Russia battles doping image ahead of nationals
Russia stages its national athletics trials from Monday desperate to bury its drugs-plagued image three weeks out from Moscow's hosting of the world championships.
In recent months, around 40 Russian athletes have been banned for doping, a development which led many to question the country's suitability to stage the world event which takes place from August 10-18.
Russian athletes accused of doping currently include 2004 Olympic hammer champion Olga Kuzenkova and 2012 silver medallist in women's discus, Daria Pishchalnikova.
They have both been banned with Pishchalnikova handed a 10-year suspension for a second offence.
However, Russian athletics federation chief Valentin Balakhnichev told AFP that the country had dramatically changed its approach in the fight against doping and as a result more cheats were being exposed.
"Three years ago the national anti-doping agency RUSADA was created to keep the use of drugs in sports under control," Balakhnichev said.
"It changed the situation radically as the Russian sports ministry upgraded the technical equipment of Moscow's anti-doping laboratory up to the highest modern standards and increased the level of its staff's skills.
"Now it is paying off, as the laboratory is not only testing but also regularly working out new methods of analysis that are currently used worldwide."
Away from the controversy, pole vault legend Yelena Isinbayeva will be the star name at the Russian Championships at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium.
Although the two-time Olympic champion has already been pre-selected for the world championships at the same stadium, Isinbayeva wants to gauge her form ahead of a tilt at a third world outdoor title.
The world record holder will not be the only big name competing at the championships despite 19 leading athletes already guaranteed a place at the worlds.
Men's Olympic high jump champion Ivan Ukhov and women's 400m hurdles winner from London, Natalia Antyukh will also compete.
The four-day domestic championships will allow national head coach Valentin Maslakov to finalise the squad for the world championships.
Maslakov said in a recent interview that 19 athletes were already assured of their places.
Balakhnichev is expecting at least six gold medals at the world showpiece.
"We expect our athletes will come into the world championships at the peak of their form," said Balakhnichev.
"Our squad looked very impressive at the recent Student Games in Kazan winning a solid set of medals there.
"Of course it's impossible to repeat this success at the world championships as the level of competition there is significantly higher. But we hope to win at least six gold medals."
Balakhnichev said that Russia's squad for the world championships will be announced on July 26.
He also insisted that Moscow is ready to stage the world championships.
"Moscow is ready to host the world athletics championships," he said.
"Luzhniki stadium, which is one of the world's best venues for our sport, is now in excellent condition and the weather in Moscow is fine.
"Nothing can prevent the world's best athletes from showing top-class results in Moscow."