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Russian high jumper blames officials for doping suspension

High jumper Danil Lysenko, suspended for anti-doping violations in a case that rattled Russian sport, has admitted guilt for his offences but said he blames the athletics federation for a plan to forge documents to try to evade punishment.

Lysenko, silver medallist at the 2017 World Athletics Championships, was provisionally suspended in 2018 after recording three whereabouts failures within a 12-month period, once missing a doping test and twice failing to provide his whereabouts to anti-doping authorities.

The aftermath plunged Russia’s athletics federation, suspended since 2015 for mass doping across the sport, into more turmoil after senior federation officials became embroiled in a scheme to forge medical documents and provide false explanations to justify Lysenko’s violations.

“Of course I could have said no, but I didn’t,” Lysenko, whose suspension ends in August next year, told Reuters. “I listened to the bosses and decided to do as they said.”

The 24-year-old said he had been negligent on reporting his whereabouts and had in no way attempted to conceal the use of banned substances. He also said he regretted going along with what he referred to as the federation’s plan to “help him”.

When asked to comment on Lysenko’s claim it was the federation’s idea to forge the documents, Dmitry Shlyakhtin, the federation’s president at the time, told Reuters: “Let that remain on his conscience for the rest of his life. Until the grave!” He did comment further.

Shlyakhtin received a four-year suspension over the case.

The conspiracy unravelled when the Monaco-based Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), which oversees integrity issues in the sport, questioned the information provided by Lysenko.

The Moscow clinic that allegedly treated Lysenko for suspected appendicitis – the original reason provided for not entering his whereabouts in an online system that allows doping control officers to locate athletes – did not exist. The timeline of a car accident to justify another violation did not stand up to scrutiny.

Lysenko did not initially tell investigators the truth because he feared for his safety if he implicated senior federation officials. He later assisted investigators in bringing charges against some officials, which led to his suspension being shortened by two years.

Five federation officials, including Shlyakhtin, were suspended over the case.

Lysenko’s coach, Evgeny Zagorulko, was also provisionally suspended. His lawyers submitted a request to the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to have his suspension revised in light of his assistance to investigators. Zagurolko died in April, before the court could make a ruling.

In November 2019 the case prompted World Athletics, the sport’s international governing body, to stop authorising Russians to compete internationally as neutral athletes.

It later relaunched that process but fined the federation $10 million and limited the number of Russians eligible to compete in athletics at the Tokyo Olympics to 10.

“I’m certainly aware that innocent athletes have suffered because of this situation,” said Lysenko, the 2018 world indoor champion. “I’m very sorry.”

‘THE WHOLE TRUTH’

At an athletics facility in Moscow last month, Lysenko effortlessly cleared 2.15 metres – an impressive jump for someone who drives a truck for a living.

The athlete who cleared 2.32 m to win silver at the 2017 championships sits in traffic all day, running errands for a construction company in the Moscow region. Earlier in the pandemic, he worked as a food delivery courier.

Despite not having trained in months, Lysenko is still aiming to compete at the Olympics and break the world record of 2.45 m.

“I understand that there is a lot of work to do on my technique,” Lysenko said. “I’m not in the shape I used to be.”

Lysenko considered quitting his job to train full-time in the last year of his suspension but his financial situation has not allowed it.

“I need to find money to live, to buy food,” said Lysenko.

To compete internationally after his suspension, Lysenko would still need to be cleared by World Athletics.

 

Kenenisa Bekele, Peres Jepchirchir favoured as New York City Marathon returns

Kenenisa Bekele is looking forward to his New York City Marathon debut and Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir bids to build on her stellar 2021 when the famous five-borough race returns on Sunday after a year-long COVID-mandated hiatus.

The second-fastest marathoner of all time with a 2:01:41 personal best, Ethiopia’s Bekele is the only runner in the men’s field with a sub-2:06 performance to his name, but he will have to fend off Olympic silver medallist Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands to reach the top of the podium.

