A Belarusian sprinter who has flown to Poland after a stand-off with her country’s officials at the Tokyo Olympics said her grandmother had advised her not to return home.
Krystina Tsimanouskaya had refused her team’s orders to go back to Belarus early from the Games after she criticised coaches.
The 24-year-old’s criticism on social media of how the team was being managed sparked a backlash by state-run media in a country led by authoritative president Alexander Lukashenko.
She claimed her grandmother had told her by phone there were TV reports that she was mentally ill and said it was best for her to not return.
Tsimanouskaya also said her family feared she would be sent to a psychiatric ward if she went back to Belarus.
Speaking at news conference in the Polish capital Warsaw after she arrived in the country on Wednesday via Vienna, the athlete said Belarusian officials had told her to say she was injured and had to go home early.
But Tsimanouskaya, who had been due to compete in the women’s 200 metre heats on Monday this week, refused at the weekend to board a flight at Tokyo airport and sought protection from Japanese police as she appealed for help from the International Olympic Committee.
She then went to the Polish embassy on Monday where she was granted a humanitarian visa.
Addressing reporters on Thursday, Tsimanouskaya, who had already competed in the 100 metres in Japan, thanked people who supported her during the tense stand-off.
“It was the whole world, and these people make me much stronger,” she said.
She also had a message for her fellow Belarus citizens, saying: “I want to tell all Belarusians not to be afraid and if they’re under pressure, speak out.”
She said she will talk to Polish officials on Friday about her next steps.
The athlete added she hoped the Tokyo Games would not be her last Olympics and that she wants to return home one day, when it is safe.
Many of Belarus’ activists have fled to Poland to avoid a brutal crackdown by the Lukashenko regime following protests.
“I have always been far from politics, I didn’t sign any letters or go to any protests, I didn’t say anything against the Belarusian government,” Tsimanouskaya told the Reuters news agency.
“I’m a sportsperson and I didn’t understand anything in political life. I try not to do anything other than a sport in my life and I try my best to not be distracted by politics.”
She added: “It may sound cruel because of all the terrible things that happened in Belarus last summer but I was trying to keep away from it, but all I have wanted is to go to the Olympics and do my best,” she said, referring to the 2020 protests which led to a police crackdown.
“I wanted to be in the final and compete for medals.”
Earlier this week, she said she had been removed from the team due “to the fact that I spoke on my Instagram about the negligence of our coaches”.
Tsimanouskaya had complained on Instagram that she was entered in the 4x400m relay after some team members were found to be ineligible to compete at the Olympics because they had not undergone a sufficient amount of doping tests.
The Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement that coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state”.
Belarus athletics head coach Yuri Moisevich told state television he “could see there was something wrong with her… She either secluded herself or didn’t want to talk”.
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