Russian whistleblower Stepanova to race in Boston

By Gene Cherry
Athletics - European championships - Women's 800m qualifiaction - Amsterdam - 6/7/16 Yulia Stepanova of Russia competes. REUTERS/Michael Kooren/File Photo

By Gene Cherry (Reuters) - Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova will face an international field indoors for the first time in two years when she runs in Boston on Saturday, the 800 metres specialist told Reuters on Wednesday. "I hope not to be last with a big space between me and the previous runner," Stepanova, who will compete as a neutral athlete, said in a telephone interview translated by her husband Vitaly Stepanov. The couple helped expose massive doping problems in Russia that led to the country's track and field team being banned from international competition. They have since been living in an undisclosed location in the United States after receiving death threats. The former Russian national team member will be line up against Ethiopian Habitam Alemu and Britain's Lynsey Sharp, both Olympians, in Saturday's race at the Boston Indoor Grand Prix, the opening leg of the IAAF world indoor tour. She is hoping to use the meeting as a springboard for more competitions both indoors and out in the United States this year. Her husband added that while her advanced age and lack of high-level competition were far from ideal, Stepanova would aim to obtain the 800 metres qualifying standard for August's world championships in London and perhaps compete there. "She was injured in the summer (on her first attempt at a comeback at the 2016 European championships, when she was well beaten in her heat) and she has been slowly trying to get in shape," Stepanov said. "She's healthy but nervous. We are not expecting much (in Boston). She is just happy she can run again." The race will be her first indoors against an international field since 2015 in France. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) cleared the former convicted drug cheat's return to competition as a neutral athlete last year but her European Championships appearance in Amsterdam ended with a torn tendon. Her only recorded time in competition since then was at an indoor meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, earlier this month, where she ran 800 metres in 2:10:32, more than 12 seconds off her indoor best set in 2011. (Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by John O'Brien)