Russian athletes await key ruling on Olympic track ban
ZHUKOVSKY, RUSSIA >> Long jumper Ekaterina Koneva says she'll cry. World hurdles champion Sergei Shubenkov says he'll drown his sorrows.
A day before a sports court rules on Russia's appeal against the ban on its track and field team from the Olympics, star Russian athletes at a meet near Moscow pondered how they will react if they lose their case and can't go to Rio de Janeiro.
"What if we are not admitted, what do we do?" asked Koneva, a world championship silver medalist who would be a contender for gold if allowed to go to Rio. "I hope they will tell us something good."
Shubenkov said: "I will get drunk."
The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland will rule Thursday on an appeal filed by Russia's Olympic track and field team of 68 athletes against a ban imposed by the sport's world governing body, the IAAF, following allegations of state-sponsored doping and cover-ups.
As it stands, the IAAF has approved just two Russians to compete, as "neutral athletes," after they showed they had been training and living abroad under a robust drug testing regime. One is doping whistleblower Yulia Stepanova, the other is Florida-based long jumper Darya Klishina, who has received threats online from Russian fans who think she would betray her country by competing if the rest of the team is banned.
Thursday's ruling is likely to weigh heavily on whether the International Olympic Committee could exclude the entire Russian team — across all sports, not just track — following new allegations of a vast state-sponsored doping program that covered many Olympic sports.
Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, who was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, issued a report Monday that accused Russia's sports ministry of orchestrating a vast doping program that affected 28 summer and winter Olympic sports.
The Russian appeal of the track ban was heard by a CAS panel on Tuesday in Geneva, with two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva on hand to represent the athletes. IAAF President Sebastian Coe also attended the hearing.
Two high-profile sports lawyers presented each side — California-based Howard Jacobs for the Russians, British attorney Jonathan Taylor for the IAAF.
The decision will be closely scrutinized by the IOC, which said Tuesday it would "explore the legal options" for a possible total ban on Russia but would wait until after the CAS ruling before making a final decision.
If the IAAF ban is thrown out and the Russian track athletes are let back in, that would seemingly rule out the IOC imposing a blanket ban. If the ban is upheld, however, it would keep the option open.
The uncertainty is weighing heavily on Russian athletes.
"It puts a lot of pressure on us," said Koneva, who herself once served a two-year doping ban.
But the legal wrangling may not be over yet. Should the IOC then impose a total ban across all sports, Russian athletes — though probably not the track and field team — could conceivably appeal again to CAS.
The case dates back to November, when the IAAF suspended Russia's track and field federation following a World Anti-Doping Agency commission report that alleged systematic and state-backed doping in the country. The International Association of Athletics Federations upheld the ban last month, a decision accepted by the IOC.
The Russian appeal questions the validity of the IAAF decision and seeks to ensure the participation in Rio of "any Russian athlete who is not currently subject to any period of ineligibility for the commission of an anti-doping rule violation."
The CAS case hinges on a central issue: Can all of the country's track athletes be banned collectively and is it right to punish those who have not been accused of wrongdoing?
In extending the ban, the IAAF said Russia's entire drug-testing system had been corrupted and tainted and there was no way to prove which athletes were clean. Letting Russian athletes compete in the games would undermine the credibility of the competition, according to the IAAF.
For now, Russia's track athletes remain in limbo.
"It's very sad and frustrating, all these thoughts in our heads," Koneva said. "But hope dies last."
Wilson reported from London. AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth in Moscow contributed to this report.
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