Yulia Stepanova

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Russia enters 19 athletes into world track and field champs

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia plans to send 19 athletes to the world track and field championships in London next week despite its suspension from international competition for widespread doping.

The 19, including three world champions, have been given exemptions from Russia’s suspension after the IAAF reviewed their history of drug testing.

Maria Lasitskene is the overwhelming favorite to retain her high jump title, following an unbeaten season in the Diamond League. No other woman has leapt over two meters this year, but Lasitskene has done it at 11 different outdoor competitions.

Sergey Shubenkov leads the charge for Russia’s men as he tries to win a second world title in the 110m hurdles.

Russian Athletics Federation director Elena Orlova told TASS news agency on Monday that, besides the 19, it also filed paperwork for doping whistleblower and 800m runner Yulia Stepanova, but the federation isn’t in contact with her and believes she doesn’t intend to compete.

Since they’re officially “neutral athletes” under IAAF rules, the Russians won’t be allowed to wear national colors and the Russian anthem won’t be played if they win gold.

A total of 38 Russians had exemptions that could have allowed them to compete at the championships, but many didn’t make the qualifying standards. Eleven more were approved only for youth events, and 106 applications were declined.

Russia has been suspended since November 2015, when the first in a series of World Anti-Doping Agency investigations alleged drug use and cover-ups were common on its track team.

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Yulia Stepanova, doping whistleblower, appeals her Olympic ban

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Whistleblower Yulia Stepanova‘s hopes of competing in the Summer Olympics are all but over. Her fight to expose doping and corruption is not.

“It’s OK to lose a good fight,” Stepanova’s husband, Vitaly Stepanov, told The Associated Press on Monday.

They have appealed to the International Olympic Committee to reverse its decision, handed down Sunday, that denies Stepanova a chance at competing in the Rio Games, which begin Aug. 5. The decision, the Stepanovs claim, is based on incorrect information, including the IOC’s framing of Stepanova’s decision to become a whistleblower as a too-little-too-late desperation play made after the Russian team had cast her aside.

It’s a conclusion that both the World Anti-Doping Agency and track’s governing body, the IAAF, disagree with; both recommended Stepanova be allowed to compete in Rio.

But Stepanov said he received several signals that the IOC would not go along, beginning with a general lack of interest from the key decision makers. He said that during the push for Olympic eligibility, he spoke with two separate IOC officials for a total of 90 minutes.

“I think what the IOC didn’t do is spend enough time to understand how big the problem is in Russia and how much covering up is happening in Russian sports,” he said.

Stepanova was the 800-meter runner who was entrenched in the Russian doping system but later came forward with details about the cheating. That triggered investigations that led to the banning of the Russian track team from the Olympics. After receiving more information about Russian sports as a whole, the IOC opted against a ban of the entire Russian team.

Part of that decision included a ruling that any Russian with a previous doping ban would not be allowed in Rio. That includes Stepanova, though the legality of that ruling is in question: In 2011, the Court of Arbitration for Sport invalidated the IOC’s Rule 45, which called for Olympic bans for any athlete who’d served more than a six-month doping penalty. CAS said it amounted to double jeopardy.

It was one of several facets from the decision handed down Sunday that indicated the difficulty the IOC had in finding the right balance between, as president Thomas Bach called it, “individual justice and collective responsibility.” There also were political concerns; a Russian official addressed the IOC executive board and told members not to cave into geopolitical pressure.

While Russia largely welcomed the decision, it was roundly criticized by those in the anti-doping world. The move to ban Stepanova was widely viewed as the worst part of the judgment.

“The decision to refuse her entry in to the Games is incomprehensible and will undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Stepanov said his wife got a bout of the stomach flu on Sunday – making a bad day that much worse.

She was training for the Olympics, knowing that if she made it, she would not compete for a medal, the way she had in the past.

“Her goal is to participate,” Stepanov said. “In my view, she deserved to be an Olympian a lot more than when she was a doped athlete.”

But the odds are against her.

Stepanov said there is no money to fund an appeal to CAS, which would have the last say on her possible ban.

“Sunday was a day to cry a little, to get disappointed,” Stepanov said. “But today’s Monday. We feel we’re trying to fight for the right thing, so we wake up and start fighting again.”

MORE: Russian whistleblower denied bid to compete in Rio Olympics

Russian whistleblower denied bid to compete in Rio Olympics

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The IOC rejected Sunday the bid by Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova to compete as neutral athlete in the Rio Olympics.

Stepanova was cleared by track and field’s world governing body earlier this month to compete as a neutral athlete in the European championships and the Olympics. But the IOC did not accept the decision for the Olympics.

The 800-meter runner provided evidence to the World Anti-Doping Agency of widespread cheating in Russia that led the IAAF to bar the country’s track and field athletes from international competition, including the Rio Games.

Stepanova, who served a two-year doping ban before turning whistleblower, is now living and training in the United States at an undisclosed location.

The IOC said Stepanova did not meet the criteria for running under the IOC flag and, because she had committed doping violations, did not satisfy the “ethical requirements” to compete in the games. However, the IOC added that it would invite her and her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, to attend the games.

The IAAF said its doping review board accepted Stepanova’s application to compete as an independent athlete under “exceptional eligibility” rules.

Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva welcomed the decision to bar Stepanova from competing in Rio. Isinbayeva, who herself has been prevented from going as part of a blanket ban on the Russian track team, tells Russia’s R-Sport agency that “at least one wise decision on track and field has been taken” in Stepanova’s case.

Isinbayeva also called for Stepanova to be “banned for life.”

Stepanova and her husband left Russia in 2014 citing fears for their safety and have been branded traitors by many Russian fans and officials.

The leader of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart, says the decision to refuse Stepanova entry into the games is “incomprehensible” – and a move that will undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward.

MORE: Russia’s track and field stars angered by Rio Olympics ban