There are just 100 days until the Rio Olympics and defending women’s high jump champion Anna Chicherova is in limbo as Russia fights for a place in the athletics contest.
While the Russian government and sports authorities race to overcome a huge doping scandal, Chicherova is perfecting her technique at a training centre in Sochi.
“We are preparing for the Olympic Games regardless of what lies ahead,” Chicherova told AFP. “I am training for results.”
Rio 2016 would be Chicherova’s fourth, and possibly last, Olympics. The doping scandal that has hit her sport has caused widespread doubt.
“There are times when you don’t know where you’re going, when you lose sight of the goal,” she said. “I have experienced many things on an emotional level from this situation, from desperation to not understanding what is going on.”
The International Associaton of Athletics Federations (IAAF) suspended Russia in November after a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commission said there was “state-sponsored” doping and widespread corruption in Russian sport.
The IAAF said last month that Russia still has “considerable work” to do to be reinstated. A decision on whether Russia can return for the Rio Olympics will not be made until June.
The suspension means Russian athletes are excluded from money-spinning international events like the Diamond League. They can now only gauge themselves against domestic rivals.
Blocked Road to Rio
Sergey Klevtsov, long-time coach of world champion hurdler Sergey Shubenkov, told AFP that trainers are trying to compensate for the lack of international competition at such a key time.
“He’s a professional athlete,” Klevtsov said of Shubenkov, who as a 21-year-old reached the semi-finals at the London 2012 Olympics.
“He understands what we are doing and why we are doing it.”
Shubenkov, who ran a national record 12.98 seconds to win the 110-metre hurdles at the World Championships last August, is training up to six hours a day in Adler, south of Sochi.
The WADA report which alleged that senior sports officials had enabled the use of performance enhancing drugs and covered up positive drug tests, has left Russian athletics in turmoil.
Although they initially denied the accusations, Russian authorities subsequently pledged to tackle the colossal task of reforming the country’s scandal-ridden anti-doping system.
The road to Rio for Russia means meeting a long list of reinstatement criteria outlined by the IAAF, which includes abiding by all WADA rules and severing ties with all officials implicated in doping.
The new president of the All-Russian Athletics Federation, Dmitry Shlyakhtin, told AFP last month that reforms had begun but “maybe not as fast as we would have wanted.”
Authorities have recently stepped up the pace. The sports ministry announced last week that two international experts would assist Russia with its anti-doping reforms.
Peter Nicholson of Australia, who specialises in criminal investigations, and Ieva Lukosiute-Stanikuniene, director of Lithuania’s anti-doping agency, will start work in Russia in May.
Their nomination “is a vital step forward in ensuring that athlete and public trust returns to the Russian anti-doping system and Russian sport,” WADA president Craig Reedie said this week. Russia’s sports ministry has vowed to give them “full and free access to all anti-doping operations in Russia.”
Authorities have also pledged that the athletes hoping to compete in Rio will undergo additional doping tests carried out by the IAAF. “All we can do is wait and see how the federation handles the criteria it has to fulfil,” Chicherova said. “I have accepted the situation because I understand that for the most part nothing depends on me.”
Russia is also grappling with doping involving meldonium, that WADA banned from January 1. In March, President Vladimir Putin blamed Russian officials for failing to warn athletes about meldonium.
Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said this month that 40 Russian athletes in sports that include tennis, swimming and speed skating had tested positive for the drug since the ban came into effect.
But some have reportedly already had suspensions lifted because of doubts about whether they took the meldonium before the ban started.
And Shlyakhtin assured AFP the cases were unlikely to affect Russia’s chances of competing in Rio. WADA said this month athletes suspended for meldonium could be absolved if only minute samples had been found in their system.
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