Whistleblower Stepanova eyes Rio Olympic spot with Coe's blessing

Amsterdam (AFP) –


Yuliya Stepanova's international comeback may have ended with a torn foot ligament and disqualification, but the Russian doping whistleblower leaves Amsterdam with Sebastian Coe's blessing and seemingly ever closer to a place at the Rio Olympics.

Stepanova herself served a two-year doping ban before she and her husband Vitaly made startling revelations about state-sponsored doping in Russian athletics.

Associated widespread corruption plunged athletics into its worst-ever crisis, just as Coe was installed as president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in place of the now-disgraced Lamine Diack.

Russian athletes were promptly suspended from international competition in November and now face a raft of criteria to meet before they can even earn a chance to compete in Rio.

But Stepanova, now exiled in the United States, was handed the chance to compete in the European Championships in Amsterdam as a "neutral" as recompense for her speaking out on the systematic doping at the heart of Russian athletics.

Stepping on to the track in Amsterdam was a major breakthrough on her road to redemption and her presence was widely hailed.

Coe met with Stepanova on Thursday and asked the 30-year-old to share her experiences and views with the IAAF values commission, which holds its first meeting later this year.

"I want young athletes to feel strong about decisions they make and the people they have around them to help them see the future," Coe said.

"I would like you to help us understand the true nature of the problems young athletes can face and how decisions they make affect them."

Stepanova praised the IAAF for the support it had offered her.

"I hope what you did for me gives permission for more athletes. If you want to do something right, people in the world will support you to do the right thing."

Svein Arne Hansen, president of European Athletics, the body organising the Euro championships, added: "It was our pleasure to invite you to compete here at our European Athletics Championships. You have the full sport of European Athletics.

"I am sorry you sustained an injury last night but hope it will get better quickly. Your bravery and determination we want to share with others across Europe. We must all learn lessons from you."

A scan confirmed that Stepanova sustained a partial rupture of the plantar fascia, a ligament in the right foot.

Injury aside, hope is also not lost for a place at the Rio Games, notably after the International Olympic Committee announced Thursday that its ethics commission was to study Stepanova's possible inclusion.

It comes after an IAAF doping review board said Stepanova was eligible to compete as a neutral -- rather than for her native Russia -- "having made a truly exceptional contribution to the protection and promotion of clean athletes, fair play and the integrity and authenticity of the sport".

Stepanova wrote to the IOC on Tuesday asking for the right to compete as a neutral in Rio and the 800m runner will have the opportunity for a hearing within the ethics commission's deliberations.

"According to the IAAF criteria, such a participation is always subject to the rules of the organiser of the relevant international competition -- in this case it is therefore subject to the Olympic Charter," the IOC said in a statement.