CBC in Russia

Russia will meet anti-doping test in time for Rio, vows new athletics head

Russia is racing to restore trust in its athletics program after doping allegations benched track athletes from international competition. With the Summer Olympics in Rio only five months away, can Russia meet conditions to gain re-entry?

Country has 5 months to convince world it has cleaned up its act if it wants track athletes in Summer Games

Russia's track and field athletes have been barred from the Olympics because of allegations of state-sponsored doping, but training continues. 3:03

Russian high jump star Daniil Tsyplakov soared over the bar at 2.30 metres at Russia's premier indoor track and field championships last Thursday, winning gold.

Daniil Tsyplakov clears 2.30 metres at Russia's indoor championships last week, winning gold. Ranked fifth in the world, he can't compete in the winter circuit internationally because of an IAAF ban on Russian track athletes over the country's role in the athletics doping scandal. (Jean Francois Bisson CBC)

Ranked fifth in the world, Tsyplakov, 23, would like to be competing against other top-ranked athletes in his sport, including Canada's Derek Drouin, the current world champion, but his ambitions are grounded, for now.

With just five months to go to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Russia's track athletes are still banned from competing internationally because of the country's role in the athletics doping scandal.

Newly elected to head up the All-Russia Athletic Federation, Dmitry Shlyakhtin says Russia will show the world it is 'ready to fight for the highest achievements.' (Jean Francois Bisson CBC )

"Olympic Games is a dream for every sportsman, of course," Tsyplakov told CBC, trackside at the Russia Indoor National Championships at Moscow's Red Army Club.

"I want to jump in Olympic Games, and I'm training for it. I hope that all will be good." 

I want to jump in Olympic Games, and I'm training for it. I hope that all will be good.- Daniil Tsyplakov , Russian high jumper

The ban when it came last November applied everyone in track — a decision most in Russian athletics deemed unfair.

Tsyplakov reacted with frustration when asked if he was ever pressured to take drugs.

"This is a provocative question," he shot back. "I never had pressure put on me. I was always giving honest samples. Every single one came back clean. I have nothing to be afraid of." 

Tatyana Lebedeva, five-time Olympic medallist, now retired, is concerned for Russian track athletes who will miss key competitions this winter leading up to the Olympics in August. (Jean Francois Bisson CBC)

Still, the doping legacy is a dirty secret everyone in Russian athletics would like to bury. It was the elephant in the room at last week's track meet.

The newly elected head of Russian athletics, Dmitry Shlyakhtin opened the track meet by saying, "These are not easy times for us now in track and field.

Russia had to hastily rearrange track meets after the International Association of Athletics Federations banned Russian track athletes from international competition. Elite athletes are still hoping to go to Rio. (Corinne Seminoff CBC)

"It's very important that we can show the whole world and to all those people who made this bad situation that we are strong, that we believe in ourselves, and we are ready to fight for the highest achievements in the world."

But first, the country and the sport must prove they are tackling doping.

'It's on their conscience'

That there was a doping problem is not widely debated, but the most damning conclusion by the World Anti-Doping Agency's investigating team, that doping in Russia was "state-sponsored," is sternly rejected. It touches a nerve.

"Such an interesting question," said Shlyakhtin when asked if Russian sports agencies are eradicating doping now.

"The persons who used it, it's on their conscience. It's their own responsibility. It's their own choice. The track and field federation never recommended or said, 'Use it.' It is ridiculous." 

The track and field federation never recommended or said, "Use it," It's ridiculous.- Dmitry Shlyakhtin , president, All-Russia Athletics Federation

Nevertheless, the All-Russian Athletic Federation (ARAF) must meet conditions set out by the International International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in order to re-qualify for international competition. 

Shalyakhtin is less precise about how exactly it is going about doing that.

"First of all, we do the restructuring of the federation itself, according to the demands of IAAF, do it step by step. We are doing our work quietly, calmly, without bustle," he said.

Athletes working to regain trust

Five-time Olympian Tatyana Lebedeva, a world record holder in long jump and triple jump, retired from her illustrious sports career in 2014.

She says Russia is working hard to regain trust.

'These are not easy times for us,' Shlyakhtin said when opening the Russia Indoor National Championships in Moscow last week. (Jean-Francois Bisson)

"We're open and transparent. Every athlete is ready to test," she said. 

There is also a new anti-doping education program in place geared at young athletes, coaches and parents, Lebedeva says.

"We want zero tolerance on drugs, and we understand [this will] not change in one day, one month, but we're sure we must do it if we want to come back in the family." 

We want zero tolerance on drugs, and we understand [this will] not change in one day, one month.- Tatyana Lebedeva , world record holder in long jump and triple jump

An IAAF task force has been meeting with Russian track officials every three to four weeks since January and will present a progress report at an executive meeting mid-March.

When CBC caught up with the IAAF task force in mid-February in Moscow, team leader Rune Anderson refused to give an update.

"I can't tell you anything of substance," he said.

Purge at the top

A purge within the highest ranks of Russian athletics has meant almost all new faces in senior jobs. Many of the directors of RUSADA, Russia's anti-doping agency and the ARAF were forced out or quit. Two have since died, both in the last month, of heart attacks. 

The IAAF will meet in mid-March to discuss Russia's progress in meeting the anti-doping conditions the federation has imposed on the country in order that it may re-qualify for international competition. (Jean-Francois Bisson CBC )

Nikita Kameav, 53, the former executive director of anti-doping, had started writing a book about his time at RUSADA, before he dropped dead on Valentine's Day. Friends say he hadn't complained before of heart problems, yet they don't suspect foul play.

Moscow's anti-doping lab is still shut down. Testing at the recent indoor championships was managed by IDTM – a Swedish company, itself investigated in the wake of the doping scandal and forced to fire at least one Russian employee. Current samples are shipped to a U.K.-accredited lab.

Tsyplakov says he can't do anything about how the world perceives Russia in the wake of the doping scandal and must stay focused while he waits to fin dout whether he can compete at the Summer Olympics in Rio. 'My aim is training. I must do my work,' he said. (Susan Ormiston CBC News)

It's a long way back for Russia, and the deadline is tight. Many countries still argue its athletes shouldn't be allowed to compete at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"I want to tell them: Don't be poking around into family matters of others. Sort out your own family and deal with your own problems," said Shlyakhtin.

'We're going to the Olympics'

Russia has a proud and patriotic tradition of competition at the top of world sport. Shut out and shamed, how are the athletes feeling?

"My aim is training. I must do my work. Other people must do their work," said Tsyplakov.

"I'm glad that I won today and think all will be good. It doesn't depend on me".

Shlyakhtin says Russia will prevail.

"We're going to the Olympics. That's my answer," he said with confidence. 

"Russian people are very strong, and many times we proved to the rest of the world that the worse the situation is, the stronger we are."