By Eddie Pells
AP National Writer
Russia’s most famous track and field star calls competing in the Olympics a matter of human rights.
A person who cast a vote that could bar two-time gold medalist Yelena Isinbayeva from this year’s games says the champion is missing the point.
On the day the pole vaulter threatened legal action to preserve her spot in Rio de Janeiro, Stephanie Hightower, America’s representative on track’s governing body, said Isinbayeva’s protests are proof she doesn’t grasp the seriousness of the problem in her own country.
“I’m very disappointed in her response,” Hightower told The Associated Press. “In my mind, she is condoning the corrupt system over there.”
Shortly after learning of the IAAF’s decision to ban the Russian track team from the Olympics, the 34-year-old world-record holder released a statement calling the decision “a violation of human rights.”
“I’m disappointed and angry,” Isinbayeva said. “I am offended, first on my personal behalf and on behalf of the team of clean athletes who are no longer in action. Nobody defended us. Nobody fought for our rights and there are huge concerns over IAAF itself and its stance on defending the rights of clean athletes.”
Hightower took umbrage to that, and pointed at the IAAF’s decision Friday as proof it is trying to protect clean athletes.
She said the most difficult part of the IAAF council’s decision was in determining how to decide who is clean and who isn’t. The IAAF’s conclusion: Russians who can prove they’ve been monitored by anti-doping agencies outside of their home country could be eligible to compete in Rio de Janeiro as independent athletes.
Isinbayeva does not appear to fall into that category.
The news came about 24 hours after Isinbayeva’s biggest rival, defending Olympic champion Jenn Suhr of the United States, said it would be a shame if the Russian couldn’t compete.
“If you don’t have your best people in the event, then it’s not really the true event,” Suhr said.
Hightower said that based on the latest from Isinbayeva, Suhr’s comments are “misguided.”
“Yes, she has a fan base. Yes, she’s been successful,” Hightower said of Isinbayeva. “But when you question our system that way, it paints a shadow over who she is and what she’s about when it comes to being a clean athlete.”
Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said the decision to ban an entire country’s delegation can’t be taken lightly, but in this case, he felt it was appropriate.
“It’s tough,” he said. “But at the end of the day, if there are truly clean athletes … you hope they use this opportunity to stand up against the people in their country who’ve caused them this harm and ensure it doesn’t happen again.”