Russia hopes for swift end to doping exile
More than a year into Russia's exclusion from international track and field, high jump world champion Maria Kuchina feels like she's stagnating.
"I need emotion, I need competition, I need rivals," Kuchina said.
That's all missing because Russian track and field exists in limbo, banned since November 2015, as a series of investigations revealed widespread doping, which alleged government officials helped to cover up.
Yesterday saw Russia's biggest meet of the year so far, though it featured only Russians, with very mixed quality in many events. Kuchina easily won her event in Moscow, but her result of 1.91m was far below her best.
However, after a string of false starts, Russia is inching closer to a return.
Today, track's world governing body, the IAAF, will hold a council meeting with the stated aim of drawing up a road map for Russia's return, though, in some ways, the process has quietly begun.
Over the winter, the IAAF has been accepting applications from top Russian athletes who want to compete in international events as neutral athletes, rather than representatives of Russia's still-suspended track federation.
As of Wednesday, 33 Russians had applied, sending off forms listing their drug-test history under newly relaxed IAAF rules, which no longer insist on Russian athletes training outside their home country. If the IAAF accepts all of them, Russia will have close to a full team at next month's European Indoor Championships in Serbia, just without a flag.
That's good news for Daria Klishina, the long jumper who was allowed to be Russia's only representative in track and field at last year's Rio Olympics because she has long trained in Florida, rather than in the Russian system.
"I don't want to be in that situation again. Never!" Klishina said yesterday, recalling how she found it tough to be on her own at the Olympics, where she finished ninth. If more Russians get permission to compete this season, "I'll feel a lot better because I didn't like competing alone with that huge responsibility."
Competing as neutrals, not Russians, is a sensitive issue.