Russia's depleted team heads for Rio
A depleted Russian team departed for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro yesterday, missing dozens of athletes who were excluded amid the country's doping scandal.
Team members left on a charter flight from Moscow's Sheremetevo airport to Brazil, a day after an emotional farewell ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.
More than 100 athletes from what was originally a 387-strong team have been barred from competing in Rio by international sports federations under sanctions which most Russian athletes consider unfair.
"We're after medals. That's it," handball player Anna Sen said as she prepared to board the flight. "We need to fight for those athletes who were disqualified."
Volleyball player Sergei Tetyukhin, a four-time Olympic medalist, will be Russia's flagbearer for the opening ceremony in Rio, according to pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva.
Isinbayeva, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, has become a de facto spokeswoman for Russian athletes excluded from the Olympics and gave a tearful address to the team in the Kremlin on Wednesday.
"Today, as never before, we need to stay united and become a family," the 40-year-old Tetyukhin said, ignoring what he called "provocations addressed at our team and our mighty country".
No track and field athletes were among the contingent heading for Rio, since the entire track team is banned from competing, except for a single US-based long jumper, following revelations of widespread doping.
The track team did, however, attend the ceremonial farewell with Putin on Wednesday, when the Russian president branded restrictions on Russia as "pure discrimination".
Hours after the plane carrying the Russian team took off, the track and field team gathered across town in a small stadium for what was billed as an Olympic consolation event.
World champions competed against regional-level athletes in front of around 150 spectators in an event hastily organised after the track team's ban was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last week.
Isinbayeva watched from the sidelines, vowing defiance and legal action.
"You can't break Russians," she said. "People have tried to break us down, but it's never worked ... What doesn't kill us makes us stronger."
"My conscience is clean," said long jumper Vasily Kopeikin, another athlete barred from Rio. "Time will show those people who suspended us."
Kopeikin added that he would not watch any Olympic events in which Russia was not taking part.