NZ athlete Willis expects Russia to make Rio

Thu Mar 10, 2016 2:02am EST
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By Greg Stutchbury

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Olympic medal-winning middle distance runner Nick Willis would not be surprised to see Russian athletes competing at this year's Rio Games, despite an indefinite ban being placed on the country in the wake of a huge doping scandal.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) voted to suspend Russia from the sport in November after a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report alleged widespread corruption and a state-sponsored drugs culture.

Russia's Athletics Federation (ARAF) have committed to an overhaul of their anti-doping programs, though they must convince IAAF inspectors they have met the standards imposed by the world governing body to have the ban lifted ahead of Rio.

"If I had to bet on it, I would say that they're going to be there," Willis, a vocal critic of doping in sports told Reuters from his home in Michigan. "If that had always been the understood agreement between them beforehand... that would be very sad."

Russia's athletes are continuing to train ahead of the Aug. 5-21 Games, competing in a series of domestic meetings indoors in the hope they will earn a reprieve after investigators report back to the IAAF council later this month.

Sports administration heavyweights, including former WADA head Dick Pound, have said they doubted the country would be cleared in time.

Willis, who was promoted to the silver medal from bronze in the 1500 metes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after winner Rashid Ramzi from Bahrain tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, felt the sport was heading in the right direction.

"I think the sport is significantly cleaner than it was 10 to 20 years ago," he said.   Continued...

Matthew Centrowitz (USA), left, poses with Nick Willis (NZL) after winning the Wanamaker Mile in 3:50.63 during the 109th Millrose Games at The Armory. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports