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Russia makes ‘little progress’ for track and field return, IAAF says

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LONDON (AP) — Russia’s lack of progress in cleaning up its doping culture and introducing a satisfactory testing regime continues to impede the country’s reinstatement to track and field, the IAAF said on Thursday.

Providing its latest update on Russia’s state-sponsored doping system, the IAAF also criticized the country’s decision to make Yelena Isinbayeva the head of the country’s scandalized anti-doping agency.

“It is difficult to see how this helps to achieve the desired change in culture in Russia track and field, or how it helps to promote an open environment for Russian whistleblowers,” Russia task force chairman Rune Andersen said in his report to the IAAF Council.

Isinbayeva repeatedly criticized the World Anti-Doping Agency, framed doping investigations as an anti-Russian plot, and called for a leading whistleblower to be banned for life.

The two-time gold medalist and world-record holder missed the Rio de Janeiro Olympics because of a ban on Russia’s track and field team that is unlikely to be lifted soon based on the IAAF’s fresh concerns.

“There is no reason why better progress has not been made,” IAAF President Sebastian Coe said, “and RUSAF (Russia’s track and field federation) should be under no illusion at all that we will stick to this. The criteria are serious and will be followed through.”

But they currently are not, according to Coe, who insists the IAAF will not soften its tough stance.

“There is testing but it is still far too limited,” Coe said. “The Russian investigative committee is still refusing to hand over athlete biological passport samples for independent testing from labs, we still have got athletes in closed cities that are difficult or impossible to get to, the ongoing employment of coaches from a tainted system, and we have got the head coach of RUSAF effectively refusing to sign their own pledge to clean athletics.”

The IAAF is allowing some Russians to compete internationally as neutrals while their country remained banned, with 12 athletes proving they have been adequately tested for drugs over a lengthy period by non-Russian agencies.

The athletes are still “subject to acceptance of their entries by individual meeting organizers,” such as the Diamond League series, the IAAF has said. The 14-meet circuit opens on May 5 in Doha, Qatar.

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MORE: Russian track and field stars cleared to compete

Paralympian Blake Leeper advances in 400m at USATF Outdoors (video)

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Paralympic medalist Blake Leeper, believed to be the first double amputee to race at a USATF Outdoor Championships, advanced out of the 400m heats in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday.

Leeper ran 45.52, third in his heat, to grab the 16th and last spot in the 400m semifinals Friday (10:34 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).

It marked a personal best by .58 of a second for Leeper, who was racing one day after his ban for testing positive for cocaine in 2015 ended.

“I wanted to advance, but if I don’t I have won already,” Leeper said before he learned he made the semis, according to USA Track and Field. “Just being here and showing everybody what you can truly do with a disability.”

Leeper ran faster than Olympians David VerburgKyle ClemonsArman Hall and Manteo Mitchell, who were all eliminated.

It’s likely that the top five or six in Saturday’s final will make the 4x400m team for the world championships in London in August.

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Alysia Montano races pregnant again at USATF Outdoor Championships (video)

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U.S. Olympic 800m runner Alysia Montaño raced five months pregnant in 100-degree heat at the USATF Outdoor Championships (Summer Champions Series) in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday.

Montaño, who raced eight months pregnant at the 2014 USATF Outdoors also in Sacramento, finished last in her 800m first-round heat in 2:21.40. She was 10 seconds faster than her time three years ago.

“People were like, oh, you’re going to run faster than you did last time because you’re less pregnant,” Montaño told media in Sacramento, standing next to 2-year-old daughter Linnea. “I was like, I’m still pregnant.”

Athletes are looking for top-three finishes to qualify for the world championships in London in August. Finals are later this weekend.

USATF OUTDOORS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

In a Wonder Woman top, Montaño gritted her teeth on the final straightaway and raised her arms crossing the finish line.

“[In 2014] women let me know that my journey and my story had inspired them in so many different ways,” Montaño said. “I think there’s something about coming out to any venue, not really expecting to win, but just going along with the journey and seeing what comes out of it. And that’s the most beautiful part for me, being a track and field athlete, the platform that I have, I feel so responsible to be a representative of people who don’t have the same platform, don’t have the same voice that I do.

“I represent so many different people. I represent women. I represent black women. I represent pregnant women. Not everybody has the same platform that I do. I think it’s my responsibility to make sure I’m a voice and advocate for them.”

Montaño said she was inspired when she learned Gal Gadot, who played the title role in the movie “Wonder Woman,” filmed half of it while five months pregnant.

“I saw Wonder Woman, and I was like, I for sure am signing up for USA Nationals,” Montaño said. “I already was thinking I was going to do it.”

Montaño said it wasn’t easier or harder racing Thursday versus three years ago, when she had a bigger baby bump.

“The weird part about five months is you’re still growing and like shifting a lot,” she said. “So every week you have to readjust.”

Linnea has seen enough photos of her mom’s famous race in 2014 to know what was going on.

“I go, mom is going to run with your sibling in her belly,” Montaño recalled. “I did that with you, too. And [Linnea] was like, ‘Yeah, it was sticking out!'”

Montaño raced outdoors for the first time since falling in the Olympic Trials 800m final on July 4. Montaño had won the previous Olympic Trials (and finished fourth in London) and the 2015 U.S. title coming back from pregnancy.

She ran without an apparel sponsor Thursday, frustrated that Asics waited until December to say they were not interested in retaining her for 2017. Montaño said that left her no time to try and find a different sponsor, even though she was already planning to have her second child.

“You need to let an athlete know in September, October,” she said. “I’ve been calling [Asics] since September to be like, hey, I didn’t make the Olympic team, I’m 30, I’m going to have another baby.”

In the men’s 800m Thursday, two-time Olympian and 2013 World silver medalist Nick Symmonds was eliminated, 32nd-fastest of 33 runners in the first round.

Symmonds, in his final season, said he has one more race left — the Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 10.

MORE: Montaño finds little joy after Russian stripped of medals

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