them, Rus­sia will have close to a full team at next month’s Euro­pean in­door cham­pi­onships in Ser­bia, just with­out a flag.

That’s good news for Daria Klishina, the long jumper who was al­lowed to be Rus­sia’s only rep­re­sen­ta­tive in track and field at last year’s Rio Olympics be­cause she has long trained in Florida, rather than in the Rus­sian sys­tem.

“I don’t want to be in that sit­u­a­tion again, never,” Klishina said Sun­day, re­call­ing how she found it tough to be on her own at the Olympics, where she fin­ished ninth. If more Rus­sians get per­mis­sion to com­pete this sea­son, “I’ll feel a lot bet­ter, be­cause I didn’t like com­pet­ing alone with that huge re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Com­pet­ing as neu­trals, not Rus­sians, is a sen­si­tive is­sue.

Many fans sup­port the ath­letes who have sub­mit­ted ap­pli­ca­tions to the IAAF, though some Rus­sian na­tion­al­ists ac­cuse them of be­tray­ing their coun­try.

“There’s more sup­port be­cause peo­ple who I know un­der­stand what sport means to me,” Kuchina said. “I try never to read on­line com­ments be­cause they could de­stroy any­one’s well­be­ing.”

Mid­dle-dis­tance run­ner Elena Korobkina, how­ever, said she’ll refuse a place at ma­jor cham­pi­onships if it means com­pet­ing as a neu­tral, though she will take part in other meets. “Even if they let me, I won’t com­pete at the Euro­peans be­cause I want to race un­der my own flag,” she said.

Even as Rus­sia nears a re­turn, there have been set­backs.

Doc­u­ments re­leased in De­cem­ber as part of a World An­tiDop­ing Agency in­quiry showed eight un­named Rus­sians from the na­tional track and field team had given sus­pi­cious sam­ples ahead of the 2014 world in­door cham­pi­onships, but most were recorded as clean. The IAAF is look­ing into the is­sue.

In an­other blow, a Ger­man TV chan­nel broad­cast footage show­ing na­tional-team run­ner Ar­tyom Den­mukhame­tov ap­pear­ing to train with coach Vladimir Kazarin, who is sus­pended over al­leged steroid use by sev­eral of his other ath­letes.

Den­mukhame­tov was in ac­tion at Sun­day’s meet, com­ing sec­ond in the 400m. He hasn’t ap­plied to the IAAF to com­pete as a neu­tral, ac­cord­ing to Rus­sian track fed­er­a­tion records.

Un­til the IAAF ei­ther re­in­states Rus­sia or al­lows its top ath­letes to com­pete as in­di­vid­u­als, Rus­sian track will re­main in sus­pended an­i­ma­tion.

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High jump world cham­pion Maria Kuchina looks at her com­peti­tors at the Rus­sian Win­ter na­tional ath­let­ics meet Sun­day in Moscow.

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