Russian twins banned from Comrades

Olesya Nurgalieva (File)
Olesya Nurgalieva (File)

Johannesburg - For the third year in a row, the Russian twins who dominated the Comrades Marathon for more than a decade will not feel the KwaZulu-Natal tar under their feet on June 10.

And it’s all down to the place they call home.

The names of Elena and Olesya Nurgalieva, who have respectively won eight and two Comrades titles, appear on the list of Russian athletes who may not participate in international competitions. The list was drawn up by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). The decision was made to punish the Russian athletics federation for its use of performance enhancing drugs in 2016 and it has since cost the 42-year-old twins and dozens of other Russian athletes the right to make a living off the sport.

The Nurgalievas say they have been informed by a contact at the IAAF that their names do not belong on the list, but they have nevertheless been placed on it.

Comrades director Rowyn James says that, for that reason, they may not take part in the ultra-marathon.

“We are affiliated to KwaZulu-Natal Athletics and therefore also with Athletics SA (ASA). For that reason, we have to play by the rules of the IAAF, which has made it clear that athletes on that list may not participate. I know the twins recently ran in Turkey, but that means the Turkish athletics federation broke the rules,” said James.

The twins last participated in the 2015 Comrades marathon and this week said that it was breaking their hearts to have to miss the highlight of their year.

“Sad, sad, sad,” was their reaction when asked about their emotions.

“We miss our friends and our supporters a lot. We miss Durban’s beaches and the sunshine and the noise of the Indian Ocean. We miss the excitement before the competition, the sore feet and bodies and the congratulations afterwards. We wanted to compete (and win) for at least another five years because we’re not getting any younger. We actually feel that these are our best years because we’ve reached optimal conditioning through hard work and exercise. We have never been guilty of using performance enhancers. Every single test we’ve been subjected to in our entire lives was negative. There are no words to describe what is in our hearts.

“Sport has always been about love, peace and camaraderie. It was the one place where enmity could be turned into friendship. Honour and reconciliation were achieved in this manner, and it’s sad that this has all been sacrificed,” they said from Russia.

The only way Elena and Olesya would be allowed to compete in the Comrades again is if they are recognised as neutral athletes by the IAAF. But they have not applied for this because it is an almost impossible process.

It was explained to City Press’ sister newspaper Rapport that an athlete must prove that he or she has been tested for performance enhancing drugs by an official from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in the course of the previous year. Tests that are processed by a Russian lab are invalid, so a WADA official from outside Russia has to come and test athletes - but because the tests are random, they are not accepted by the IAAF’s integrity committee.

This means athletes who live in Russia have less chance of getting on to the list of neutral athletes than those who move to another country.

The twins have discussed the option of moving to South Africa, but Olesya said family obligations were holding her back.

Elena, on the other hand, says she’s ready to pack her bags and move tomorrow, provided she gets the right offer.

“We are trying to think about it in a deeply philosophical way. We can only hope that the situation will improve soon and that we can live out our love for the Comrades and realise our dreams.”

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