“I will be in (a) good position,” said Bekele, who finished third in Berlin in September. “It’s a new course and a new challenge for me, but I’ll have a good result, I’m sure.”

The 39-year-old was drawn to New York with the goal of getting more experience in the United States – this will be only his second U.S. marathon – and to build on a legacy that includes three Olympic gold medals – two in the 10,000 metres and one in the 5,000 – and five World Championship golds.

“After Berlin I recovered well. My dream will come true to participate in this race,” Bekele said.

Kenyan Jepchirchir, who triumphed in a duel with compatriot Brigid Kosgei to win the Tokyo Olympic marathon, expects a tough race from rivals including American Molly Seidel, who picked up bronze at the Games.

“To have strong people in a competition, it helps a lot to push, run good,” said Jepchirchir, who counts four-times New York champion Mary Keitany as a mentor.

Sally Kipyego, who finished third at the 2020 U.S. Olympic trials, is also among the 13 Tokyo Olympians to feature in Sunday’s race three months after the Games.

“I would love top five,” said Kipyego, the runner-up in 2016. “Even top 10 Sunday would be good just because of what I’m dealing with. I’m dealing with a tired body.”

The New York City Marathon, which did not take place last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will have a number of safeguards in place, including mandatory proof of vaccine or a negative test within 48 hours before the race.

Galen Rupp ready for Chicago marathon

Galen Rupp may have missed out on a medal at the Tokyo Olympics but the American said on Friday that despite a short turnaround he has had a great recovery and is raring to get to the start line for this weekend’s Chicago Marathon.

Rupp, who in 2017 became the first American-born male to win the Chicago Marathon in 35 years, placed eighth at the Olympics where some major names dropped out amid humid conditions but said his coach Mike Smith has him ready for Sunday.

“I’ve actually recovered great,” Rupp, 35, told reporters. “Obviously we knew it was going to be a quick turnaround coming here so soon after the Olympics, but it’s always nice when it’s something that you’ve been planning for.

“I knew I was going to come here well in advance before the Olympics and I think Mike and I sat down and before we committed, (we) really talked about what are the pros and cons of doing this.”

Rupp last competed in the Chicago Marathon in 2019 where, after recovering from Achilles surgery and in his first race of any distance in a year, he dropped out just before the 23-mile mark with calf strain.

After Tokyo, Rupp said Smith wanted him to take a short break from intense workouts so he could reset, clear his mind and spend time at home with family before resuming training.

“I took a week pretty easy right after the Olympics, didn’t do any workouts, just ran super slow. Mike literally said ‘think about your grandma running with you,'” said Rupp, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“It’s just about moving your legs and getting out there and that’s going to help flush out a lot of junk that comes from running a marathon.”

After the second week, Rupp was nearly fully recovered and so increased his volume and added moderate workouts to the mix. In the third week post-Olympics he picked up the intensity and has been hitting it hard ever since.

Rupp now hopes a return to a course where he has enjoyed success will help him to put the disappointment of his Tokyo Olympics result behind him.

“I would say the last six weeks have been better than really anything I did before the Olympics,” said Rupp. “You’re never sure how it’s going to go coming off of a marathon like that but it’s actually been a really good build-up for Chicago here.

“I’m pumped to be racing again on Sunday, especially after having a little disappointing race in the Olympics.”

Double Olympic champion Jacobs shrugs off doping suspicions

Italy’s double Olympic champion Lamont Marcell Jacobs has insisted he is not bothered by suspicions of doping raised by the media, and that hard work is to thank for his record-breaking exploits in Tokyo.

Jacobs became the first Italian to win 100 metres gold, setting a European record time of 9.80 seconds in the final, and was part of his country’s triumphant 4×100 metres relay team.

The 26-year-old’s performances led to media reports highlighting doping cases involving breakout stars in athletics, stories Giovanni Malago, the president of the Italian Olympic Committee, described as “unpleasant”.

“These controversies do not affect me,” Jacobs told Il Messaggero on Monday.

