"All lies" say defiant Russians about doping allegations

Alexander Shukov, head of Russia's national olympic committee, is in a pretty good mood as he takes the stage at the Russian headquarters of the Rio Olympics. Dressed in a training outfit, he calls one medal winner after the other onto the stage.

Then things turn deeply patriotic. The crowd stands, hands over their heart, as they sing the national anthem: "Russia our sacred land. Russia, our beloved land. Powerful will, great fame. These are yours for all of time."

A visit to the Russian house reveals a defiant mood, one almost underscored by the location on the Copacabana. The Russians, one of whose main sponsors is the energy giant Gazprom, rented the exclusive Club dos Marimbas, since 1932 the place where Rio's upper class meets to relax. From the terrace is a panoramic view of the famous beach, the bay and the Sugarloaf Mountain. No other country has such a prominent spot for their Olympic headquarters.

Amid all the doping revelations, allegations and negative publicity swirling around Russia's Olympic programme the past several weeks, Shukov wants the country's athletes to make a powerful statement where it counts - on the playing field.

Outside the club, blocking the view of tourists, large facades were set up, bearing larger-than-life images of past Russian Olympic heroes. Inside, Baltika beer and vodka are served as guest, journalists and athletes mingle. There's a full-scale walk-in prototype of a Sukhoi sport jet with massage tables and fitness equipment on board, illustrating how Russian athletes can prepare while flying to their next event.

There's also a huge public-viewing screen, and suddenly the proud mother of Natalia Kuziotina, the bronze medal winner in the judo 52-kilo category, appears. "I just woke up and suddenly I'm the mother of a famous daughter," she says in a live linkup from Russia, where it is already early the next morning.

The mother then takes up the defiant tone about the doping allegations. "It's all political. It only affected Russia," she says. The athletes train very hard and then are not allowed to take part in Rio. "I am very sad about it. Everyone was tested and the tests were negative," she added.

Suddenly, in the Russian house a visitor can sense the completely divergent viewpoints in Russia and the West, reminiscent of the Crimean conflict. Then, Moscow's denial was about allegations of violating international law. Now, the issue is doping.

The world anti-doping agency WADA reports having clear indications of systematic, state-supported, efforts to evade doping controls at the Sotchi Winter games in 2014. The Russian stance about the allegations: All lies. We are victims.

Out on the terrace of Club dos Marimbas, there is 19-year-old fencer Sofia Pozdnyakova, a bright young lady whose dream is also to take part in Tokyo in 2020.

"We should separate sports from politics," she says. "No Russian does doping. It's all a lie. We are clean sportsmen," Sofia states. Okay, maybe somebody takes a tablet not knowing that possibly there is a banned substance in it, she says.

But then she posits a view heard a lot in the Russian house. Possibly it's the United States that is behind a plot so as to assure that the Americans come out number one in the medals table.

After this allegation, Sofia has good words to say about a German - Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, who played a key role in preventing a complete ban on Russian athletes in Rio after the doping revelations. In the end, about 280 out of the original Olympic team of 389 Russian athletes have been permitted to compete in Rio.

"He's a good man. We are very grateful to him," Sofia Pozdnyakova says.

Last update: Wed, 10/08/2016 - 12:41
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