Russian swimmer Yuliya Efimova given Olympics opportunity. GETTY IMAGES

Yuliya Efimova on Friday became the first Russian swimmer to be granted neutral status for the Paris Olympics - but said she might struggle to reach the qualifying standard.

Efimova, who won silver medals in the 100m and 200m breaststroke at the Rio Olympics and bronze in the 200m breaststroke at London 2012, was granted neutral status for Paris by swimming's governing body World Aquatics.

World Aquatics had banned competitors from Russia and its ally Belarus following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but in September 2023 said they could return to international competition as neutrals if they meet specific criteria.

But Efimova, 32, told Russia's Match TV.Ru that she would struggle to meet the Olympic qualifying deadline of 23 June and that she would be unable to compete in events where she could qualify because she does not have a visa to Europe.

"They gave it (the neutral status) to me today but it's a big problem that I don't have enough time for the international qualification. (The competitions) all finish on June 23 – either they have happened or they are happening next week." she said.

"The most important thing is, World Aquatics quickly looked at my application and they support me, for me to perform at the Olympics. But I don't have a visa for Europe and I don't have access to the international qualifying start and they are all finishing." she said.

Efimova, also a six-time gold medallist at the world championships, said she believed "theoretically, I could achieve a decent time in Paris. But it looks like we won't find out about that."

Efimova was suspended for 16 months for doping between 31 October 2013 and 28 February 2015, and then in March 2016 she had a further adverse test which revealed the use of meldonium and she was excluded from Rio2016, a competition for which she would be re-qualified in time to win two medals.

The seven-time European champion has been living and training in the United States for years, in Southern California.  At Tokyo 2020, she finished 5th in the 100 breaststroke, her only individual event, and swam one leg of Russia's 7th-placed medley relay.

Russian Swimming Federation president Vladimir Salnikov told state news agency TASS that it was up to each swimmer to apply for neutral status, but that Russia would not stand in their way. "We didn't ban athletes from applying to get this status, it's her personal business," he said.

The International Olympic Committee has ruled that Russians competing as neutral athletes will not be allowed to display their country's flags, emblems or have its anthem played.