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NEWS FEATURE Tearful Efimova pleads for understanding over doping sanctions By Derek Wilson, dpa

Europe
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Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova raced to a Rio silver medal on Monday in the face of near universal criticism - and now she is begging for understanding.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - Anyone who knew nothing of Yulia Efimova before seeing her emotional press conference in Rio on Tuesday would find it hard not to have sympathy for the young Russian.

Especially when barely 10 feet away, the determined American teenager Lilly King, with a gold medal around her neck, was insisting that her beaten opponent should never have been allowed to compete at the Olympic Games in the first place.

Swimmer after swimmer in Rio had lined up to portray Efimova, 24, as the wicked witch of the east - the poison in the pool that was ruining their sport.

"How I feel?" Efimova repeated in English when asked, almost incredulous she could be expected to articulate such complex emotions. "Right now I feel pretty happy because of all the stuff that happened with me. It‘s unbelievable. I‘m just happy to be here racing. You can just try to understand me if you switch your position and me mine."

Efimova is a world champion and undeniably a brilliant breaststroke swimmer. She is, as of Monday, an Olympic silver medallist in the discipline over 100 metres.

But she is also a proven doper, a fact well-known by the crowd in Rio who vociferously booed her arrival at the pool.

She was given a 16-month ban in 2014, back-dated to 2013, having tested positive for a banned substance, and in March this year she tested positive for Meldonium.

"I made mistakes and I was banned for 16 months," she said. "The second time was not my mistake."

Efimova made the case - and the authorities may still agree with her - that she should not be punished for the Meldonium test as she took it when it was legal. The substance simply hadn‘t cleared her system when it became illegal at the turn of the year.

In previous years, there would probably have been little controversy about Efimova returning to the Olympics and attempting to add to her 2012 bronze. It would likely have raised no more than mild disapproval.

But this was a year unlike others. The Russian doping scandal, which WADA investigator Richard McLaren alleges was state-sponsored, inflated the issue to a huge scale.

The International Olympic Committee considered a complete ban on Russian athletes at the Games but eventually fudged a compromise, suggesting that only previously sanctioned athletes would be kept away.

Given the Court of Arbitration for Sport had already ruled that move illegal, there was little doubt Efimova, and others, would be able to launch successful appeals before the Games began.

Switching to her native Russian, Efimova was more bullish in defending herself.

"What I don‘t understand, athletes are out of politics, that was the tradition," she said through a translator. "It‘s very sad some athletes don‘t believe that. They follow what‘s said in television and have no idea of the facts."

"They have no idea what it‘s like if they swapped places with me. It‘s very upsetting when politics enters into sport."

And therein lies the rub. Russia may have cheated more than other countries but they will still argue that other countries are not pursued with the same vigour for their offences.

King, to her credit, accepted this with grace when asked if American twice-banned 100-metre sprinter Justin Gatlin should be in Rio to challenge Usain Bolt as the fastest man in the world.

"Do I think somebody who has been caught for doping should be on the team? No, I don‘t," she said simply.

But with the option of life bans for doping offences already ruled impossible, a solution to the doping problem that will satisfy all athletes, of all nations, looks as remote as ever.

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