Banned Russian athletes compete in Moscow 'Olympics'

53 of the 67 Russian track and field athletes banned by the IAAF took part in the 'Games' in Moscow.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Anastasia Nikolaeva, Yekaterina Galitskaya and Irina Reshetkina of Russia compete in the event in Moscow.

It was dubbed the 'Moscow Olympics', but for the dozens of shunned Russian athletes, the 'Games' in their own backyard will do little to banish the feeling of injustice.

With the world's attention turning to Brazil for the 2016 Olympics, Russia's banned track and field athletes were confined to an ageing stadium, competing more for symbolism than for glory.

53 of the 67 Russian track and field athletes banned by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) over evidence of state-sponsored doping were part in the event in Moscow, called 'Stars 2016', and on the tournament's opening day on Thursday they called for perseverance and defiance of international athletics authorities.

"We needed to make a statement," discus thrower Yekaterina Strokova told reporters of the consolation meet, which garnered an audience of some 150 people, mostly athletes' friends and relatives. 

"We needed to show good results, to show that we would have looked good on the international level. They (competitors in Rio) would probably have been afraid of us."

Russia's athletics federation, initially suspended in November over a bombshell report alleging state-sponsored doping and corruption in the sport, presented the meet as consolation for athletes missing out on the Games. 

Earlier in the day, dozens of Russian competitors in other sports flew off to Brazil after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) resisted a blanket ban against the country.

This combination image shows some of the top Russian athletes who may miss the upcoming 2016 summer Olympics in Rio. Top row, from left: Sergey Shubenkov (men's 110 metres hurdles), Yelena Isinbayeva (women's pole vault), Vladimir Morozov (men's 50-metre freestyle swim), and Yuliya Efimova (women's 100m breaststroke swim). Second row, from left: Sofya Velikaya (Women's sabre), Aliya Mustafina (Artistic Gymnastics), Dmitriy Muserskiy (L) and Dmitriy Ilinykh (men's volleyball), and Evgenia Kanaeva (Rhythmic Gymnastics).

"This is a form of material compensation for the things that we couldn't do," the president of Russia's athletics federation, Dmitry Shlyakhtin, told reporters, referring to the 100,000-ruble ($1,500) prize for first place and other cash bonuses of up to 500,000 rubles. 

The federation has come under fire by a number of Russian athletes who say the ban stemmed in part from athletics authorities' inability to undertake sweeping reforms in time for them to compete in Rio. 

Hammer thrower Sergey Litvinov last week wrote a letter to IAAF president Sebastian Coe saying that relying on the Russian athletics federation "does not make me optimistic".

The federation decided to organise the three-hour competition after the Court of Arbitration for Sport last week rejected athletes' appeals against the IAAF ban. 

Shlyakhtin said that the federation was not planning on holding any meets during Rio, rejecting the Cold War-era practice of holding alternative sporting events during the Olympic boycotts of 1980 and 1984. 

Most Russian track and field stars, including world champion hurdler Sergey Shubenkov and high jumper Maria Kuchina, competed in Thursday's meet, which was topped off by a surprise appearance by sports minister Vitaly Mutko. 

"Of course this competition in no way replaces the Olympics," hurdler Vera Rudakova told reporters. 

"It is to convince ourselves that we are in fantastic shape and that we would have been ready to fight for the Motherland in Rio."

Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva did not compete, explaining that her legal battle against athletics authorities over the ban had not allowed her to adequately prepare. 

"All the athletes who will go to Rio or are already there won't be broken," she said, adding that Russians would compete in Rio "to spite everyone" and "rattle the world" with their performances. 

Head of the Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF) Dmitry Shlyakhtin and Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva attend the event in Moscow.

'Live Forever'

The IOC sparked fierce criticism from outside Russia on Sunday when it resisted a blanket ban on the country in favour of allowing individual sports federations to make the call on which Russians could go to Rio.

International sports federations are now scrambling to vet Russian athletes before the Games start on August 5.

The latest doping scandal to rock Olympic and Russian sport was triggered this month by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren whose report for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) detailed an elaborate doping system directed by the Moscow sports ministry and used in more than 30 sports over four years.

A ban against freestyle wrestler Viktor Lebedev, a former two-time world champion, and three cyclists announced Thursday takes the number of Russian athletes suspended from Rio to 112.

Some Russian competitors are already in Brazil acclimatising to the conditions but it remains unclear how many of the 387-strong squad Moscow named last week will eventually compete. 

Triple jumper Lyukman Adams told reporters he would cheer for Florida-based long jumper Darya Klishina, the only Russian track and field athlete who evaded the ban from Rio but was branded a traitor at home after she thanked the IAAF for sparing her. 

"We are in any case alive and will compete no matter what," national team coach Yury Borzakovsky, who won gold in the 800 meters at the 2004 Athens Games, told AFP.

"Believe me, Russian athletics will live forever."

TRTWorld, Reuters