DOHA (Reuters) - A few weeks before the world championships, silver medalist high jumper Mikhail Akimenko didn’t think he would compete, let alone step onto the podium.
The 23-year-old Russian was cleared to compete internationally as a neutral athlete by the IAAF on Sept. 10, just over two weeks before the start of the championships.
It had been his first application to become an authorized neutral athlete, a term used to designate Russians vetted by the sport’s world ruling body after demonstrating that they train in a doping-free environment.
“I didn’t expect to be here to be honest,” said Akimenko, whose last international competition dates back to the 2015 European Under-23 championships in Estonia.
Ahead of the worlds in Doha, Akimenko had pondered leaving a team training camp to return home, having lost hope he would be cleared.
“I was training in energy-saving mode, just to maintain my form,” he said. “I wasn’t training to prepare for an event.”
But at his first senior international competition on Friday, Akimenko cleared 2.35 meters to win silver behind home favorite Mutaz Barshim of Qatar.
Like all Russians competing in Doha, Akimenko could not wear his country’s colors nor celebrate his medal with his national flag because Russia’s athletics federation remains suspended following a doping scandal.
Bronze medalist Ilya Ivanyuk, another Russian high jumper competing as a neutral, said Akimenko’s performance had surely been inspired by his renewed ability to compete beyond Russia’s borders.
“I remember those feelings when you are cleared to compete internationally. It’s uplifting,” Ivanyuk said. “I expected he would show these kinds of results.”
(The story corrects to remove incorrect reference to Akimenko clearing 2.35 meters on his third attempt in seventh paragraph.)
Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, editing by Ed Osmond