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MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday gave former cycling world champion Shane Perkins of Australia Russian citizenship, paving the way for the rider to represent Russia at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Perkins, 30, announced he was switching allegiance to Russia earlier this year after failing to get on Australia’s track cycling team for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
A decree published by the Kremlin said Putin had signed off on granting citizenship to the the rider, who is currently in Saint Petersburg for Russia’s national championships. The rare defection by an Australian athlete raised eyebrows, since Melbourne-born Perkins has no family ties to Russia.
The cyclist was reportedly convinced to join the Russian team by his training partner in Japan Denis Dmitriev, who told him that it would give him a good chance of competing in Tokyo.
Perkins won bronze in the individual sprint at the London Olympics in 2012 after claiming first place at the 2011 World Championships in the keirin event. His switch to Russia comes at a time when the country is in the spotlight after an alleged state-sponsored doping system was uncovered.