Racewalking Revered in Russia, Riddled With Doping

Sport is taken very seriously in Russia, where racers are often booted
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 16, 2015 12:03 PM CDT
This sport is a big deal in Russia.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – In Russia, Viktor Chegin is called "the father of all the victories," plans have been made to erect a "living memorial" to him, and he's been bestowed with the "Chevalier of the Order of Glory of Mordovia" honor. But Chegin isn't a war hero or a chess grandmaster—he's a revered trainer for Russia's racewalking program based in Saransk, where athletes are treated like gods and showered with cash, cars, and apartments when they win, the New York Times reports. And they've won quite a lot: Under Chegin's tutelage, Russians have nabbed plenty of Olympic and world championship medals, the paper notes. But the Russians are also accused of doping, infuriating other countries. So far 26 of Russia's racewalkers have been kicked out of the sport—Chegin trained 20 of them, per ESPN—with some racers hit with lifetime bans for using EPO, which boosts oxygen flow to the muscles, but also increases risk of stroke and heart disease, per the World Anti-Doping Agency.

"The last couple years I started getting really angry, knowing I'm racing against doped-up athletes," an Aussie tells the Times. Some have fought back, even starting a #BanChegin hashtag. But Chegin is still training (though the Times notes he was booted from the national team last year), and Russian athletes are still winning. The International Association of Athletics Federation, the world's governing track-and-field body, as well as WASA and Russia's anti-doping agency, are currently investigating the exalted trainer, but some aren't so sure the Cult of Chegin can be dismantled. A local Saransk homemaker tells the Times Chegin "is a great trainer. ... He deserves all the respect he gets." Meanwhile, an ex-defense ministry contractor fuels the conspiracy theories—a "let's smear Soviet athletes" perception dating back to the Cold War, the Times notes—saying, "I think it's all just once again people out to get Russia. It's America. They want to weaken us." (Read more sports stories.)

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