10 Nov 2015

Willis has mixed feelings over Olympic ban for Russia

11:52 am on 10 November 2015

New Zealand's leading runner Nick Willis has mixed feelings about banning Russian athletes from the Rio Olympics but believes it could be the only way forward.

A World Anti-Doping Agency investigation has found a widespread doping programme, supported by the government, exists in Russian athletics and has called on athletics' world governing body, the IAAF, to suspend Russia.

Willis, who won a silver medal in the 1500m at the Beijing Olympics after being promoted from bronze when original winner Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain tested positive for doping, said an Olympic ban might be hard on some Russian athletes who are clean but if the programme is so widespread it may be the only way.

Nick Willis crosses the line third at the Beijing Olympics.

Nick Willis crosses the line third in the 1500m at the Beijing Olympics - he was later promoted to second. Photo: Photosport

"From the outside looking in, you might say that's not really fair because what if there is a handful of legitimate athletes? They are being punished for the sins of the rest, but if it is so systematic and widespread perhaps there aren't any who have had a chance to develop," he said.

"Even if they become compliant again...and these athletes are under a cleaner structure they've been receiving the assistance of doping for all of these years and you don't just turn off the switch and stop receiving all the benefits."

Willis said the level of doping in the Russian system did not come as a surprise.

Ten years ago a Russian connection in track and field in New Zealand explained to him how the system worked in Russia, he said.

"As soon as they show any sign of talent they are told this is how it's done and they have to toe the line. So while the athletes are the perpetrators they are not the instigators of this process."

Rather than feeling disheartened about the number of athletes he was competing against who were doping, the WADA investigation was "exciting", Willis said.

Nick Willis

Nick Willis says the frustration of competing against drug cheats has passed. Photo: Photosport

"The frustration by and large has already taken place, so now these become exciting times for someone who has had an inkling to the level of problems in our sport. It's finally been brought to light and we can air our grievances without risking defamation suits.

"At the same time I wasn't aware of the level of corruption from the administration. You always thought it was from coaches, managers or athletes trying to manipulate the system and now we hear it's the governing bodies or the powers that be are complicit in all of this."

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