Pole vault star Isinbayeva slams doping ‘discrimination’ as Russia awaits Olympics verdict

Athletes are preparing for Rio not knowing if they will be allowed to compete or not

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 May, 2016, 11:43am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 May, 2016, 11:43am

Undeterred by uncertainty ahead of the looming decision on Russia’s participation in Rio, pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva is relentlessly training for what would be her fourth and final Olympics in circumstances she says are “very difficult.”

Next month, Isinbayeva will find out whether she and her teammates will represent their country in Rio when the world athletics governing body IAAF rules whether to lift Russia’s provisional suspension over evidence of state-sponsoring doping in Russian athletics.

“We cannot prepare properly because we don’t know what we are preparing for,” the 33-year-old, who plans to retire after Rio, told reporters in a Skype interview organised by the Russian sports ministry.

The two-time Olympic champion – who is the first woman to clear the 5-metre bar – brandished several doping control forms and deplored that Russia’s absence from international track meets had not provided her with tough competition ahead of Rio.

“Athletes from another country whose doping tests are negative have the right to compete at the Olympics, in the Diamond League,” Isinbayeva said, referring to lucrative international track and field meets.

“But I am not allowed even though I am in the same situation. This is discrimination.”

She said she would turn to an international court if she is barred from competing in Rio.

Another indignant Russian athlete, world champion hurdler Sergey Shubenkov, invoked the prospect of becoming the second member of his family to miss out on a chance at Olympic victory.

Shubenkov’s mother, prominent heptathlete Natalya Shubenkova, missed the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics after the Soviet Union and its Communist allies boycotted the Games -- payback for the West’s snub of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

She finished fourth at the 1988 Seoul Games, ending her career without an Olympic medal.

“There is a great phrase in the Olympic charter that says that taking part in the Games is the right of every athlete,” Shubenkov said. “Not countries, but athletes.”

Russia already faces an uphill battle for its reinstatement and recent allegations by the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, now threaten to derail the country’s efforts to compete in Rio.

Rodchenkov, who has fled to the United States, described an organised doping campaign including at least 15 medallists during the 2014 Sochi Games, with the close involvement of the sports ministry and the FSB security service – allegations sports minister Vitaly Mutko dismissed as “absurd.”

The Russian athletics doping scandal was brought to light by whistleblowers, including runner Yulia Stepanova and her husband Vitaly Stepanov, a former employee of Russian anti-doping agency Rusada, who prompted Wada to investigate their shocking allegations about the prevalence of doping in Russian athletics.

Stepanova, who was slapped with a two-year suspension in 2013 for doping, and her husband were branded traitors, and like Rodchenkov, now live in the United States.

Mutko’s advisor on anti-doping issues, Natalya Zhelanova, told reporters on Monday that Russia was working to establish a system that would protect whistleblowers but said that only clean athletes should engage in the practice.

“We are afraid that people who were caught and people who we know did bad things are trying to get even,” she said.

Dmitry Shlyakhtin, a little-known regional official who was elected to head the Russian athletics federation in January, said that Rodchenkov’s allegations came out of “fantasy movies or television series.”

“All these things add negativity in terms of the final decision,” Shlyakhtin said.

To compete at Rio, Russia’s athletics federation must now fulfil requirements set out by the IAAF, including severing its ties with staff with any past involvement in doping, and abide by all WADA regulations.

WADA seems to have recognised Russia’s efforts. The Moscow anti-doping laboratory, which has also been suspended over the scandal, has gotten the green light to resume testing athletes’ blood, Zhelanova said.

Although Shlyakhtin has stressed Russia is implementing the IAAF criteria, he was reluctant to gauge the country’s progress.

“It is difficult for me to assess what IAAF thinks about our work and speak on their behalf,” Shlyakhtin said, adding that the IAAF task force overseeing reforms would arrive in Moscow for its last visit on Wednesday.

Shlyakhtin said in January that Russian track and field stars had a “50 to 60 percent” chance of competing in Rio.

“I am sticking with that figure,” he said. “I’m an optimist.”