Two champions among Russians cleared for world athletics champs

Paris (AFP) - World champions Sergey Shubenkov and Maria Kuchina are among seven more Russian athletes cleared to compete as neutrals while the Russian team is banned for doping, the IAAF said on Tuesday.

It takes the tally of Russians granted permission by athletics' governing body to compete to 12 and was greeted with cautious optimism in Russia, with high-jump star Kuchina saying she was relishing returning to elite-level action.

"I wish to thank the Doping Review Board for their continued dedication and diligence in assessing these applications," said IAAF president Sebastian Coe, clearing the seven to take part in international competition, including the world championships in London in August.

The other Russians deemed to be drug-free were: Illia Mudrov (pole vault); Sergey Shirobokov (race walks); Daniil Tsyplakov (high jump); Olga Mullina (pole vault); and Yana Smerdova (race walks).

The Doping Review Board of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) "unanimously accepted" their applications, the IAAF said in a statement, as it attempts to clean up the sport.

Russia's athletics team was barred wholesale from the Rio Olympics last summer because of widespread doping that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) says was state-sponsored.

Moscow has repeatedly denied allegations it was involved, but WADA has said the cheating extended to multiple Olympic sports from the Summer and Winter Games over several years.

- 'Rebuilding confidence' -

The reigning 2015 world champion Kuchina told R-Sport agency: "Of course the main event is the world championships and I need to prepare for it.

"I have enough power and emotions and will just start working. I'm happy to compete together with the world's strongest high jumpers. Happy there finally will be a tough competition."

In February the IAAF extended the ban on Russia's track and field team to the prestigious world championships this summer -- Russia has been barred from international competition since November 2015.

Reigning 110m hurdles world champion Shubenkov was damning then of the IAAF's prolonged ban on the Russian team.

The drug-tainted RusAF, the Russian Athletics Federation, said dozens more of its athletes were hoping to make it to the London showpiece.

"It's a good sign that the IAAF has issued a decision that we have all been waiting a long time for," Maria Trushchenkova, a RusAF top official, told AFP on Tuesday.

"But around 70 Russian athletes are still waiting for IAAF permission to compete as neutrals -- and we receive new bids almost every day."

Three other Russian athletes were given the green light to compete as neutrals by the IAAF earlier this year and two last year.

They too all met the IAAF's "exceptional eligibility criteria", but the IAAF cautioned that they still needed to be accepted by the individual competitions.

Coe, who previously said that the Russian team could not be reintegrated into the sport before November, added: "There can be no time constraints on a process which has been established to safeguard the rights and aspirations of the world?s clean athletes and is about rebuilding confidence in competition.

"For the avoidance of any doubt -- as we have consistently stated from the beginning of this process -- all athletes given exceptional eligibility will compete as independent neutral athletes and not as a Russian team."

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