MOSCOW (AP) Just five months ago, Maria Kuchina won the world high jump title in front of tens of thousands of fans in Beijing. On Friday, she competed at a low-key meet with a few dozen athletes and fewer spectators.
Russia's ban from global track and field over doping has forced some of the world's top athletes to compete at obscure domestic events with tiny crowds, rather than prestigious and lucrative international meets.
Even if the ban is lifted in time for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August, months of small-scale events could leave Russian athletes struggling to catch up to their foreign rivals.
''Without competitors, jumping is hard. It's a bit too chilled out (here),'' Kuchina said Friday at a Russians-only competition in Moscow. ''I'm an athlete who lives off meets. I need a lot of meets to see what I'm capable of, even in such a dicey situation.''
Kuchina won the high jump with ease Friday, floating over the bar to clear 1.93 meters (6 feet, 4 inches) to polite applause from the 30 or so spectators on a balcony. That matches the best result in the world this year, but officially it won't count. Russian athletes' results appear on the IAAF's website separately, with the heading ''under suspension.''
Friday's event at a Moscow university was the third in the new Russian Winter Grand Prix series of meets, part of a calendar that was hastily redrawn in the wake of Russia's suspension in November by the IAAF.
Hosted in a hall built for the 1980 Olympics, the meet had echoes of bygone days, with no electronic score boards, pen-and-paper results-keeping and Communist-era slogans still displayed on the wall - ''O Sport, you are peace!''
Besides top athletes like Kuchina, the meet had plenty of weaker Russians making up the numbers, often without proper uniforms. One competed in a years-old replica jersey from the NBA's Denver Nuggets.
''You can't exactly call it a very important event,'' said Anzhelika Sidorova, the reigning European pole vault champion. ''But what can I do about it? We do our jobs, but nothing depends on us.''
Sidorova won the pole vault Friday with a leap of 4.75 meters, making her the second best in the world so far in 2016 behind Olympic champion Jennifer Suhr of the U.S. That sets up a potentially exciting battle between Sidorova and world record-holder Yelena Isinbayeva, who will return from her two-year sabbatical at a Russian Grand Prix meet next month.
Watching from the sidelines Friday was Russian national team head coach Yuri Borzakovsky. At the age of 34, the former Olympic 800-meter gold medalist is supposed to represent a new era for a team long plagued by scandal. Banning Russians from international competitions only makes them hungrier, he told The Associated Press.
''When I was running, I could find motivation for any competition,'' he said. ''With the situation that's happened, our guys have become twice as fierce and they're raring to go. They want to compete in Rio.''
Borzakovsky pledged to clean up Russian track and field when he was appointed last year, and while his national team list for 2016 leaves out many of the athletes considered suspicious by the WADA commission, some former dopers have also been picked.
Russia's chances of returning to global athletics in time for the Olympics depend on whether the IAAF considers it has done enough to reform. The focus is on behind-the-scenes changes to root out doping and investigate the sins of the past, plus extra drug tests for top Russians.
The athletes at Friday's meet shied away from discussing the reasons for Russia's suspension. When pressed for her opinion on the WADA commission's findings, Kuchina said they were ''obviously unfair,'' but that it was a matter for federation officials. She added that she had not read the WADA reports and did not plan to.
Despite the obstacles, Kuchina insisted Russian athletes' Olympic dream is still alive.
''It's there and it's not going anywhere and nothing will stop us,'' she said. ''We're going to the Olympics.''