World-Beating Walkers Return From Doping Ban

Some of Olympic and world champion race-walkers from Russia have returned to action after they served doping bans in cases that may prove a sticking point during talks over lifting ban imposed on the country from global track and field.

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There have been more than 30 doping cases in recent years among elite Russian race-walkers, including some of the biggest names on the world-beating national team. Sergei Kirdyapkin, the reigning Olympic champion over 50 kilometers, and Olga Kaniskina, the 2008 Olympic women's champion made a return to competition on Saturday in Kochi at the Russian winter championships after serving doping bans. Kaniskina won her 20k race in 1 hour 25 minutes 54 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year.

Russian newspaper Sport Express was told by Kirdyapkin that he and his teammates were emphasizing on racing at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro despite the ban imposed on Russia in November. Russia was banned after a World Anti-Doping Agency commission reported systematic, state-sponsored drug use. Kirdyapkin added he believes everything will be fine otherwise we would not have bothered to return. It is however still not clear if the walkers would be allowed to compete even if the suspension of Russia is lifted.

The world governing body of athletics has demanded that the Russian athletics federation should cut ties with the national walking training center. However, there has been no clarification on whether that would possibly mean a blanket ban on all athletes based there. It is also not clear how they would comply with extra testing requirements.

Russia would one of most serious medal contenders if it is readmitted for the Olympics.

Kirdyapkin and reigning Olympic women's 20k champion Elena Lashmanova, two stars of the team, are also under investigation. They are believed to be guilty of continuing to race while they should have been suspended for doping offenses.

Kirdyapkin is likely to be stripped of his 50k gold medal, which would pass to Australian Jared Tallent if the CAS rules against him.

In another development, the Court of Arbitration for Sport has announced it would handle cases of eight Russian athletes who have been accused of violating anti-doping regulations. The CAS said on Friday it will hear the cases in Switzerland instead of the suspended All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF). The Court of Arbitration for Sport will act as the sole instance decision-making body in the cases of race walkers Vera Sokolova, Elmira Alembekova, Ivan Noskov, Mikhail Ryzhov and Denis Strelkov, who all tested positive for Erythropoietin (EPO), the banned blood booster in Saransk last June. The case of middle-distance runner Ekaterina Sharmina would also be dealt by the CAS. Sharmina has been charged with use or attempted use of a prohibited substance or method following analysis of her biological passport. Middle-distance runner Kristina Ugarova and heptathlete Tatyana Chernova have also had their cases for irregular findings in their biological passports referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. This announcement was made after operations of the All-Russia Athletic Federation were suspended by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) following ban on Russia from international athletics.

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