By Jack Stubbs and Gene Cherry
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Russia’s Darya Klishina booked a place in the Olympic long jump final on Tuesday, keeping alive her country’s slim hopes of an athletics medal in Rio following the exclusion of its track and field squad over doping allegations.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) banned Russia’s track and field team in June over allegations of state-sponsored cheating but initially allowed Klishina to compete as she trains and undergoes drug testing in the United States.
She was suspended on Saturday because of what the IAAF described as new evidence before having the ban over-ruled on Monday by sport’s highest court, one day before she was due to compete.
Shouldering the expectations of her excluded Russian team mates, Klishina jumped 6.64 meters to qualify for the final in eighth place.
“I’m just happy that I’m here at the Olympic Games,” she told reporters. “I passed the qualification round and I’m going to jump tomorrow in the final, of course I’m happy.
“I would like to have a big Russian team around me as usual. Unfortunately I am here alone and this is a great responsibility.”
Klishina’s coach, American Loren Seagrave, said he was unsure how the 25-year-old would perform in the qualifying round after recent events.
“The neurophysiology of stress depletes the body. You may come down and want to explode off the board but it may be like a pop gun,” he said.
The Russian long jumper will now face competitors including Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic and Germany’s Malaika Mihambo in Wednesday’s final. They qualified in first and second place with jumps of 6.87m and 6.82m.
Klishina has a personal best of 7.05m but has failed to make it past the seven-meter mark at an outdoor event since 2011.
Seagrave, who coached Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova as a 14-year-old, said Klishina had already been subject to out-of-competition drug testing since arriving in Rio and was unfazed by the possibility of a hostile reception in the final.
Crowds have booed Russian competitors at events including swimming, boxing and beach volleyball in Rio, fuelling what some have called a Cold War atmosphere at the Games.
Klishina went largely unnoticed at the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday night and said she was supported by her competitors.
“I don’t think a positive or a negative crowd reaction is going to change the way she’s going to perform,” Seagrave said. “But if you’re not nervous at the Olympic Games, you better have your pulse checked.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond/Peter Rutherford)