Whistleblower still carries Olympic dream

Reuters News
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Posted: May 09, 2016 11:55 PM

By Gene Cherry

(Reuters) - Even through all the turmoil that forced Yuliya Stepanova to flee her native Russia with her husband, the whistleblower has not given up hope of competing at the Rio Olympics in August.

Evidence provided by Stepanova and her husband Vitaly, a former Russian anti-doping agency employee, formed part of an investigation that led to Russian athletics being suspended from international competition.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Council will decide on June 17 whether to reinstate Russian athletics, paving the way for the sports super power to compete in Rio.

The governing body's council will also act on a request by Stepanova, who served a two-year doping ban, to run in Rio under the International Olympic Committee flag and to return to international competition.

Obviously, the 800 meters runner would not be welcome to run for Russia.

"It would be a dream come true to be an Olympian, something I had always hoped to do," Stepanova, with her husband translating, told Reuters in a telephone interview on Monday.

"If the best place I can get is the last place, I would still be happy."

Twice daily the 29-year-old trains in the hope that word from the IAAF and IOC will be positive.

Stepanova asked that her location in the United States not be disclosed out of fear for her family's safety after her doping disclosures.

She reached the Olympic qualifying standard last year when Russian athletes were still eligible to compete and the reactions of her competitors was mixed.

"Some people said thank you to her," her husband said. "Some people put their eyes down and walked away, and some people didn't know who she is."

Stepanova admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs while competing for Russia, something her husband said regretted.

"She realized she was cheating and she regrets doing it, but she cannot change the past," he said.

Opinions differ on whether she should be in Rio.

Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said she should be given that opportunity.

"Given her circumstances, it would be unfair not to give her an avenue to compete," he told Reuters.

"People are not asking for her to be able to run because she stood up and came forward. She has the qualifying standard and has been tested regularly."

WADA also said it would not object to her competing again.

However, Kevan Gosper, a leading Olympic official and a member of the IAAF ethics board, said he was not optimistic about Stepanova competing under the IOC flag.

“The IOC has had a lot of experience of enabling athletes to take part in sport if there’s been a breakdown in the administration of sport or changes by virtue of political issues, war and so on," he told Reuters at a sports integrity forum in Melbourne on Monday.

"We’ve had no experience of just making way for an individual in that respect.

“I think everything should be looked at but I wouldn’t be overly optimistic."

(Additional reporting by Ian Ramson in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)