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Russian track and field athletes defiant in face of suspension

Russia's brightest track and field stars were defiant after their country's athletics federation was provisionally suspended from international competition over state-sponsored doping allegations, saying no ban could hinder their Olympic ambitions.

Pole vaulting star Yelena Isinbayeva, who had called on the IAAF not to punish honest competitors for their peers' doping practices, wrote Saturday on Instagram she was "shocked" that the International Association Athletics Federation (IAAF) had suspended the country following the publication of a damning report on mass doping in Russian athletics. 

Other athletes simply shrugged off the decision, saying they were convinced authorities would resolve the situation in time for the Russian team to compete in the Rio Olympics in August 2016.

"This decision does not affect our preparation," said 400m runner Radel Kashefrazov. "It's not like we are going to stay home and do nothing.

"Athletes aren't especially worried," he said. "We are hoping this will be resolved fast."

Russian athletes are banking on the provisional suspension being lifted ahead of the Rio Games, a possibility former WADA chief Dick Pound said was tied to Russia's ability to react promptly.

"All the problems we outlined need to solved before the Olympics," Pound, who headed the WADA independent commission, said in an interview published Saturday in Russia's Sport-Express newspaper.

"But if you start procrastinating, then apparently the Olympics will go on without you (Russia)."

The suspension also strips Russia of the right to host the World Race Walking Cup and World Junior Championships, which had been scheduled to take place in the country ahead of Rio. 

The Russia Olympic Committee (ROC) announced Saturday that it would lead efforts to revamp athletics in the country, vowing to punish all those involved in scandal -- be they athletes, trainers or state officials.

ROC president Alexander Zhukov, after meeting IOC president Thomas Bach, underlined that "in order to ensure the participation of the clean Russian athletes at the Olympic Games Rio de Janeiro 2016, the ROC will coordinate all efforts in Russia to address the issues mentioned in the Independent Commission Report with a view to make RUSADA, the anti-doping laboratory in Moscow and the National Athletics Federation (ARAF) compliant with the WADA code and all other international anti-doping regulations as soon as possible".

Bach said: "I welcome the fact that the ROC expressed its firm commitment to protect the clean athletes, and to sanction all the doped athletes and officials.

"We are confident that the initiatives being proposed by the ROC, with the responsible international organisations, WADA and the IAAF, will ensure compliance as soon as possible in order to provide participation of the clean Russian athletes at the Olympic Games."

The leadership of the Russian athletics federation is expected to meet on Sunday to discuss the aftermath of the bombshell WADA report. 

Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told R-Sport news agency that the tribulations of Russian athletics could serve as a "lesson" for the country's other sports federations.

The head of the Russian athletics federation, Vadim Zelichenok, meanwhile said the country had a "more than 50 percent chance" of turning things around. 

"We had all hoped for better," high jump world champion Maria Kuchina told AFP on Saturday, adding that she found the IAAF decision "harsh". "But none of us will give up."



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