By Duncan Mackay 

altOctober 20 - Russia today banned six athletes caught breaking doping rules on the eve of the Beijing Olympics, including European discus champion Darya Pishchalnikova (pictured), but have controversially backdated the suspensions so they will be able to compete at next year's World Championships in Berlin.

Russia were accused of "systematic planned doping" after the suspension of seven top female Russian athletes during the build-up to Beijing in August.

The women, five of who were due to compete in Beijing, were provisionally suspended after using DNA testing appeared to show that the urine samples the runners were giving were not their own.

They included Pishchalnikova, Yelena Soboleva, the world's top-ranked 800 and 1500 metres runner this year, and Tatyana Tomashova, who finished second in the 1500m behind Britain's Dame Kelly Holmes in the Athens Olympics four years ago.

They are among six athletes now banned, but the Russian Athletics Federation have backdated their suspensions to April or May 2007 when they allegedly began switching urine samples.

They were charged under the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules 32.2 (b) and 32.2 (e) for a fraudulent substitution of urine which is both a prohibited method and also a form of tampering with the doping control process. 

Pishchalnikova is banned from April 10, runners Soboleva and Svetlana Cherkasova from April 26, Yulia Fomenko from April 27, hammer thrower Gulfiya Khanafeyeva from May 9 and Tomashova from May 23, in all cases from the 2007.

That means they can compete in 2009 starting in April/May and qualify for the World Championships in Berlin, due to be held in August.

The decision of the Russian federation must be confirmed by the IAAF who are unlikely to sanction suspensions which means that the guilty athletes would serve so little time away from competition.

The IAAF have the right to challenge the decision in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Also disqualified for two years is another top runner and former world champion Olga Yegorova, who Britain's Paula Radcliffe had held up a banner declaring "EPO cheats out" at the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton after she had tested positive for the banned drug but was allowed to continue competing because the test was not conducted properly.

Yegorova, though, is expected to retire.

The decisions will also mean another massive rewriting of results.

The biggest loser will be Soboleva, who is set to be stripped of the gold medal she won in the 1500m at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia earlier this year along with the two world records she set over the distance.

But, controversially, she will still remain world indoor record holder with her 3min 58.28sec from 2006, when there is no hard proof that she was doping.

She will also lose her silver medal from the 2007 Osaka World Championships and prize money connected to IAAF events and meetings as she competed in 2007 in Athens, Paris, Zurich and Brussels.

Fomenko had finished second to Soboleva in Valencia and will also be disqualified, which means that the third-placed Ethiopian Gelete Burka will move up to the gold medal with Bahrain's Maryam Jamal getting the silver.

Embarrassingly, the bronze could now to go Bulgaria's Daniela Yordanova, who was banned herself in the summer for two years after testing positive for banned performance-enhancing drugs.

Yordanova will profit also from the disqualification of Soboleva in Osaka as Ukrainian Iryna Lishchynska will be promoted to silver position and the Bulgarian should get the bronze.

The decision to backdate the bans to last year could also exploit a loophole in the new International Olympic Committee (IOC) rule that was designed to prevent any athlete who tested positive after August 1, 2008, from competing in the next Olympics.

That means technically that all six suspended athletes could still be able to take part in London 2012, although the IOC are sure to find a method to prevent them.

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