This article has nothing to do with winning Olympic gold medals, sleeping on cardboard beds, or the overwhelming camaraderie experienced between athletes from various nations and cultures. It has to do with the authoritarian government of a participating nation and the plight of an Olympic sprinter who can’t go home. Or else…
Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystina Tsimanouskaya had little choice but to catch the first plane out of Tokyo’s Narita International Airport heading anywhere but to her home country of Belarus. Following an exchange of words with her trainers, they attempted sending her home to pay the piper for her insulant behavior.
Athletes are not allowed to talk back and Tsimanouskaya had already been informed that harsh punishment awaited her. Their attempt failed and she escaped their clutches.
Poland was the first country to offer the 24-year-old athlete asylum so it was assumed this is where she would end up. But her plane landed in Vienna, Austria instead. There is now speculation whether she’ll catch an adjoining flight to Warsaw or remain in Vienna. When her husband realized his wife wasn’t returning home, he fled Belarus to parts yet unknown.
It wasn’t Tsimanouskaya choice or decision that the plane changed its route in mid-air. She told the Associated Press that “the decision to change the route and fly to Vienna was made by the Polish side for security reasons.”
As things stand at the moment she is expected to continue her journey to Warsaw in the next day or so, but this is subject to change. The iron-fisted government of Belarus doesn’t play nicely so safety may remain the primary concern.
The argument with her trainers followed Tsimanouskaya’s critical error of publically criticizing her team’s strict management on a social media platform. Team officials attempted to wrestle her onto the next plane to Belarus where she was told they would delve out the proper punishment. Her offense is considered to be of a serious nature.
The situation has become an international incident and the eyes of the world are watching. Tsimanouskaya said her trainers “made it clear that, upon return home, I would definitely face some form of punishment. There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me.”
“I would very much like to continue my sporting career because I’m just 24, and I had plans for two more Olympics at least,” she continued. But “for now, the only thing that concerns me is my safety.”
Mum’s the word for Belarus’ officials. The head of the Belarus delegation at the Summer Olympics, Dzmitry Dauhalionak, when reached by phone made a two-word statement. “No words.” Click…
Tsimanouskaya criticized her team’s management when they forced her to compete in a 4×400 race she had never trained for. They then prevented her from competing in the 200 meters race of which she was certain she could bring home the gold.
Now that she can no longer compete at all the athlete is asking Olympic sports authorities “to investigate the situation, who gave the order, who actually took the decision that I can’t compete anymore.” She went as far as to suggest sanctions against the team. Her teammates aren’t being treated any better so what the heck.
In fact, Tsimanouskaya isn’t the only Belarusian athlete who won’t be returning home. Two others are defecting along with her. Heptathlete Yana Maksimava and hubby Andrei Krauchanka will be taking up residence in Germany.
Maksimava pulled no punches when she posted on Instagram, “I’m not planning to return home after all the events that happened in Belarus. You can lose not just your freedom but also your life.”
Belarusian authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko and his next-in-line son were banned by the International Olympic Committee from attending the games altogether. They could send a team but they were not allowed to accompany them.
This stemmed from reports that the athletes were being intimidated by the government because some of them had participated in an illegal anti-government protest that took place last year. Their lives are intentionally being made miserable.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was quick to condemn Belarusian officials’ by calling their actions yet “another act of trans-national repression. Such actions violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to basic rights, and cannot be tolerated,” he posted on Twitter.
Wherever Tsimanouskaya decides to hang her hat she’ll surely be welcomed with open arms. If the other team members are wise they’ll go and do likewise. With all certainty, this will be the last Olympic games Belarus will be invited to participate in. They just have a