Russian rider Olga Zabelinskaya has announced her intentions to seek Uzbek nationality to ensure that she can race at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. Zabelinskaya, who currently rides for the Coegas team, has said that it may be impossible to ride in Tokyo following the crackdown on Russian athletes in recent years.
Ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games, the IOC tried to ban Russian athletes that had previously served bans from competing in Rio. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that the ban was unenforceable and Zabelinskaya, who had received an 18-month ban for octopamine, was able to race and took silver in the time trial.
Earlier this year, Russian athletes had to compete under a neutral flag at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and Zabelinskaya says she can only see it getting worse.
“I don’t feel my age and I’m ready to fight for podium places in Tokyo. But you see what has been happening in Russian sport over the last two Olympic cycles,” the 38-year-old Zabelinskaya told Match TV earlier this month. “It all started in Rio, then the situation only deteriorated in Pyeongchang. I have a feeling that in Tokyo everything will be even worse. I’m 99 per cent confident that my participation in the 2020 Olympics will be impossible under the Russian flag.”
Russian Cycling Federation president Vyacheslav Ekimov told RT.com that Zabelinskaya’s decision had caught him by surprise and added that he did not support her decision. Zabelinskaya has been one of Russia’s most successful riders on the road after taking bronze in the road race and time trial in London 2012, in addition to her silver in Rio.
“For many years we have tried to do everything possible to ensure excellent preparation for Russia's cycling leader for the biggest international events, including the 2012 and 2016 Olympics where she won medals being a member of the Russian team,” Ekimov told RT.com. “Her decision appeared to be an unpleasant surprise for us and we don’t see it possible to approve Zabelinskaya’s intention to compete for another country.”
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