Russia’s participation at Rio continues to stir up controversy. The women’s final in saber fencing turned out to be an all-Russian affair, and afterwards, neither wanted to discuss allegations of state-sponsored doping.
Yana Egorian slumps to the floor as if struck by lighting and remains on her knees for a little while. She clasps her saber, almost evoking the impression of a sensual prayer. Perhaps this is her way of celebrating . A few moments earlier, Egorian had secured a surprising 15-14 triumph over fellow Russian Sofya Velikaya in the women's individual saber-fencing final. World champion Velikaya leaves the arena with her head down and yields the stage to her younger rival. The 22-year-old Egorian thoroughly enjoys the patriotic chants from the stands where supporters passionately wave Russian flags. To them, there is something extraordinary about this victory.
Egorian looks more confident
Neither Egorian nor Velikaya are native Russians. The country of Egorian's birth is Armenia, while Velikaya was born in Kazakhstan. Yet one can feel their passion as they compete for gold as representatives of the Russian Federation. For a while Velikaya, a highly experienced fencing super-star, dominates the clash thanks to her precise style of fighting. Egorian puts her on the defensive, yet Velikaya manages to fight back, securing a comfortable 8-5 lead.
Egorian, however, performs equally well and refuses to give in. She launches a startling sequence of attacks on her opponent. Only two minutes later, the score is tied. The clash remains tight, making the outcome hard to predict. Velikaya then wastes a good chance for the final blow. Egorian now looks more confident and eventually seizes victory.
'Sports and politics are two different aspects'
"Winning the gold medal makes me extremely happy," says Egorian, the 2010 Youth Games fencing champion. "I am very proud to represent Russia here."
It seems that Egorian never doubted that she would get the opportunity to do so. The well-publicized evidence of widespread, state-sponsored doping in Russia, including cases of hushing up positive drugs tests, appears to be of no concern to Egorian - or the Russian journalists gathered around her. Egorian the debate about whether the International Olympic Committee should have imposed a blanket ban on Russia over the doping allegations as utterly ill-founded.
"You shouldn't mix sports and politics," she says afterwards, performing a flawless verbal cutover. In fencing, the term refers to a move used to ward off the opponent's tip. Asked about her credibility as an athelete, the young fencer responds confidently: "Of course, you can trust me. Why are you asking me this?"
So why do the critics insist on continuing to discuss this in the first place? Silver medallist Sofya Velikaya is also fed up with it, however she insists it did not affect their preparation for the Rio Games.
"Our training was not negatively impacted by this. We only focused on what we had to do, and everyone welcomed us with open arms," the defending world champion says. Listening to her words, it almost seems like the doping scandal never happened.
"This is only about politics, and it's nothing I want to talk about. We are here to focus on sports and nothing else," Velikaya says before quickly marching with her teammate into the catacombs of the venue.