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World star of the high jump, Mariya Lasitskene, who will participate at the age of 28 in her first Olympic Games in Tokyo, has for years led the revolt of Russian athletes who denounce the incompetence of their federation mired in doping cases.
With Anzhelika Sidorova (pole vault) and Sergey Shubenkov (110m hurdles), Mariya Lasitskene is one of the ten Russians authorized after a thorough examination of their files by World Athletics, the international federation, to participate under a neutral banner in the events of Olympics athletics.
Triple world champion (2015, 2017 and 2019), Lasitskene had missed the Olympic meeting in 2016.
The Russian Athletics Federation (Rusaf) was then suspended for having contributed to the state doping system set up in the country. Only long jumper Darya Klishina, who trains in the United States, had obtained a waiver.
Things could have ended there. A “Task Force” to help the Russians to reform had been set up. As of 2017, the number of athletes allowed to compete was increasing.
But at the end of 2019, World Athletics discovered that Rusaf executives had helped high jumper Danil Lysenko cover up anti-doping rule violations. Back to square one, end of derogations.
– “It is shameful” –
For the discreet Mariya Lasitskene, it was one shock too many.
“Why has hardly anything changed? Why do our athletes continue to systematically use banned substances, coaches linked to doping continue to work with impunity and our managers continue to falsify official documents?” open letter.
Courageous position: at the same time, the authorities denounced at all costs an anti-Russian “hysteria” and stood together to defend Rusaf against the Western “plot”.
But the performances and the irreproachable course of the jumper – she is a captain of the Russian army and has always refused to leave to train abroad – spare her criticism.
Since then, Mariya Lasitskene has been waging a merciless struggle. “It’s just shameful,” she told AFP again in 2020, accusing her federation of having “made the situation even worse” and taking the lead, with a few others, of a commission of athletes to make hear their voice and try to change practices.
Do not be fooled by the apparent fragility of this slender brunette (1.82 m, 57 kg). Since her childhood in Prokhladny, a city in the foothills of the Russian Caucasus to which she remains very attached and where she still partly trains, Mariya Lasitskene has always shown a fierce taste for victory.
In 2016, his Olympic dream was shattered a few days before the opening ceremony of the Rio Games.
“When we heard the news, we were in full competition. Twenty minutes later, Mariya jumped 2 meters: she wanted so much to prove that she was stronger than the girls who would go to the Olympics”, told AFP his trainer, Gennady Gabrilyan.
– Timidity and ambition –
His then physical education coach had spotted little Mariya’s talent when she was nine years old, immediately inviting her to join his athletics club.
“I immediately accepted (…) I liked running and jumping and Gabrilyan’s lessons were never boring”, remembered the jumper, almost twenty years later.
Since her missed Games in 2016, Mariya Lasitskene has won two consecutive world titles (2017, 2019), but above all she has displayed her Olympic ambitions.
However, the Tokyo Olympics could come too late, or too soon: she injured her thigh in May and is out of shape. In 2021, she only cleared 1.88 m, far from the best in the world or from her personal best at 2.06 m.
And the competition is there, symbolized by the emergence of Ukrainian jumpers Yulia Levchenko and Yaroslava Moguchikh. But the emulation of competitions suits the woman who, paradoxically, recognizes her shyness without blunting.
“It gets the adrenaline pumping and makes me want to give my best.”
© 2021 AFP