Szabo bitter in defeat to the 'robot' Yegorova

World Athletics Championship: Olympic champion critical of Russian's defiant 5,000m victory as positive drugs test taints gold medal run
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The Independent Online

Olga Yegorova produced an awesome performance here in the Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday. Not on the track ­ although the way she sprinted clear of the field over the final 200 metres to claim the world 5,000 metres title was a model of efficiency ­ but off it.

To those who thought she would not have the nerve to win a World Championships gold medal given the controversy stirred by her positive test for the banned blood-booster EPO in Paris last month, she provided a shameless and defiant answer.

Yes, she was prepared to win. And no, she was not about to admit that her positive test, even though it had been invalidated on a technicality, meant that she was morally wrong to be competing.

"You cannot accuse someone of what they are not," Yegorova said through an interpreter after claiming the first prize of $60,000 (£42,000) with a time of 15min 03.39sec. "I do not consider myself guilty."

The 29-year-old Russian, who finished to a mixture of boos and tepid applause before disappearing straight off the track, was in a very small minority in that respect. Although many athletes have won medals with the taint of suspicion, none has claimed a global title in circumstances that have pointed so clearly to the fact that they have cheated.

"For me she is not the world champion," said the Olympic gold medallist, Gabriela Szabo, who finished a tearful eighth after reconsidering her initial vow to boycott the race. "I have no chance of competing against robots, but I wanted to run to show I was not afraid of the Russians."

Szabo's feelings were echoed by Britain's Jo Pavey, who finished 11th. "It's a very bad situation that Yegorova was out there today, winning a championship," said the 27-year-old Devon athlete. "Someone who is known to have cheated, someone who is proven to be a cheater. It's the worst possible result."

Pavey finished 12th in last year's Olympic 5,000m final, with Yegorova four places above her and 10 seconds adrift of Szabo. This time the Russian finished 16 seconds clear of the Olympic champion, whom she had beaten twice this season.

Invited to explain the rapid advances she had made this season, in common with a number of other Russian middle-distance runners, she replied that it had come as a benefit of altitude training, increased mileage and not running the 1,500m in addition to the 5,000.

Yegorova was briefly overcome by emotion as she crossed the line, covering her eyes with both hands like someone playing hide and seek. There was no hiding place for her yesterday, but she faced up to the subsequent barrage of media questioning with inscrutable resolution.

When asked why she had not taken the Russian flag on a lap of honour she replied: "I'm sorry. I forgot." The answer produced a shock of laughter from the press.

When asked whether she feared the reaction there would be at her medal ceremony, she replied: "I don"t know how the fans will react. But what do you think ­ should I have come in second or third to please the crowd?" On Szabo's reactions to her presence in the event, she said: "Szabo is a great athlete. She just had no luck today. I have nothing against her ­ I wish her all the best. I hold no grudges."

Yegorova betrayed some of her emotion, however, when describing her experiences since the announcement that her urine test at the Paris Golden League meeting on 6 July, where she set the fastest time run this year over 3,000m, had shown up positive for EPO.

"I would not wish on anybody ­ and I include my foes and enemies in that number ­ to live through what I have had to live through the last few days," she said. "There were moments when I thought I'd forget about it all, drop it all and go home."

She had arrived here in the expectation of pleading her case with the International Association of Athletics Federations, but the disclosure that the French testing authorities had neglected to take the blood sample required to corroborate their urine test findings meant Yegorova could not be prevented from running.

A subsequent test administered here before competition, which was able to pick up the presence of EPO taken in a three-day period beforehand, showed Yegorova to be clear of EPO, although one competitor yet to be named tested positive.

There was no repeat during the final of the protests which had marked Yegorova's appearance in Thursday's heats, when Britain's Paula Radcliffe, beaten twice by the Russian this season, displayed a sign reading "EPO cheats out" before being forced to surrender it. But there were chants from sections of the crowd about EPO as the Russian bided her time in a race where Dong Yanmei, one of six Chinese runners prevented from competing at last year's Olympics by her country's officials after blood tests had hinted at EPO abuse, shared much of the lead.

Yegorova's final response to the question of why she and several team-mates had risen dramatically to the top of this year's world rankings, was a chilling one. "Russia is a vast country and we have plenty of talent," she said. "I think next year you will see more Russian athletes that run as fast as us."

Yegerova was greeted by booing yesterday as she received her medal before the final session of the championships, a reception in sharp contrast to that accorded the silver medallist, Marta Dominguez of Spain. The Ethiopian bronze medallist, Apelech Worku, did not attend. Yegorova remained impassive throughout what was less a ceremony than an ordeal.

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