Russia withdraws walk team to avoid doping 'disgrace'

Russia said Thursday it has withdrawn its world-beating team of racewalkers from all international competitions to avoid "disgrace" in the wake of a series of doping allegations.

More than 25 Russian walkers have been punished for doping in recent years, with at least 20 of them trained by coach Viktor Chegin, who is under investigation by athletics' world governing body and the Russian anti-doping agency.

Chegin also announced his retirement Thursday, Russian media reported

Regional media in the city of Saransk, where Chegin serves as head coach of the national training center, reported that he had announced his retirement. He was not reported as giving a reason for his decision, but quoted by website Pro Gorod Saransk as saying that he hoped the investigation into his alleged involvement in doping would be "objective and without pre-judgement'' and that he wished his team greater success in the future.

Since the start of last year, four Russian Olympic racewalking champions have received doping bans.

The Russian athletics federation said in a statement that it has withdrawn its walkers from competitions "to avoid causing damage to the image of Russian athletics and Russian sport as a whole."

The team will not compete until the Russian anti-doping agency finishes its investigation into Chegin, which was announced Wednesday.

That is "99 percent" likely to mean no Russian walkers will compete at next month's world athletics championships in Beijing, the federation's acting president Vadim Zelichenok told Russia's R-Sport agency. The only chance for them to compete will be if the investigation concludes very swiftly, he added.

"At the moment, there is the suspicion that this discipline [of athletes] could bring us disgrace at the world championships," Zelichenok said.

Zelichenok welcomed the news of Chegin's retirement.

"I heard he was supposed to make this statement. It's probably the only decision he could make in this situation,'' he told R-Sport. Zelichenok added that Chegin's national training center "needs to be cleaned up'' but would not be closed. Two directors of the center, not including Chegin, have also been forced out in the past year because of doping bans.

Russia won two of the three walk events at the 2013 world athletics championships. One of those gold medalists, Elena Lashmanova, was banned for doping a year later but kept her world gold medal and the Olympic gold she won in 2012.

In January, three more Olympic-champion Russian walkers were banned, leading to the resignations of both the president of the Russian athletics federation and the head coach.

The federation said Thursday that its athletes have been instructed not to work with Chegin or they could face sanctions. It was not immediately clear what this would mean for Russia's national walking training center, which is named in Chegin's honor and where he is the head coach. The federation, which does not directly oversee the center, said it had requested he be suspended from his job there.

Earlier in the day, Russia swept the podium in the women's 10,000-meter walk at the European junior championships.

The Russian anti-doping agency said Wednesday that Chegin is suspected of having doping substances and either providing or attempting to provide them to unnamed athletes.

Both the World Anti-Doping Agency and track and field's world governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, are also investigating Russian athletics as a whole after a German TV documentary, broadcast in December, alleged doping was commonplace and organized by senior officials.