Doping Scandal Jeopardizes Olympic Dreams Of Russian Athletes

Nov 28, 2015
Originally published on November 30, 2015 7:30 pm

The organization that combats drug use in world sports has officially declared that Russia's anti-doping agency doesn't comply with international rules. It's another blow to Russian track and field stars, who already face a provisional ban — which Russia says it won't contest — for alleged doping violations that could keep them from competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

The doping scandal threatens to keep Russia from Olympic triumphs like the kind they had at the women's 800-meter final at the 2012 Games in London. Russia's Mariya Savinova and her teammate Ekaterina Poistogova held back for the first half of the race, then suddenly shot ahead. Savinova put on a burst of speed that put her well ahead of a very fast pack, and won the gold with plenty of power to spare.

The Olympic announcer was amazed: "What a strange way to run the race," he said. "It looks as if she's got miles of running in her left."

Poistogova took the bronze medal, and the two women posed proudly, wrapped in the white, blue and red Russian flag.

A special report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency now says that neither of those athletes should have been allowed to compete, because they had drug-test profiles that indicated they were doping. The report recommended that they and three other Russian track stars be banned from the sport for life. Three of the athletes have denied the allegations.

Russia's sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, says Russia will reform its program, but he insists that Russia shouldn't be singled out for what he calls "an evil that all countries are struggling with."

Statistics issued by the World Anti-Doping Agency last June indicate that Russia does, in fact, have a bigger problem than most. The figures, from 2013, show that Russia was the world leader in doping violations, with 225 that year — 42 of them in track and field. Turkey was next, with 188. The United States was in 11th place, with 43 doping violations.

The independent commission that issued the latest report put the blame squarely on the Russian sports minister and other top officials.

The commission chairman, Richard Pound, says they must have known what was going on.

"All of this could not have happened and continued to happen without the knowledge of, and either actual or implied consent, of the state authorities," he says.

Those same authorities are the ones now in charge of reforming the anti-doping system.

Russian officials and prominent athletes have appeared on state-run media, complaining that all Russian athletes are being subjected to collective punishment for the misdeeds of a few.

Pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva condemned the International Association of Athletic Federations for its decision Nov. 14 to ban Russian track and field athletes from international competitions. "What the IAAF decided was something I consider totally unjust and not fair to honest, clean athletes," she said.

Isinbayeva and many of her teammates still hope to compete in Rio next summer, but athletes from other countries, such as former U.S. Olympic hurdler Edwin Moses, have called for the Russian team to be banned explicitly from the Olympics.

He says the doping allegations mean that Russian cheating deprived clean athletes from other countries of their chance to win a medal.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The organization that combats drug abuse in world sports recently declared that Russia's anti-doping agency doesn't comply with international rules. That was another blow to Russian track and field stars. A ban could keep them from competing at next summer's Olympics in Rio. Russian sports officials say that they're being unfairly singled out. NPR's Corey Flintoff has this report.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: The doping scandal threatens to undo some of Russia's Olympic triumphs like this one, the 800-meter final at the 2012 games in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Here come the Russians, though, led by the long-striding Savinova and then Poistogova - Savinova again in black, rapidly...

FLINTOFF: Russia's Mariya Savinova and her teammate Ekaterina Poistogova held back for the first half of the race then suddenly burst ahead.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Flying down the home straight, and she's going to win by a huge margin.

FLINTOFF: Savinova showed amazing energy as she powered across the finish line.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: What a strange way to run the race - looks as though she's got a mile of running in her left.

FLINTOFF: Poistogova took the bronze medal, and the two women posed proudly, wrapped in the white, blue and red Russian flag. A special report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency now says that neither of those athletes should have been allowed to compete because they had drug test profiles that indicated they were doping. The report recommended that they and three other Russian track stars be banned from the sport for life. Russia's sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, says Russia will reform its program.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VITALY MUTKO: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: But he insists that Russia shouldn't be singled out for an evil that all countries are struggling with. Statistics issued by the World Anti-Doping Agency last June indicate that Russia does, in fact, have a bigger problem than most. The figures from 2013 show that Russia was the world leader in doping violations with 225 that year, 42 of them in track and field. Turkey was next with 188. The United States was in 11th place with 43 doping violations.

The independent commission that issued the latest report put the blame squarely on the Russian sports minister and other top officials. This is the commission chief, Richard Pound.

RICHARD POUND: All of this could not have happened and continue to happen without the knowledge of and either actual or implied consent of the state authorities.

FLINTOFF: As of now, at least, those same authorities are in charge of reforming the anti-doping system. Russian officials and prominent athletes have appeared on state-run media, saying that all Russian athletes are being subjected to collective punishment for the misdeeds of a few. Pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva condemned the International Association of Athletics Federations for its decision to ban Russian athletes from international competitions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YELENA ISINBAYEVA: (Through interpreter) What the IAAF decided was something I considered totally unjust and not fair to honest, clean athletes.

FLINTOFF: Isinbayeva and many of her teammates still hope to compete in Rio next summer, but athletes from other countries, such as former U.S. Olympic hurdler Edwin Moses, have called for the Russian team to be banned. He says the doping allegations mean that Russian cheating deprived clean athletes from other countries of their chance to win a medal. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.