RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva was on Thursday (Aug 18) elected onto the International Olympic Committee's athletes commission despite being excluded with the Russian team from taking part in the Rio Games.
Isinbayeva, 34, was unable to defend her title after the Russian squad was hit with a blanket ban by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) over a state-sponsored doping scandal which rocked track and field.
In her manifesto for the election, Isinbayeva, one of the poster girls of the sport, claimed she wanted to be a "bridge" between the IOC and the athletes.
But she is also angry.
"Of course I am upset that I am not here as a competitor, but I need to be here," Tass news agency quoted her as telling journalists when she arrived in Rio for the election.
"I will never agree with the fact that they banned me, I will never forgive that.
"What can I say to whoever will be the champion? They will be second by default."
Russian sports authorities insisted that Isinbayeva's election was a moral victory for the country.
"Despite the harm to Russian sport caused by politics and western leaders, it's the athletes who are the main players and not officials," sports minister Vladimir Mutko told Tass.
Russian Olympic Committee chief, Alexander Zhukova told Ria Novosti: "The fact that she has been elected but isn't taking part in the Games is very symbolic.
"It is a response to all sporting injustices."
Isinbayeva was one of four new members on the commission elected by fellow athletes on Thursday to stand for a total of eight years.
The others were German fencer Britta Heidemann, South Korean table tennis player Ryu Seug-min and swimmer Daniel Gyurta from Hungary.
Isinbayeva, a three-time world champion who was the first woman to clear the five-metre bar, has not been implicated in the doping scandals that have engulfed many of her teammates during her glittering career.
Only one Russian athlete eventually took part in the Rio track and field tournament. US-based Darya Klishina failed to make the final of the long jump.
When the entire Russian team was banned from Rio, Isinbayeva was scathing in her criticism, describing it as a "funeral for athletics" and a "blatant political order".
IOC president Thomas Bach said he was looking forward to working with Isinbayeva and the three other new members.
"The athletes are at the heart of the Olympic Games. Their voice is very important in the IOC," said Bach.
"My congratulations go to the newly elected members of the IOC Athletes Commission. We are looking forward to working closely with them to further advance the Olympic Movement."
Heidemann was elected onto the commission with 1,603 votes, followed by Ryu with 1,544, Gyurta with 1,469 votes and Isinbayeva with 1,365.
A total of 5,185 athletes at the Olympic Village voted, said the IOC.