Russian whistleblower Stepanova returns to Athletics competition
Sometimes Yulia Stepanova’s opponents approach her and thank her for trying to clean up their sport
Sometimes Yulia Stepanova’s opponents approach her and thank her for trying to clean up their sport. Others aren’t so gracious.
“I know that a lot of athletes on the top level are against me, and sometimes you can see it in their eyes,” the Russian whistleblower said after returning to competition Saturday at the Boston Indoor Grand Prix. “I have no regrets. And if I had a chance to do it all over again, I would do the same thing.”
Completing a race against an international field for the first time since her testimony helped expose Russia’s vast doping machinery, Stepanova finished last in the 800 meters before a full house at the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston.
Still, it was race winner Charlene Lipsey, from LSU and Hempstead, New York, who congratulated Stepanova after the race and thanked her for exposing the depths of performance-enhancing drug use in the Russian track and field machinery.
“It’s normal that some of the athletes, they like what I did, they come up to me and thank me,” Stepanova said. “But some of the others, they hate me.”
Asked what she thinks about those who are angry at her, Stepanova said: “I don’t just think so, I’m sure that’s what they’re doing.”
“Yes,” she said.
After receiving a suspension in 2013 because of abnormalities in her biological passport, Stepanova and her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, provided evidence to the World Anti-Doping Agency of systematic cheating in Russian sports. Her testimony played a central role in the IAAF’s decision to suspend Russia’s track and field federation from global competition and exclude all but one member of its team from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.
Stepanova was cleared to return for the European Championships in August, but she popped a tendon in her foot during the race and did not finish. She spent a month with no running, another month in rehab and another in a special boot.
After living for a while in Germany, she has settled in the United States to gain more distance from Russian sports officials who might hold a grudge.
“Here in the States I feel safe, because I know I’m physically very far away from Russia,” she said. “But when I was living in Germany, it was definitely a bit more intimidating, because I was closer.”
Stepanova was invited to Saturday’s meet as a neutral athlete - the only one in her race without a flag on her bib or a country next to her name on the entry sheet. She said she is not interested in seeking US citizenship and competing as an American.
“I enjoy being a neutral athlete because I don’t have any pressure and I don’t have to deliver medals to anyone,” she said.
Asked if she would ever run under the Russian flag again, she said, “If you asked me that question a year ago, ‘Yes.’ I would have loved to compete for Russia again.
“At this point, I’ve changed my mind - and they don’t want me back, either,” she said. “I thought the attitude in Russia would change and they would look at me as I was trying to help the sport and I was trying to help the athletes. But unfortunately this is still not the case.”
Running in the first event after the meet’s live TV coverage began, Stepanova started on the inside lane and quickly settled in at the back of the pack. She never fell too far behind the other competitors, but nor did she threaten to make a move, and finished more than 3 seconds behind Lipsey.
“Both me and my coach, we didn’t expect me to break records this indoor season,” Stepanova said. “My coach told me that right now I’m ready to run 2:05, and that’s what I ran today.”