LONDON — Sergey Shubenkov didn’t want to look into the past or address any of his frustrations after Monday’s 110-meter hurdles final.
After finishing second to Jamaica’s Omar Mcleod, Shubenkov spoke confidently, with the assuredness of the past world champion he was. Questions over Russia’s bid to get reinstated by the IAAF were swatted aside; he said he was taking an introspective approach while competing as an Authorised Neutral Athlete (ANA).
He was left searching for answers as to why he could not regain more ground on Mcleod in the second half of the race, but he spoke of his pride at earning his third world championships medal, saying, “Of course this medal means a lot. It means a lot to be back competing at the highest level.”
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But there was no mention of Russia. In an interview with the BBC, Darya Klishina — a fellow ANA in London and the only ANA permitted by the IAAF to complete in Rio after most Russian athletes were banned by the organisation due to the country’s widespread doping violations across Olympic sports — said they were not permitted to talk about Russia or wear anything linking themselves to their country.
As such, Shubenkov talked about home, family and his country in broader strokes, but the pride was evident.
“It is not a big deal [being a neutral athlete],” he said. “I know this is it. There’s a lot of people in my home town [Barnaul, Altai Krai, Russia] — it’s 4 a.m., maybe it’s 5 already — and they’re not sleeping. They’re just answering calls, getting congratulations.
“It means a lot for them, and it means a lot for my family. It means a lot for every person in my country that was watching and supporting me. That’s it. The colour of the vest doesn’t matter.”
Instead of wearing the blue, white and red of Russia, like he did when he won gold in the event at worlds two years ago in Beijing, Shubenkov sported the blue and pink of an ANA. It was only in April that he got approval from the IAAF to compete as one of 19 ANAs at worlds. Now he looks back on 2016 with a sense of the supernatural.
Last summer, he was exasperated — “No one cares that my career is going to be ruined” — and he did his best to park what was going on in Rio. But he stuck to his training routine and continued his personal mission to prove to the IAAF that he was clean. “Retest me anytime you want,” he said.
“It was pretty hard. I don’t believe usually in some kind of magic,” Shubenkov said. “How do you call it when the year is divided by four? A leap year! It is considered a bad year … the last year, I started to believe in magic because it was such a bad year. I am happy it’s over.”