Campaigning athletes cheer Russian coach's exit
MOSCOW -- A Russian walk-racing coach announced his retirement while facing a series of doping allegations.
More than 20 of Viktor Chegin's athletes have been banned for doping in recent years, with four Olympic gold medalists sanctioned since last year alone.
Upset at seeing their sport tarnished, walkers from outside of Russia launched an online campaign under the Twitter hashtag (hash)BanChegin, calling on anti-doping authorities and track and field's world governing body IAAF to investigate claims Chegin ran an organized doping program.
Some went further. Canadian walker Evan Dunfee turned detective, analyzing photos of a Russian meet last winter that indicate some world-class Russians trained by Chegin apparently flouted their doping bans by continuing to compete illicitly. The IAAF has taken up that case.
On Thursday, Chegin said he was retiring, a day after being suspended by the Russian athletics federation. He is under investigation by the IAAF and the Russian anti-doping agency on various doping-related accusations but has not been found guilty of any offense. Still, his opponents are cheering.
"It's definitely a good day for sport," said Australian walker Jared Tallent, a critic of Chegin. "Some athletes have been doping from other countries, but it's not widespread like in Russia."
Tallent has twice won Olympic silver medals, on both occasions finishing behind walkers who were later banned for doping.
Despite the celebrations, there is a lot of skepticism.
Dunfee points out that Chegin was officially suspended from the Russian team for last year's European championships after another doping scandal, but was later seen working with his team at the competition.
Dunfee fears a repeat of that incident at next month's world championships in Beijing.
"It's a step in the right direction. I think a lot of us are still pretty skeptical. We'll have to wait at worlds and see if he actually shows up," Dunfee said. "I'm excited at the prospect of (the Russians) finally cleaning it up."
If Chegin does show up at the world championships, it would be a remarkable turnaround not just for the now ex-coach, but for the Russian athletics federation, which has withdrawn its walkers from all international competitions for the time being. Acting federation president Vadim Zelichenok has told Russian media he suspects some team members of possible involvement in doping and that letting them compete at the world championships could bring Russia "disgrace."
Both Tallent and Dunfee believe Chegin's resignation is not the end of the Russian doping saga. Tallent in particular fears retirement may give Chegin an excuse not to cooperate with investigations into his former team. "He might get out of it altogether, now he can say he's retired," the Australian said.
Chegin led and operated a national training center in the rural Russian city of Saransk. There, he is feted as a hero and the facility was even renamed in his honor.
"Even if Chegin goes, there are so many other staff members there that it keeps going," Tallent said. "Ideally I'd like to see that training center shut down."
Apart from Chegin, two directors of the center have been forced out after receiving doping bans in the last year. The center is also being investigated by the IAAF after ex-walker Sergei Morozov, who is serving a life ban from all athletics activity, was listed as a coach on its website.
If Russia continues its self-imposed exile and does not enter teams in the walk event at next month's world championships, that would open up medal chances for many other competitors, especially in the women's 20-kilometer walk, until now a Russian stronghold.
Among the contenders for medals in the Russians' absence are the Chinese team and France's Yohann Diniz, the men's world record holder in the 50-kilometer race.
Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press
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