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Russians Jeer 'Traitor' Cleared To Compete At Rio Olympics

  • Tom Balmforth

Russian long-jumper Darya Klishina in action during the IAAF World Championships in Beijing last year.

Russian long-jumper Darya Klishina in action during the IAAF World Championships in Beijing last year.

MOSCOW -- Russian long jumper Darya Klishina has been derided by her compatriots after she agreed to compete under a neutral flag at next month's Summer Olympics, which could make her one of Russia's only track-and-field athletes not sidelined from the Brazil games by a national doping scandal..

Some social-network users denounced Klishina as a "traitor" and compared her to a Nazi collaborator after she thanked her sponsors and coaches for their support and expressed gratitude via Facebook to the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) for allowing her to compete as a neutral athlete.

The IAAF rejected bids from 67 Russian athletes who applied for individual dispensation to bypass the blanket ban imposed on Russia's athletics team for massive, "state-sponsored" doping, but found that the U.S.-based Klishina could demonstrate she was clean.

Klishina still needs approval from the International Olympic Committee, as does 800-meter runner Yulia Stepanova, the whistle-blower whose allegations about cheating in Russian track and field were initially ignored but subsequently snowballed into the biggest crisis ever to hit Russian sports.

Stepanova, who now lives in hiding in the United States, was given special permission to run at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam earlier this month but dropped out with an injury during her race.

On July 10, Klishina wrote on Facebook that she is "really happy" to be allowed to compete. The post met with messages of support as well as a barrage of accusations of treachery.

One fairly typical example of the latter criticism entreated the United States to give Klishina citizenship and invoked the names of a Red Army general who defected to Nazi Germany and a Soviet military pilot and aerospace engineer who defected to the United States: "Take her! You always loved traitors and scum like [Andrey] Vlasov and [Viktor] Belenko, so you can have one more traitor -- Klishina."

'Enemy Of The People'

The Argumenty I Fakty newspaper aggregated examples of the biting reaction from social networks in a piece titled One Against All. How Athlete Darya Klishina Became An 'Enemy Of The People.'

"Not a word about the other Russian athletes, although you're the only one who got a green light for Rio from the IAAF. Where's the solidarity???" the newspaper quoted a man named Aleksandr Agafanov as saying.

On July 11, popular Kremlin pool journalist Dmitry Smirnov compared Klishina's action to that of Soviets who collaborated with the Nazis after being tempted by promises of instant gratification: "Hot food, rest, and medical attention await you in German captivity!"

Writing on Twitter, Smirnov posted a mock billboard with Klishina's picture entreating Russians to "follow the example of your compatriot Darya Klishina" and "abandon the shameful Russian flag!"

Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for Russia's Federal Investigative Committee, wrote sarcastically about the hopeful Olympic pair, associating their names with Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Russian doping lab who fled to the United States, where he alleged a Russian state cover-up to suppress systematic doping and cheating.

"A 'worthy' team is being assembled... Stepanova, Klishina... And Grigory Rodchenkov will be appointed coach-consultant," Markin wrote via Twitter:

Further Bans?

Responding to the backlash in a July 11 interview, Klishina defended her decision to compete as a neutral, saying she had applied in the same way as all the other Russian athletes.

She said she feels considerably worse after the public reaction. "To be honest, things were much more peaceful before today's situation. I would be happy if all of us had been allowed to compete," she said. "But now I am under pressure and heightened attention, which is not always affirmative and positive. So, currently, the situation for me is much worse than it was yesterday."

Russian lawmaker Svetlana Zhurova tried to rein in the critics. "There's no reason to pounce on the sportswoman. We are ourselves putting pressure on the girl, and when she wins a medal we'll be sorry," she told LifeNews. "It's not a fact that Klishina is the only one who will be going to the Olympics."

Anti-doping authorities have issued several rounds of damning findings that suggest Russian officials and athletes went to great lengths to avoid cooperation with international doping-control teams.

The widening probes also threaten to keep weightlifters, cyclists, and other Russian athletes out of international competition.

The international Court of Arbitration for Sport is set to rule on the ban on Russians competing in Rio after an expedited decision by July 21.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is also due to issue fresh conclusions about doping in Russian athletics in the next week. These findings could possibly include the results of new tests on samples from previous Olympics, including the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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