(ATR) The precedent-setting case of doping whistleblower and current independent athlete Yuliya Stepanova is evolving rapidly with the Rio Games less than a month away.
The IOC Executive Board is seeking advice from its Ethics Commission responding to the July 5 request of Stepanova to compete in Rio.
Deliberations of the IOC Ethics Commission will include the possibility of a hearing for Stepanova, who has been granted a special exemption by the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Stepanova competed for the first time as an independent neutral athlete under the IAAF flag at the European Athletics Championships on Wednesday night. The 30-year-old Russian runner, who wore a black Nike uniform bearing the European Athletics symbol, struggled in her 800-meter heat and failed to advance to the semifinals.
Having not raced competitively in more than a year due to the Russian Athletics doping ban, Stepanova was clearly out of form. She ran the race in last place from the opening gun, before suffering a torn ligament in her right foot approaching the final turn. Stepanova limped across the finish line.
"While I was running there was a snap that I heard and I could not understand what happened," Stepanova said through a translator.
Although the IAAF allowed her to compete at the European Championships under the special exemption, it still remains unclear how and if she will compete in Rio. Considering the injury, her status appears in doubt.
"First of all I don't know yet whether I will be at the Olympics," Stepanova said after the race. "Secondly I have to see how my injury improves."
According to the IAAF exemption, participation at an international competition is subject to the rules of the organizer – in the case of the Olympic Games, it is subject to the Olympic Charter.
Adding to the complexity of the unique case, Stepanova does not have the required qualifying standard time, however invites can be issued if not enough competitors have the standard.
Stepanova, the primary figure exposing widespread Russian doping practices leading to the IAAF ban of its athletics team, was granted "exceptional eligibility to compete in International Competition as a neutral athlete" on July 1 by the IAAF Doping Review Board. The IAAF declared Stepanova "as someone having made a truly exceptional contribution to the protection and promotion of clean athletes, fair play and the integrity and authenticity of the sport."
"When I was sitting in the changing room, all the girls from the direct opposition I had came up to me and said thank you for what you've done," Stepanova said after her race in Amsterdam.
Stepanova – who served a two-year doping suspension from 2013-2015 as a result of abnormalities in her biological passport – is the only Russian at the European championships competing under the neutral flag exemption.
Stepanova and her husband Vitaly, a former Russian anti-doping official, collaborated to gather substantial evidence on how doping and related cover-ups have worked in Russia. The evidence was initially revealed in a documentary broadcast in Germany in December 2014 and then processed by the World Anti-Doping Agency, leading to the current ban that Russian athletics faces.
Yuliya and Vitaly have been living at an undisclosed location in the United States, having re-located after residing in Germany since leaving Russia. Yuliya made the trip to Europe just days before the race, adding to her challenges returning to competition.
It remains to be determined which and how many Russian athletes will compete at the Rio Olympics. The IAAF has ruled that only a handful of Russian athletes, who meet specific criteria including being repeatedly tested outside Russia, would be allowed to compete at the Games.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is in the process of trying to resolve the dispute between the Russian Olympic Committee, IAAF and 68 Russian athletes that are challenging the federation sanction. CAS said it is expediting the case "with the issuance of a final decision," expected on July 21, just over two weeks before the opening of the Rio Games.
Written by Brian Pinelli
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