Russians banned for tampering with dope samples

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The Independent Online

The IAAF, world athletics' governing body, has banned seven leading Russian women after charging them with manipulating drug samples, a senior official said yesterday. "They are definitely suspended and will miss the Beijing Olympics," Russian Athletics Federation (RAF) president Valentin Balakhnichyov said.

The seven are: twice world 1500m champion Tatyana Tomashova, world indoor 1500m champion Yelena Soboleva, distance runners Yuliya Fomenko and Svetlana Cherkasova, European discus champion Darya Pishchalnikova, former hammer world record holder Gulfia Khanafeyeva and former world 5,000m champion Olga Yegorova.

"The athletes have been charged [with] a fraudulent substitution of urine which is both a prohibited method and also a form of tampering with the doping control process," the sport's world governing body said.

"We were notified by the IAAF that their drug samples taken in out-of-competition tests in May 2007 and then at last year's world championships in Osaka do not match," said Balakhnichyov. "Unfortunately we don't have much choice but to suspend them."

"I totally disagree with this verdict," Soboleva said yesterday, "as I have absolutely no reason to consider myself guilty. Naturally I will contest this. I'd like to apologise to the fans that we have ended up in this position, albeit through no guilt of our own." All bar Cherkasova had already qualified for the Olympics and were leading contenders for medals.

Soboleva, 25, has been in fine form this season, posting the world's best times in the 1500m and 800m. She smashed her own indoor 1500m world record to win gold at the world indoor championships in Valencia in March, with Fomenko finishing second. Tomashova, 33, has been a force in the 1500m in recent years, winning back-to-back world titles in Paris in 2003 and Helsinki two years later. She also finished second at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Yegorova, 36, tested positive for the banned blood-boosting substance EPO prior to the 2001 world championships in Edmonton but was allowed to compete after her suspension was lifted because of an incomplete testing procedure. She went on to win the 5,000m there.

Balakhnichyov said the suspensions had dealt a major blow to the team. "I don't know how we will recover from it," he said.