Tokyo: The head of World Athletics said on Wednesday that, rather than lamenting that only 10 Russians will be able to compete in the Tokyo Olympics, the country should be grateful they have anyone here at all given their long history of “obfuscation”.
Ten athletes will compete under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), without their flag or national anthem in case of a victory, in keeping with all sports at the Games as the marquee track & field event gets under way on Friday.
The maximum of 10 applies to all athletics events this year. It was decided by the sport’s governing Council, following the recommendation of the Task Force overseeing Russia’s return to the sport following the suspension of the country’s athletics federation (RUSAF) after the exposure of a widespread regime of doping and cover-ups.
MORE ON TOKYO 2020
- Tokyo Olympics 2020: Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka - it’s okay to be not okay
- Tokyo Olympics 2020: For South Korea golfers, medal is only way out of military
- Tokyo Olympics 2020: Richarlison fires Brazil into Olympics football quarter-finals
- Tokyo Olympics 2020: PV Sindhu stays on course as she makes Round of 16
In the 2016 Rio Olympics, long jumper Darya Klishina was the sole Russian representative, and that was only after the Court of Arbitration for Sport lifted a ban at the last minute.
The Russian group includes high jumper Mariya Lasitskene, pole vaulter Anzhelika Sidorova - both reigning world champions - sprint hurdler Sergey Shubenkov, world champion in 2015, and Klishina.
At a news conference held during a World Athletics Council meeting at the Olympic Stadium, World Athletics president Sebastian Coe pulled no punches when asked by a Russian journalist to justify the number.
“Let me be open with you,” Coe said. “There was much debate in Council. You can understand that we have been dealing with this for six years and in the first few years, more than that, there was little progress or no progress and, frankly, obfuscation to the work of the Task Force.
“So the debate around the table was quite a tough one. There were colleagues of mine who questioned whether any neutral athletes should be there. It was decided by the Task Force that 10 was an appropriate number and the Council endorsed that.”
Coe said the latest Task Force report concluded that there was “light at the end of the tunnel”, though the Federation’s suspension will remain in place.
Record-breaker Cheptegei eyes 10,000m gold
Uganda’s reigning world champion Joshua Cheptegei is favourite to win the Olympic 10,000 metres on Friday to crown an incredible 12 months by claiming the first athletics gold medal of the Games.
The 24-year-old smashed the 10,000 and 5,000m world records last year and is entered for both events in Tokyo.
“It would be a mountain to climb, but the challenge is up to me,” said Cheptegei, who is competing in his second Olympics following his sixth-placed finish in Rio five years ago. “If I win gold in the 10,000m I would still be grateful.”
Cheptegei broke Kenenisa Bekele’s 15-year-old 10,000m record in Valencia with a time of 26:11.00, trimming more than six seconds off the Ethiopian’s mark.
The 2019 world champion has a good chance to add an Olympic title to his name, as defending champion Mo Farah, winner of the 5,000 and 10,000 metres double at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, failed to qualify for his third Games.
Another medal contender, Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor, the 2015 world silver medallist, was forced to pull out of the Olympics last week due to a foot injury.
But the road to victory will not be easy for Cheptegei and a stiff challenge could come from his compatriot Jacob Kiplimo.
The youngest Olympian in Uganda’s history when he ran the 5,000 heats in Rio as a 15-year old, Kiplimo has proved his pedigree this year with a world leading performance in Ostrava, Czech Republic, clocking a time of 26:33.93, the seventh fastest ever recorded.
Other medal contenders include Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha, 23, who finished second to Cheptegei at the 2019 world championships.