Tokyo Games 2020

Tokyo 2020: Belarus Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya says world's support has made her 'stronger'

Published : August 06, 2021 15:58 IST

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she feared for her life if she were to return to Belarus. Photo: Darek Golik/REUTERS

Speaking with DW, Belarus sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she is relieved to have found "safety" in Warsaw.

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she was "happy" to be in Poland on August 5, after saying Belarus team officials tried to force her to fly home from the Tokyo Olympics.

Speaking with DW a day after her arrival in Poland, the 24-year-old athlete said that the decision to remove her from the games was ordered by the government in Belarus.

Tsimanouskaya sparked concern after she sought protection with Tokyo 2020 officials on August 1, saying Belarus team officials had tried to force her to leave the Games and return home.

Glad to be 'in safety'

In an interview with DW in Warsaw, Tsimanouskaya expressed relief at having reached Poland and thanked those who helped her. "I have support from the whole world and the support makes me much stronger."

She said that now she is in Poland, she feels that she is "in safety" and is "happy to be here." Asked what happened in the lead-up to her departure from Tokyo, Tsimanouskaya said the main coach on her team was the one who told her she would be leaving the Tokyo Olympics. "He said to me that someone decided that I should go home. And it was not his decision. It was a decision from Minsk."

What happened in Tokyo?

Prior to speaking with DW, Tsimanouskaya held a press conference where she recounted the dramatic sequence of events that led up to her seeking safety in Poland. Tsimanouskaya said she was scheduled to run a race at the Olympics she had never competed in. It was this that led to her falling out with Belarusian team officials and prompted her to publish a critical post on social media.

The athlete told reporters that her team official had told her to say she was injured so she would have to return home, but she had refused. The sprinterꞌs social media criticism of the way the team was being managed led to her being singled out as mentally ill on state television. At that point, her grandmother told her not to return.

Several countries in the European Union offered help, with Poland granting Tsimanouskaya a humanitarian visa. Tsimanouskaya also said she stood by her fellow Belarusian's right to express themselves. "I want to tell all Belarusians not to be afraid and if they're under pressure, speak out," Tsimanouskaya said at the press conference.

What does her future hold?

Despite her ordeal, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya does not want to give up on her running career. "I'm dreaming to continue my sport career because I'm 24 and I wanted to compete at the next Olympic Games and maybe the next Olympic Games," she told DW. "So it's it was like my big dream even before this situation."

At the press conference, Tsimanouskaya says she plans to speak with Polish officials about her athletic future on August 6. The sprinter expressed hopes of returning to the Olympics and even her country at some point, but only when it is safe to do so.

Tsimanouskaya will soon be joined by her husband, Arseni Zdanevich, who left Belarus this week after Poland granted granted him a visa.

What is the situation in Belarus?

Several activists have fled to Poland and other neighboring countries following a crackdown on dissent led by President Alexander Lukashenko's government. Lukashenko previously headed the country's National Olympic Committee for almost a quarter of a century before his son took over the role earlier this year.

"Being forced to leave the Olympic area is one of the numerous examples of repressions used by the regime against Belarusians," said Pavel Latushka, former Belarusian government minister told DW on August 4.

Protests against Lukashenko led to over 35,000 arrests of activists and journalists in Belarus. A prominent Belarusian activist in Kiev was found hanged in a park on August 2, prompting Ukrainian police to investigate a possible murder staged as a suicide.

jc/rs (Reuters, AP)

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