Friday September 24, 2021

Belarus Olympic athlete spurned by her country

August 03, 2021

MOSCOW: Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was a virtually unknown athlete until this weekend, when the 24-year-old found herself at the centre of a political scandal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Tsimanouskaya was supposed to be competing in the 200 metres heats in the Olympic Stadium on Monday, but instead became the subject of intense diplomatic wrangling over her future.

She claimed her team tried to forcefully send her back to her homeland from the Olympics. The runner spent the night in an airport hotel after seeking protection with Tokyo 2020 officials to avoid getting on a plane.

The uproar erupted after the athlete had criticised the Belarusian athletics federation for entering her into a relay race without giving her notice in a video online. She then alleged her coaches tried to take her home by force on the decision of the country’s political leadership.

The athlete’s husband, Arseny Zdanevich, told AFP she would likely travel to Poland, adding he himself had left Belarus. In an interview with Belarusian sports website, Tsimanouskaya said officials had given her less than an hour to pack her things before taking her to the airport.

She said the head coach Yuri Moisevich told her that her fate was being decided “not on the level of (the athletics federation), not on the level of the sports ministry, but much higher up.” She said she feared that Belarus “was not safe” for her anymore and that she was “scared they could put me in prison.”

The Belarusian Olympic Committee, which is run by President Alexander Lukashenko’s son Viktor, claimed the athlete was not in the right psychological state to remain at the Olympics. Several countries, including Poland and the Czech Republic, offered Tsimanouskaya asylum.Shortly before the Tokyo Games, Lukashenko warned sports officials and athletes that he expected results in Tokyo.