“I know that I got here by making many sacrifices. I have been through disappointments and defeats, but I always got back up and rolled my sleeves up.

“If I have reached this point, it is only thanks to hard work. They can write what they want.”

Jacobs said on Saturday he had split from his former nutritionist once he heard that Giacomo Spazzini was allegedly being investigated for a connection with performance-enhancing substances.

“This is something that honestly, I am not involved with, because from the very first moment we heard about this thing that happened, we stopped working with him,” Jacobs said.

“But we are not worried; in fact the person was involved in a situation which was not his fault. At the end of the situation he was not considered guilty, so we are relaxed about it.”

Climate change could lead to switch of event dates, suggests Coe

Rising summer temperatures worldwide could lead to a major rethink about when major sporting events are held, Sebastian Coe, President of World Athletics said on Sunday after another brutal day for athletes in the men’s marathon.

The marathons and walk events were shifted from Tokyo to the supposedly-cooler northern city of Sapporo but there was little relief, with temperatures in the high 30s Celsius, even with early-morning starts.

Heat and humidity was an issue in Tokyo, where the endurance athletes in particular – even those well-used to training in hot climes – found it extremely tough.

“They were difficult conditions and we could well be confronting the same temperatures in Paris in 2024,” Coe said.

“At the U.S. trials in Eugene (host city of next year’s world championships) it was in excess of 40 (104 Fahrenheit). This is the challenge we are all going to confront now, and it will probably need a global discourse around the calendar and how we stage events.

“I’m no climatologist but the reality is that wherever we go the new norm will be dealing with really harsh climatic conditions.”

The 1964 Tokyo Games were held in October, as were the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Seoul in 1988 and Sydney 2000 were both in September, but the norm for northern hemisphere cities has been for July or August.

Next year’s soccer World Cup in Qatar has been shifted from its normal summer slot and will be held in November/December to avoid the worst of the heat.

Coe did mention that for the sprinters the conditions were ideal for warm ups and performance.

One of them, Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs was one of the stories of the Games after his shock 100m win and his role in Italy’s 4x100m relay victory.

After coming into the year with a personal best of over 10 seconds Jacobs took gold last week in a European record of 9.80, leading to immediate speculation that his starling improvement was a result of chemical help.

Jacobs said on Saturday he had split from his former nutritionist once he heard that Giacomo Spazzini was allegedly being investigated for a connection with performance-enhancing substances.

“If you make breakthroughs people ask questions,” Coe said. I’m sure they did about my career. I came back from the European championships in 1978 with a bronze medal and a year later I had three world records.”

Coe said that any doping questions are now addressed by the independent Athletics Integrity Unit.

“I’m satisfied that we have the best unit of its kind in any sport,” he said. “But we have to be permanently vigilant.”

Coe said he was leaving “with a massive well of thanks and appreciation and a promise to the people of Japan that we owe you a massive debt of gratitude for the gracious way you’ve hosted us in the face of the hardship you have endured.

“Hosting an Olympic Games in normal circumstances is excruciatingly difficult, I know, I’ve done it,” said Coe, who ran London 2012.

“But hosting Games in these mountainously difficult conditions has been nothing short of a miracle.”

Eliud Kipchoge ready to defend marathon gold

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge said he was prepared to defend his Olympic marathon gold medal as the clock ticked down to the marquee event scheduled for Sunday.

If Kipchoge successfully defends his Olympic marathon title, he would become only the third runner to have achieved this, further cementing his place among the all-time greats.

The 36-year old holds the world record with a time of 2:01:39 set in Berlin in 2018 and became the only man to break the two-hour barrier at an unofficial race in 2019.

“I am very excited to be here in the Olympic village in Japan,” Kipchoge tweeted along with a photo of himself taken in front of the Olympic rings in the village.

“It is great that we are able to run the Olympic marathon in these unusual times. On Sunday, I will try to defend my Olympic marathon title from Rio de Janeiro. I cannot wait to witness a wonderful event.

“Niko tayari,” he said, meaning “I am ready” in Swahili.

