The Russian track and field athletes banned from this summer’s Olympics in Rio next month competed in a makeshift tournament of their own, titled Stars 2016, in front of a modest crowd in Moscow consisting largely of family and friends.
While many of the 150 competitors were not on the banned anti-doping list, 67 of them were after a Wada report opened the floodgates on a seemingly endless stream of damaging reports into state-sponsored doping.
Former Russian Anti-Doping Agency official Vitaly Stepanov recently said “there will be athletes who have used doping from Russia at Rio” but this was nonetheless an opportunity for those found guilty to showcase their talents on home soil.
The Znamensky Brothers Stadium, which usually stages the Moscow Championships, was the venue as excluded athletes including hurdler Sergei Shubenkov and high jumper Ivan Ukhov engaged in an act of defiance against the powers that be.
While many insisted to the contrary, spectators reported a strong sense of defiance and opposition against the decision to ban Russian athletes from the Olympics. “It should show that no matter how much pressure they put on us we are ready to fight and run further,” said sprinter Pavel Ivashko. “They didn’t break us. They disqualified us in the rudest way but we continue to compete.”
Dmitry Shlyakhtin, head of the Russian athletics federation, added: “No competition in the world can replace the Olympics, but nonetheless today we are finding a replacement for what they didn’t give us yesterday.
“Today is a challenge to those who didn’t let us in to what we earned. Today we can show what we were striving for these past four years.”
Russian athletes compete at Stars 2016
Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke to over 100 athletes, many of whom have been banned from Rio 2016, to claim that the absence of his nation will reduce the worth of any medal given out at this summer’s Games.
“It is obvious that the absence of Russian sportspeople — leaders in many sporting disciplines — will significantly affect the intensity of the competition and diminish the spectator value of the forthcoming events,” said Putin.
He also praised those athletes who have maintained clean anti-doping records for their behaviour and said that they had excelled in the face of adversity, adding that someone was trying to tarnish the Olympics’ founding principles of equality, fairness and mutual respect.
“There is an important and wonderful quality about the Russian character,” Putin added. “Difficulties only unite us and make us stronger.”
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