Russians haunted by positive tests
The World Athletics Championships, which open this weekend, are the first of a series of high-profile international sports events to be held in Russia in the coming years and the biggest competition in Moscow since the 1980 Olympics.
In February the Black Sea resort of Sochi will host the Winter Olympics, while the most-watched sports event in the world — the soccer World Cup — comes to Russia in 2018.
Moscow has already held the indoor version of the World Athletics Championships in 2006.
Russia is touting its ability to host top sporting events after it organized the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow in June and world student games in Kazan in July.
But international athletics’ biennial showpiece at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium has already been clouded by a series of doping scandals in Russia’s track and field disciplines in recent times.
About 40 Russian athletes have been banned for doping violations in recent months, a development which led many to question the country’s suitability to stage the world event.
Russian athletes found to have doped include 2004 Olympic hammer champion Olga Kuzenkova and 2012 silver medalist in women’s discus, Daria Pishchalnikova. They have both been banned, with Pishchalnikova handed a 10-year suspension for a second doping offense.
However, Russian athletics federation chief Valentin Balakhnichev said the country had dramatically changed its approach in the fight against doping and as a result more cheats were being exposed.
“Three years ago the national anti-doping agency, RUSADA, was created to keep the use of drugs in sports under control,” Balakhnichev said.
Russia’s athletics national squad manager, Valentin Maslakov, said he was expecting at least six gold medals at the world showpiece.
“The Russian athletics championships, which has recently took place in Luzhniki, showed that we can expect some of our athletes to show world- class results at the world championships,” he said.
“We hope to win at least six gold medals at the event as six of our athletes lead the season in their disciplines. But we will be happy if some of our athletes surpass our expectations.”
Russian race walkers, who traditionally dominate both men’s and women’s disciplines, are favorites in their events.
Both men’s and women’s high jumpers are also among the country’s gold medal hopes after Ivan Ukhov and Anna Chicherova struck gold at the London Olympics last year.
Results in the men’s javelin, women’s hammer throw and some of the running disciplines at the Russian national championships in July also made the country’s athletics chiefs feel optimistic.
Pole vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva has announced the world championships in Moscow will draw the curtain on her career, adding she was set to make her final competition memorable event for her fans.
“Everything is perfect here: the great arena, excellent surface... I’m looking forward to a classy performance here at the world championships,” she said.
Yelena Isinbayeva competes in the pole vault at the IAAF Grand Prix meet in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on June 27.