If successful, Kipchoge would join Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila (1960 and 1964) and East Germany’s Waldemar Cierpinski (1976 and 1980) as the only runners to win two consecutive gold medals on the Olympic stage.

The marathon events will take place in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, starting with the women’s race on Saturday.

Organisers decided in 2019 to move the venue from Tokyo to escape the worst of the summer heat in the Japanese capital, although Sapporo has been experiencing a recent heat wave.

 

Italy Olympics chief blasts Jacobs doping suspicions

Doping suspicions aimed at Italy’s 100 metres Olympic champion Lamont Marcell Jacobs are embarrassing and unpleasant, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) president Giovanni Malago said on Tuesday.

Jacobs claimed a stunning gold on Sunday, setting a European record time of 9.80 seconds in the showcase final in Tokyo despite having not gone under 10 seconds until this year.

However, the 26-year-old’s unexpected victory resulted in the Washington Post writing that “the history of track and field casts suspicion on sudden and immense improvement”, a reference to previous doping cases.

“Jacobs deserves the benefit of the doubt, but his sport does not,” the article added.

The Times wrote that athletics’ dark history with doping “means the arrival of any new star will alert the more sceptical”.

But Malago blasted any suggestion of wrongdoing.

“The remarks of some of your colleagues are a source of great regret and embarrassment from every point of view,” Malago told Rai Radio 1.

“We are talking about athletes, in this case, who are subjected to systematic and daily anti-doping checks.

“When you set a national or even continental record that number doubles, so much so that he said the number of checks was impressive.

“It is truly something unpleasant, it shows how some are not able to accept defeat.”

Jacobs was one of several high-profile athletes to wear new running spikes featuring “performance-enhancing” carbon soles as he won gold.

Athletes in Tokyo have also praised a fast track that has produced a host of world, continental and national records from sprint to middle distances.

Namibian sprinters resurrect ‘paradox’ of DSD rules

The presence of Namibian teenagers Beatrice Masilingi and Christine Mboma in the Olympic women’s 200 metres final weeks after they were banned from the 400m due to excess levels of testosterone has reopened the debate about DSD athletes.

The two 18-year-olds are the latest to fall foul of the rules regarding female athletes with Differences of Sexual Development (DSD) after more than a decade of the sport’s authorities wrestling with the issue.

A DSD or intersex athlete is broadly described as one who has XY sex chromosomes, has a blood testosterone level in the male range and has the ability to use testosterone circulating within their bodies.

World Athletics (WA) tried to find a way to restrict such athletes from taking part in women’s races in a bid to protect what they described as the “level playing field”, bringing about the Hyperandrogenism Regulations in 2011, which set a testosterone limit for women athletes.

Indian sprinter Dutee Chand challenged the rules at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in 2015, and CAS suspended them, asking WA to produce evidence that increased testosterone levels gave athletes an advantage.

In the meantime, with the rules lifted, Caster Semenya and others were able to return to the track, with three DSD athletes sweeping the 800m medals at the Rio Olympics.

WA returned with data, widely criticised by some in the scientific community, to show there was an advantage in events ranging from 400m to a mile. They believed there was an advantage in longer and shorter events, but could not back it up, and reserved the right to add further events once they had more evidence.

CAS accepted this and in 2018, a new version of the rules banned DSD athletes from competing in races within that range, unless they took testosterone-reducing medication for at least six months beforehand.

‘PARADOX IN ACTION’

South African Semenya had been at the forefront of the battle since she blazed onto the scene by winning the 800m at 2009 world championships as an 18-year-old, and was immediately consumed by the debate over her gender status.

After she was banned, she initially followed that medical route but saw a marked deterioration in her performances, and instead returned to fighting for the right to race in her natural state.

She lost that battle – all three 800m medallists from Rio are banned from Tokyo – despite widespread support from the South African government, who claimed the rules were discriminatory towards African athletes, and others who argued they were a violation of her human rights.

