Russian head coach from the doping era still involved in national team 

Valentin Maslakow during his time as head coach

Athletics

Russian head coach from the doping era still involved in national team 

Former head coach of the Russian athletics team, Valentin Maslakov, who resigned at the height of the doping scandal four years ago, remains a lead trainer responsible for the country’s sprinters today, ARD research has found.
This raises questions over how much the attitude of those responsible in Russian sport has really changed. Nick Butler and Hajo Seppelt explore.

It is over three years since Russia was suspended by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) following a damning report into state sponsored doping. This, in turn, followed the scandal first being exposed months earlier by an ARD documentary. 

Valentin Maslakov was the first to be ordered to step down following those initial revelations in early 2015. The former Olympian has served as a Soviet Union or Russian coach since the 1970s and was head of the team for the previous eight years. This coincided with the most notorious doping era, eventually culminating in the hundreds of positive drugs tests which followed reanalysis of frozen samples from the Beijing and London Olympic Games. Now it turns out: Maslakov, the former sprinter, continues to have an influence on Russian sport.

The 74-year-old resigned in January 2015 as demand grew for somebody senior to take the blame. Maslakov insisted, however, that he was not aware of the doping regime. He was mentioned in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Report later that year, which prompted Russia’s suspension, but he was not among the coaches against whom sanctions were recommended.

“Beyond belief” that the head coach would not be aware 

Richard Pound, the founding WADA President and chair of the 2015 investigation, makes it clear that this was not a sign of innocence.

“It was beyond belief that he would have been unaware of what was going on and, if he was actively coaching himself, it was beyond belief that his athletes would not have been part of that system as well,” the Canadian tells the ARD Doping Editorial Team.

In his WADA-report, Pound found “clear evidence” of a “systemic culture of doping in Russian sport”. However, coaches were only sanctioned if there was absolute proof, he explained. This essentially meant that they had to be implicated in undercover footage taken for ARD by the whistleblowing couple, Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov, who now live in exile outside Russia. And Maslakov was not.

But Stepanov agrees with Pound about him. “He was the head coach, he was in control of everything,” he tells ARD. “He was aware and he knew exactly what was going on. And he was covering up the doping use”. These are both personal views and Maslakov has always denied wrongdoing.

Yury Borzakovskiy, the current head coach of the Russian team, said that they had changed 80 per cent of the team, referring to athletes and coaches. He told ARD at the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Glasgow that Maslakov was only still working as a personal coach and had no official involvement with the Russian athletics team. 

Maslakov is currently listed as number 4 among the Russian athletics staff

Maslakov is currently listed as number 4 among the Russian athletics staff

But a document obtained by ARD, and also accessible on the website of the Russian Sports Ministry, contains an official list of Russian coaches for 2019. The list is proposed by the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF), and signed by figures including Borzakovskiy, before being rubber-stamped by the Sports Ministry.

Senior sprint coach responsible for 400 metres 

Of the 94 coaches and support staff for 2019, 63 have served Russian national sports teams since 2014 or earlier. This means they were present at the time of the doping era. In fourth place on the latest list is Maslakov. He is listed as a “senior sprint coach” with special responsibility for the 400 metres, 400m hurdles and 4x400m relay. 

One of Maslakov’s crowning moments in charge of the team was in 2013 when Russia won the 4x400m relay title at their home World Championships in Moscow. Two members of the team, Yulia Gushchina and Kseniya Ryzhova, are listed as being coached by him personally. But the gold has now been lost and all four athletes have been embroiled in doping scandals. 

Hundreds of athletes from his time in charge have either failed tests or committed some other form of anti-doping offence.

IAAF to raise questions about Maslakov

The IAAF ordered Russia to “establish a strong anti-doping culture moving forward” but little action appears to have been taken against key coaches from the past. 

Coaches have long escaped punishment in sport when repeatedly associated with doping problems, not just in Russia and athletics. Stepanov suggests that no proven link was found about Maslakov because “his athletes are protecting him and not willing to tell the truth [about] who was providing doping to them.” Pound believes that “coaches for years and years essentially had a free ride”, adding: “It certainly is highly suggestive of there having been no conduct change.” 

The IAAF said they would ask RusAF about Maslakov and that their Task Force will “discuss the broader matter of coaches and how their credentials can be verified when they meet ahead of the Council meeting”. Neither RusAF nor Maslakov have responded to ARD requests by an editorial deadline.

As of today, the IAAF will meet in Doha, Qatar. Tomorrow a decision will be made on whether Russia's suspension should be lifted.

Stand: 10.03.2019, 14:53

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