Struggling Russia gets unexpected gold in 110-meter hurdles
BEIJING (AP) Russian hurdler Sergey Shubenkov knows all about his country's doping scandals, he's just not paying any attention to it.
Shubenkov's blinders served him well at the world championships on Friday - he ran a flawless race to win a surprising gold medal over a stacked field in the 110-meter hurdles with a Russian record time of 12.98 seconds.
It was Russia's first gold - and only its second medal of any color - in what has been one of the country's most dismal performances at a world championships.
''Of course, all the bad news, they make me upset at some point, but I tried to stay focused on my goals,'' Shubenkov said. ''I was here to compete. And I came here to compete.''
It's difficult to tune out a doping scandal as big as Russia's over the past year.
The country's athletics program has been in tatters since a German documentary in December alleged widespread drug usage by Russian track and field athletes, as well as a cover-up by the Russian anti-doping agency to protect athletes who had tested positive.
In the fall-out, the World Anti-Doping Agency and IAAF have launched investigations into Russian doping and top Russian athletics officials have resigned.
And last month, the country made the dramatic decision to withhold its race-walking team from all future competitions, including the world championships. More than 20 Russian walkers have been banned for doping in recent years, with four Olympic gold medalists sanctioned since last year alone.
All of this has taken a toll on the team in Beijing.
For one, it's a far smaller contingent than Russia usually sends to the worlds, with only 71 athletes planned for the trip. Two years ago at home in Moscow, the Russian squad had 119 competitors.
''In the main events, we have only two people or one person, instead of three or four,'' Darya Klishina said after finishing 10th in the women's long jump, a sport Russia once dominated.
In the marquee event - the men's and women's 100 meters - there were none.
And Russia is on track to potentially win its fewest medals ever, two years after topping the table with seven golds and 17 overall in Moscow. The last time Russia fared this poorly was in Athens in 1997 when it won only one gold medal and eight overall.
If Russian spirits were low, Shubenkov at least gave the team a temporary boost.
He glided over every hurdle cleanly and out-leaned silver medalist Hansle Parchment of Jamaica and bronze medalist Aries Merritt of the United States at the line to win by five-hundredths of a second. He then celebrated by lobbing his shoes into the crowd.
''It's not every day,'' Shubenkov said, ''a guy from Russia goes and wins the world championships in hurdling and does sub-13 (seconds).''