CAS agreed the DSD rules were discriminatory but crucially ruled that the discrimination was “necessary, reasonable and proportionate to protect the integrity of female athletics”.

WA had always said it was fundamentally impossible to find a solution that would satisfy both sides, and came down in support of the tens of thousands of female athletes around the world at the expense of the limited number of DSD athletes.

“It is a sensitive issue but there are some contexts, sport being one of them, where biology has to trump identity,” WA said.

The issue appeared to have gone quiet after Semenya lost her latest court battle in Switzerland, but it re-emerged in June when Masilingi and Mboma, who had been in sparkling form on the European circuit, were withdrawn from the Tokyo 400m events after tests revealed above-regulation levels of testosterone.

They entered the 200m instead and have twice posted personal best times – Mboma’s 21.97 seconds being an under-20 world record – to reach Tuesday’s final.

“The paradox in action … where we know that testosterone confers advantages in all events, but the policy implies it exists only in some,” wrote South African sports scientist Ross Tucker in his Science of Sport blog.

“Thus an athlete is legal one day, illegal the next, depending on the event,” added Tucker, who described WA’s original study as “poorly conceived … and very (very, very) weak on the evidence.”

Sifan Hassan confirms she will attempt Historic Treble at Tokyo Olympic

Sifan Hassan has confirmed that she will attempt an historic tilt at a distance-running treble at Tokyo 2020.

The Dutch athlete will compete in each of the women’s 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m.

Such a target will involve as many as six grueling, and very different, races in just eight days.

She secured both of those titles in outstanding fashion in Doha in 2019.

Earlier this year, she briefly held the world record over the longest distance on the track before Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia beat her time just two days later.

The challenge for Hassan, however, will be great with conditions in Tokyo hot and exceptionally humid.

“For me it is crucial to follow my heart,” Hassan explained of taking on all three races.

“Doing that is far more important than gold medals. That keeps me motivated and it keeps me enjoying this beautiful sport.”

Hassan won her heat of the 5,000m on Friday.

She will run twice on Monday, first in the opening round of the 1,500m in the morning session and then the final of the 5,000m in the evening, with the latter race set to begin at 1.30pm BST.

Her focus leading up to the Olympics has been on the longer two events.

It is possible that a woman runs under 29 minutes over 10,000 metres on the track for the first times.

As distance-running paradigms continue to be shattered, powered by advances in shoe technology, Gidey’s new world record of 29:01.03 could be pushed by a strong field in Tokyo.

Cannabis rules in sport should be reviewed-World Athletics chief

The rules on the use of cannabis by athletes should be reviewed, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said on Tuesday, after rising track and field star Sha’Carri Richardson will miss the Tokyo Games following a positive test for the substance.

The sprinter, aiming to become the first American in 25 years to win the women’s 100m Olympic title after Marion Jones was stripped of the 2000 gold, tested positive for cannabis last month at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field trials after streaking to victory in the 100m.

She was hit with a one-month ban and had her trials results annulled, ruling her out of the Tokyo Games. Richardson said at the time her action came while she was dealing with the news of the death of her mother. She also took the drug in Oregon, where its use is legal.

“It should be,” Coe told a small group of reporters on Tuesday when asked if the rule should be reviewd. “It is sensible, as nothing is set in tablets of stone.”

“You adapt and occasionally reassess. The Athletics Integrity Unit is absolutely the best organisation to look at this,” said Coe, a former double Olympic 1500m champion.

“I have spoken to (AIU chairman) David Howman about that. The AIU will look at this in the light of current circumstances.”

Richardson’s suspension sparked an outpouring of sympathy, including from President Joe Biden, and calls for a review of anti-doping rules. The Games, however, will take place without one of the biggest young names in athletics.

Cannabis is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) but if athletes can prove that ingestion is unrelated to performance, then receive a shorter ban than the usual two or four years for other banned substances.

“I am sorry for her,” Coe said. “That we have lost an outstanding talent.”

“It is not unreasonable to have a review on it. She will bounce back. It is a loss to the competition.”