Olympic hopefuls have to settle for local meets

MOSCOW • With just over seven weeks to go till the Olympics take place in Brazil, hammer thrower Sergey Litvinov should be hitting peak form.

Instead, he is so short of opportunities to perform that he forced himself to compete in a meet near Moscow earlier this month despite a painful gluteal spasm.

"I wasn't even ready. I had a small injury," Litvinov said of his second-place finish with a 74.67m throw. "But I had to compete because there are few meets and you have to take advantage of them."

Pending today's decision by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) on whether to lift Russia's suspension ahead of the Rio Games, its athletes have been left in limbo and restricted to domestic track and field meets.

The IAAF provisionally suspended the country in November over a report containing evidence of state-sponsored doping and mass corruption in Russian athletics.

The suspension has left many athletes complaining that even if they are eventually allowed to compete in Rio, they will face an uphill struggle to be fully ready.

They say they are recording sub-par performances as the disqualification from international competition leaves them unable to gauge their level against the world's best or pick and chose competitions.

"If I had stayed home and treated my injury, then there is a chance I wouldn't be sufficiently mentally prepared for the main competition," Litvinov, the 30-year-old 2014 European Championships bronze medallist said.

Former world champion hurdler Sergey Shubenkov took part in a recent track and field meet held in a half-empty stadium just outside Moscow.

Despite his first-place finish in the 110m hurdles, he said: "My winning time of 13.41sec is not a time you'd like to have in June."

Both Litvinov and Shubenkov hail from athletics families. Litvinov's father - also named Sergey - was also a hammer thrower who competed in the 1980 and 1988 Olympics. Shubenkov's mother, heptathlete Natalya Shubenkova, finished fourth at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Litvinov said the emotional roller coaster Russian athletes have experienced over the past six months has drained him, and lingering doubts that Russia might compete in Rio have undermined his mental preparation.

"When a person has a goal in their subconscious, it is much easier for him to go for it and not stop," he said. "When there are doubts, you go train and your 100-per-cent concentration can be 80, 90, 70 per cent. It comes in waves."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2016, with the headline 'Olympic hopefuls have to settle for local meets'. Print Edition | Subscribe