Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Russian athletes in Rio may not be approved

(Denver Post) Russian track and field athletes were barred from international competition last November after an investigation revealed state-supported doping on a massive scale COLORADO SPRINGS — When David Oliver won a gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the 2013 world championships in Moscow, Russian Sergey Shubenkov claimed bronze. Last year Shubenkov succeeded Oliver as world champion, and Oliver finished the season ranked No. 2 in the world. Now there is a good chance Shubenkov won't be at this summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro because of a massive scandal that resulted in a ban preventing his country's track and field athletes from competing internationally. After an investigation by an independent commission created by the World Anti-Doping Agency that documented state-sanctioned doping, the international track and field federation (IAAF) set out strict criteria that must be met before Russian athletes can regain their eligibility. Oliver, a graduate of Denver East and an Olympic bronze medalist, is skeptical the ban will hold. "Because of the stuff in this sport, I'm always like, 'I'll believe it when I see it,' " Oliver said. "I can't imagine them satisfying the criteria and being able to make it for the Olympics this summer. But they probably will find a way, because I just don't trust the hierarchy of any of these organizations, whether it be IAAF, WADA, any of them." But Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in Colorado Springs, finds it hard to envision a scenario allowing Russia to be reinstated in time. "Our position is the position we've heard from clean athletes from around the world, it's just simply not possible for Russian track and field athletes to be in a testing program that puts them on a level playing field with clean athletes," Tygart said. "The Russians are denying the proof in the report of a state-supported doping program, they're still attacking the whistle-blowers and the truth they put out there, there's no testing regime, the national anti-doping organization has been decertified, there's no laboratory to do (testing), it's a free-for-all." British anti-doping agency head Nicole Sapstead agrees with Tygart. In a meeting at the British Parliament last week, Sapstead was asked if she thought Russia could satisfy the criteria in time. "I don't think so," she said. "What we've seen is so entrenched ... I think it will take a number of years before any credibility can be attached to (Russia's) programs, and potentially the performances." Boulder's Emma Coburn finished ninth in the steeplechase at the London Olympics in a race won by Russian Yuliya Zaripova. At the time, Coburn was a University of Colorado senior making her Olympic debut. Four years later, she could be a medal contender. "In 2012, I wasn't contending for a medal. So the fact that there were Russians beating me and medaling who potentially have been suspected for cheating, at the time it didn't bother me," said Coburn, 25. "I wasn't as educated on the topic at the time. This time around it's definitely more important to me that everyone I'm competing against is on a level playing field and has a fair shot." "Most important whistle-blowers" The scandal began with allegations made in two documentaries by the German TV network ARD that exposed Russia's dirty doctors, coaches and athletes, along with corruption at the Russian anti-doping agency and bribery schemes. The ARD investigation began when 800-meter runner Yuliya Stepanova and her husband, Vitliy Stepanov, contacted ARD to expose the Russian cheating. ARD called them "probably the most important whistle-blowers in the history of sport," and they have since left Russia out of fear. An idealist, Stepanov said he initially went to work for the Russian anti-doping agency because he "wanted to fight doping," in order to "make sports cleaner, more honest, better." But shortly after he and Stepanova began dating, she told him why she was so fast: institutional doping. WADA set up the independent commission in response to the ARD investigation. In November it announced its findings, including: • The director of the Russian anti-doping lab in Moscow was an "aider and abettor" of doping, that the Russian FSB (security services formerly known as the KGB) "actively imposed an atmosphere of intimidation" in the Moscow lab and that "direct intimidation and interference by the Russian state" undermined its independence. • The Russian anti-doping agency helped athletes avoid detection by warning them before out-of-competition tests and helped athletes use false identities to evade tests. • The Russian track federation allowed "a systemic culture of doping," which created "an atmosphere in which an athlete's choice was frequently limited to accepting the prescribed and mandated doping regime or not being a member of the national team." The report recommended lifetime bans for the head of the track federation's medical commission, four coaches and five athletes. WADA suspended the Russian anti-doping agency and decertified the Moscow lab. The IAAF suspended the Russian federation, resulting in the ban against Russian athletes. Olympics will get underway Aug. 5 IAAF, working in conjunction with WADA, set the criteria the Russian federation must meet in order for the ban to be lifted: • The federation must dismiss anyone who has had any involvement in doping, resolve all pending disciplinary cases against Russian athletes "expeditiously" and investigate potential further cases, including all athletes who may have been provided with drugs by coaches and support personnel named in the independent commission's report and all athletes who have represented Russia at the elite level over the last four years. • The federation must demonstrate "a strong anti-doping culture moving forward," and if the ban against Russian athletes is lifted, no athlete will be eligible for international competition without having been tested three times in the six months prior to competing. "Even if they held everyone accountable that was involved — which has to be done — we just don't think it's possible in the short time before the Games to put in the kind of program while you still have leaders responsible for putting in that program denying the very proof that was presented and accepted by everyone in the independent commission report," Tygart said. The Rio Games are Aug. 5-21, but the crucial time for anti-doping efforts around the globe is now. "Irrefutable evidence showed (Russian cheating) was going on for years, even when they had a testing program in place, but now there is no testing program," Tygart said. "We all know that the six months immediately preceding a major competition, particularly the Olympic Games, is the time period where, if athletes are going to attempt to cheat and coaches are going to provide them with these drugs, that's when they're going to do it. "If you're not running an effective out-of-competition testing program, athletes aren't going to be clean by the time they get to the Games. And that's unfair to the (clean) athletes." John Meyer: jmeyer@denverpost.com or @johnmeyer Russian track was strong under doping regime Russia's track team finished second in the medals table at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 world championships, but after the German TV network ARD aired an expose on its state-sponsored doping program in late 2014 that triggered an investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency, Russia struggled at the 2015 world championships. A look at medals tables from the last three major events in track and field, with gold, silver, bronze and total. 2012 Olympics G S B T 1. USA 9 12 7 28 2. Russia 8 4 5 17 3. Jamaica 4 4 4 12 2013 world championships 1. USA 6 14 5 25 2. Russia 7 4 6 17 3. Kenya 5 4 3 12 2015 world championships 1. USA 6 6 6 18 2. Kenya 7 6 3 16 3. Jamaica 7 2 3 9 9. Russia 2 1 1 4