MOSCOW: Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko on Tuesday praised drug-tainted swimmer Yulia Efimova after she claimed a silver medal despite hostility from the crowd and criticism from rivals.
The 24-year-old Efimova, who won an appeal at the world sports tribunal CAS to get her place in Rio, was booed as she entered the pool area and was left in tears after being narrowly beaten by American teenager Lilly King in the women’s 100m breaststroke final.
“I think it just proved that you can compete clean and still come out on top,” King said of her win, after earlier criticising Efimova.
Russia, however, has rallied round its competitors despite them only narrowly escaping a blanket ban over shocking revelations of state-run doping.
“Yulia is without doubt a good girl,” R-Sport agency quoted Mutko as saying.
“After undergoing such a terrible ordeal she has showed character, will power and courage even though, as we can see, that certain provocations still happening.”
King has earlier criticized Efimova making it clear she didn’t think the Russian belonged in the pool after serving a 16-month ban in the wake of a 2013 positive test and a positive test this year for meldonium.
She was joined by US swimming legend Michael Phelps and other swimmers who have called for tougher action on the use of banned substances.
Phelps said “it breaks my heart” after controversy over athletes who have previously failed drugs tests broke out at the Rio swimming competition.
After testing positive for meldonium this year Efimova has been banned and reinstated twice in a convoluted case that saw her allowed into the Rio Games at the last minute along with six other Russian swimmers who had either tested positive in the past or been named in the damning report on state-sponsored doping in Russia.
Russia claims that its has been unfairly singled out and Mutko pointed to competitors from other countries who have been allowed to compete despite doping bans.
“It’s surprising that supporters from certain countries, who have five or ten dopers that had served bans for much more serious doping violations in their line-ups, do not boo their athletes,” he said.