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Top Russian track official suspended in obstruction case

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 21, 2019

In this March 1, 2018 photo, Russia’s Danil Lysenko makes an attempt in the men’s high jump final at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Birmingham, England. The president of Russia’s track and field federation Dmitry Shlyakhtin was suspended Thursday Nov. 21, 2019, on suspicion of obstructing an anti-doping investigation related to Lysenko, who allegedly presented fake medical records. (Matt Dunham / Associated Press)
In this March 1, 2018 photo, Russia’s Danil Lysenko makes an attempt in the men’s high jump final at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Birmingham, England. The president of Russia’s track and field federation Dmitry Shlyakhtin was suspended Thursday Nov. 21, 2019, on suspicion of obstructing an anti-doping investigation related to Lysenko, who allegedly presented fake medical records. (Matt Dunham / Associated Press)
Associated Press

MONACO – The president of Russia’s track and field federation and its top anti-doping official were suspended Thursday on suspicion of obstructing an investigation, in a blow to Russia’s preparations for the 2020 Olympics.

The Athletics Integrity Unit, which oversees disciplinary issues in track, charged Dmitry Shlyakhtin and six others with various offenses.

They are related to the case of a top high jumper, Danil Lysenko, who allegedly presented fake medical records after being accused of failing to make himself available for drug testing.

The federation as a whole is facing charges, as are Shlyakhtin and four of its senior officials, including the federation’s anti-doping coordinator Elena Ikonnikova. Lysenko and his coach Evgeny Zagorulko have also been charged.

Federation spokeswoman Nataliya Yukhareva told The Associated Press that Shlyakhtin and the federation have a deadline of Dec. 12 to respond to the charges. No date has been set for a hearing.

“We need quite a lot of time for the lawyers to study it,” Yukhareva said, adding that Shlyakhtin “intends to protect his good name.”

She added that Shlyakhtin would step down while president and the federation board would soon elect a temporary replacement. Shlyakhtin doubles as a regional sports minister in Russia, and it wasn’t immediately clear whether he would keep that role.

The AIU said its investigation lasted 15 months and included intensive interviews and computer analysis. It concluded that “officials had been involved in the provision of false explanations and forged documents to the AIU in order to explain whereabouts failures by the athlete.”

In September, a World Athletics taskforce said Lysenko had confessed to providing fake documents with help from officials, but he later retracted that confession.

The case comes at a time when Russia is already facing separate allegations of providing doctored lab test records to the World Anti-Doping Agency, which could implement more sanctions next month.

Russia’s track federation was already officially suspended from international competition over earlier doping cases under a 2015 ruling.

The federation had been inching closer to reinstatement this year after negotiations headed by Shlyakhtin, but World Athletics officials expressed concern that anti-doping reforms weren’t always being implemented on the ground.

The announcement comes the day before a council meeting of World Athletics, formerly known as the IAAF, which governs international track and field.

Russian athletes have been allowed to compete as neutrals at events like the world championships after passing vetting of their drug-testing history.

One of the suspended officials is Elena Orlova, who served as the de facto manager for the Russian athletes at the world championships in September and October, where they won six medals.

The others include executive director Alexander Parkin and board member Artur Karamyan.

Zagorulko is widely seen as one of the greatest high jump coaches of all time and has worked with five different Olympic gold medalists dating back to the Soviet era. Lysenko is the reigning world indoor champion.

The AIU said the Russian anti-doping agency, known as RUSADA, assisted its work. RUSADA’s chief executive said in June that its involvement in the case had sparked inquiries by Russian prosecutors about whether RUSADA was allowed to do so.

Olympic rules mean that Russian athletes will currently be allowed to compete under their own flag in Tokyo next year, though eligibility is likely to be restricted to those already vetted and approved by World Athletics.

World Athletics and the IOC didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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