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Russian stars slam ‘completely unfair’ suspension

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Yelena Isimbayeva

Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva denounced the IAAF suspension of Russian athletes during a press conference in Moscow, on November 16, 2015 (AFP Photo/Natalia Kolesnikova)

MOSCOW, November 16 – Russian track and field stars including renowned pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva on Monday denounced as “completely unfair” the decision by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to provisionally suspend Russia.

“Why do people like me have to suffer from the mistakes of irresponsible athletes?” three-time Olympic medallist Isinbayeva told reporters.

A World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) independent commission last week published a damning report that alleged Russian athletics were plagued with state-sponsored doping and large-scale corruption, and recommended that Russian track and field athletes be barred from international competition.

The IAAF on Friday handed the Russian athletics federation a provisional suspension, sparking indignation among the country’s brightest track and field stars.

Isinbayeva, 33, for whom the upcoming Rio Olympics would be her fifth and last Games, wrote Saturday on Instagram she was “shocked” by the decision, after having implored the world athletics governing body for leniency.

– ‘What have I done?’ -Russian sporting officials have announced a three-month plan to revamp athletics in time for track and field stars to participate in the Rio de Janeiro Games in August 2016.

But former WADA head Dick Pound — who served as the head of the independent commission — said that Russia’s participation in Rio would depend on its ability to promptly clean up its act.

“Pound said it was a shame that I was a victim of the system,” Isinbayeva said. “But I am not a victim of the system. I am outside it.”

Isinbayeva’s coach, 71-year-old Yevgeny Trofimov, told the Russian press on Saturday that the four-time Olympian could ponder competing as an independent athlete under the Olympic flag, a prospect the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach dismissed as “speculation.”

“There are discussions about this in sporting circles,” Isinbayeva said of the prospect of Russian track and field athletes competing as independents in Rio. “But I don’t know whether this is even possible.”

World champion hurdler Sergei Shubenkov — the 25-year-old son of prominent Soviet heptathlete Natalya Shubenkova — deplored he could relive his mother’s exclusion from the 1984 Los Angeles Games, which the Soviet Union boycotted.

“What have I done?” asked Shubenkov, the two-time European champion who clocked a national record of 12.98 to take gold at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in August.

“What can I do now, or what could I have done, for this decision not to have been made?”

The IAAF Athletes’ Commission said on Friday it was sending “a clear message” to honest athletes who witnessed or heard of “any doping or cheating” among their peers to report it, a call Shubenkov equated to tattling.

“The situation resembles kindergarten,” he said. “If the culprit doesn’t admit to his wrongdoings, then we are going to punish everyone.”

Sporting authorities meanwhile have remained adamant that Russian track and field will compete in Rio, with Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko telling state television that the an Olympics without Russia would be “like a wedding without music.”

The Russian Olympic Committee announced Saturday it would lead the efforts to reform athletics in the country, vowing to punish athletes, coaches and state officials involved in the scandal.

“We are temporarily suspended, we therefore have chance to rebuild our reputation,” said reigning Olympic high jump champion Anna Chicherova.

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