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Russia loses appeal, Olympic track team status hangs in the balance

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Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

(Read caption) Russia's Maria Kuchina (l.) and Natalya Aksyonova prepare to compete in Russian Athletics Cup, at Zhukovsky, outside Moscow on July 21, 2016. Russia lost its appeal Thursday against the Olympic ban on its track and field athletes, a decision which could add pressure on the IOC to exclude the country entirely from the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

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Could Russia’s track-and-field team be the first to be banned from the Olympics? In a last ditch effort, a request for arbitration was filed by the Russian Olympic Committee on behalf of 68 athletes on Monday. On Thursday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport unanimously denied that appeal.

The Russian track team was prohibited from the Olympics in November when the Olympic National Committee was informed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) of a Russian conspiracy between coaches, athletes, and former leaders of the International Association of Athletic Federations to cover up positive drug test results.

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The Olympic National Committee will make its final decision on Sunday, but said “The eligibility of each Russian athlete will have to be decided by his or her International Federation (IF) based on an individual analysis of his or her international antidoping record” in a statement issued Tuesday. Two Russian athletes who were tested for doping elsewhere have been approved to compete: long jumper Darya Klishina and runner Yuliya Stepanova.

The Russian team was given a second chance to change their methods, after the WADA report was released, David Iaconangelo reported for The Christian Science Monitor.

Upon the report’s release, the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) blacklisted the national team and warned that unless Russia undertook profound reforms of its anti-doping checks, it would be banned from the Rio games. In mid-June, the WADA took another look and again found more of the same, leading the IAAF to issue a unanimous decision banning Russian track and field athletes from competing in international competitions, saying the testing system was ‘tainted by doping from the top level and down.’”

Emotions about the decision are mixed. "While we are thankful that our rules and our power to uphold our rules and the anti-doping code have been supported, this is not a day for triumphant statements,” said IAAF President Lord Sebastian Coe, according to RT News.

“We can only express our deep regrets,” Kremlin presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, said, responding to the appeal denial, according to RT News. Similarly, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko expressed remorse, but no surprise, “When the IOC vice-president says that Russian athletes have nothing to do at the Olympics – it’s certainly a signal.”

Despite the denial of their appeal, the Russian team continues to plan and prepare for the Olympics under the assumption that the 68 members of the track-and-field team will compete with the rest of the 319-strong team, Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said on Wednesday at an ROC meeting, according to the Associated Press.