MOSCOW (REUTERS) - High jumper Danil Lysenko, suspended for anti-doping violations in a case that rattled Russian sport, has admitted guilt for his offences but said he blames the athletics federation for a plan to forge documents to try to evade punishment.
Lysenko, silver medallist at the 2017 World Athletics Championships, was provisionally suspended in 2018 after recording three whereabouts failures within a 12-month period, once missing a doping test and twice failing to provide his whereabouts to anti-doping authorities.
The aftermath plunged Russia's athletics federation, suspended since 2015 for mass doping across the sport, into more turmoil after senior federation officials became embroiled in a scheme to forge medical documents and provide false explanations to justify Lysenko's violations.
"Of course I could have said no, but I didn't," Lysenko, whose suspension ends in August next year, told Reuters.
"I listened to the bosses and decided to do as they said."
The 24-year-old said he had been negligent on reporting his whereabouts and had in no way attempted to conceal the use of banned substances. He also said he regretted going along with what he referred to as the federation's plan to "help him".
When asked to comment on Lysenko's claim it was the federation's idea to forge the documents, Dmitry Shlyakhtin, the federation's president at the time, told Reuters: "Let that remain on his conscience for the rest of his life. Until the grave!" He did comment further.
Shlyakhtin received a four-year suspension over the case.
The conspiracy unravelled when the Monaco-based Athletics Integrity Unit, which oversees integrity issues in the sport, questioned the information provided by Lysenko.
The Moscow clinic that allegedly treated Lysenko for suspected appendicitis - the original reason provided for not entering his whereabouts in an online system that allows doping control officers to locate athletes - did not exist. The timeline of a car accident to justify another violation did not stand up to scrutiny.
Lysenko did not initially tell investigators the truth because he feared for his safety if he implicated senior federation officials. He later assisted investigators in bringing charges against some officials, which led to his suspension being shortened by two years.
Five federation officials, including Shlyakhtin, were suspended over the case.
Lysenko's coach, Evgeny Zagorulko, was also provisionally suspended. His lawyers submitted a request to the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport to have his suspension revised in the light of his assistance to investigators. Zagurolko died in April, before the court could make a ruling.
In November 2019 the case prompted World Athletics, the sport's international governing body, to stop authorising Russians to compete internationally as neutral athletes.
It later relaunched that process but fined the federation US$10 million (S$13.5 million) and limited the number of Russians eligible to compete in athletics at the Tokyo Olympics to 10.
"I'm certainly aware that innocent athletes have suffered because of this situation," said Lysenko, the 2018 world indoor champion.
"I'm very sorry."
At an athletics facility in Moscow last month, Lysenko effortlessly cleared 2.15 metres - an impressive jump for someone who drives a truck for a living.
The athlete who cleared 2.32 m to win silver at the 2017 championships sits in traffic all day, running errands for a construction company in the Moscow region. Earlier in the pandemic, he worked as a food delivery courier.
Despite not having trained in months, Lysenko is still aiming to compete at the Olympics and break the world record of 2.45 m.
"I understand that there is a lot of work to do on my technique," Lysenko said.
"I'm not in the shape I used to be."
Lysenko considered quitting his job to train full time in the last year of his suspension, but his financial situation has not allowed it.
"I need to find money to live, to buy food," he said.
To compete internationally after his suspension, Lysenko would still need to be cleared by World Athletics.