By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
MOSCOW (Reuters) - High jumper Maria Lasitskene, a three-time world champion, is getting a feeling of deja vu as she readies for the prospect of missing a second consecutive Olympics because of doping scandals at Russia's athletics federation.
Sidelined from the 2016 Rio Olympics because of the federation's suspension, Lasitskene says her chances of competing at this year's Tokyo Games are slim after a fresh scandal emerged last year at the beleaguered body.
"There is absolutely no certainty, there is no understanding of what to expect," the 27-year-old told Reuters at the Salyut Geraklion stadium in northwestern Moscow on Wednesday. "The same thing could happen again."
Russia's athletics federation was suspended in 2015 after a report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found evidence of mass doping in the sport and had since been trudging toward reinstatement.
But World Athletics, the global governing body of athletics formerly known as the IAAF, halted Russia's reinstatement process in November last year. The decision came after the federation's president and six other people were provisionally suspended for having provided forged documents to justify a whereabouts violation by high jumper Danil Lysenko.
"Everyone was scrutinizing us from all sides. How could they allow such a thing to happen?," Lasitskene sighed. "It's a complete mess and disrespects all athletes."
As a result of the scandal, World Athletics has for now stopped clearing Russians to compete internationally as neutrals, sidelining Lasitskene from international meets. It has also raised the possibility of expelling the Russian athletics federation altogether.
Lasitskene blames the federation for having deepened the crisis and is ready to sue it or some of its officials if she misses her winter season, including her chance to defend her world indoor title in March in China.
"If I miss the winter season, unfortunately no one will compensate me for my losses, starting with huge losses to my image," Lasitskene said.
"I've been trusted for years, given a neutral status. The whole world knew that I was clean. This now affects my image, my moral state and my finances."
Lasitskene said she feared her sponsor Nike would lower its funding if she were to be sidelined from the winter season. She will also miss out on crucial meets to prepare for the unlikely prospect of competing at the Tokyo Games.
"All competitions heading into the Olympics are like a chain," she said. "Every competition builds up to it, and it's impossible to compensate for that in Russia."
The worsening crisis comes as Russia appeals a four-year ban from competing under its flag at major international events in all sports, including the Tokyo Olympics, as punishment for having provided WADA with doctored laboratory data.
Lasitskene said she hoped Russian athletes would win the right to compete under their flag, even though she is doubtful there will be any track and field stars from Russia in Tokyo.
"No one has ever apologised for all this time," she said. "Because of their actions, I have lost a lot and it has affected me."
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christian Radnedge)