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Belarusian Olympian Arrives In Poland After Refusing To Fly Back To Belarus

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Belarusian opposition politician Paval Latushka greets sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya upon her arrival in Warsaw on August 4.

Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya arrived in Warsaw on August 4 under the diplomatic protection of Poland, after she refused her team’s orders to be sent home from the Tokyo Games due to fear for her safety in Belarus.

The Olympian's plight has turned into a major story of the games and again focused international attention on strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s stifling of dissent amid a crackdown against opposition activists, media, and civil society following a disputed presidential election last year.

Tsimanouskaya took refuge in the Polish Embassy in Tokyo on August 2, after refusing to allow Belarusian team officials to force her onto a flight to Minsk after she criticized them. Two days later the 24-year-old athlete boarded a plane to Europe, reaching Warsaw via a stopover in Vienna.

"Krystsina Tsimanouskaya landed safely in Warsaw. She would like to thank the diplomatic and consular services involved for planning and efficiently carrying out her trip. Poland is once again showing its solidarity and support," Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz wrote on Twitter.

Poland has granted the sprinter and her husband, who fled to Poland via Ukraine, humanitarian visas.

While still in Japan, Tsimanouskaya told AP in a video interview that team officials had “made it clear that, upon return home, I would definitely face some form of punishment.”

She said the tipping point for her was when team managers told her that "other people" had ordered them to send her home from the Olympics and they were "merely ordered to make it happen."

She said she feared for her safety if she returned to Belarus.

The head of Belarus's delegation at the Olympics, Dzmitry Dauhalionak, declined to comment except to say that he has "no words," according to AP.

Earlier, Belarus’s National Olympic Committee told a state-run news agency that it was closely monitoring the situation and cooperating with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has launched an investigation into Tsimanouskaya's accusations.

The IOC said on August 4 that it would question two Belarus team officials who were allegedly involved in trying to remove Tsimanouskaya from the Olympics. IOC spokesman Mark Adams says it’s part of a disciplinary case opened "to establish the facts" in Tsimanouskaya's case.

The probe will hear from the two officials alleged to have told Tsimanouskaya she would have to return home early because of critical comments she made on social media. The IOC identified them as Artur Shumak and Yury Maisevich.

'You Did A Stupid Thing': Belarusian Athletics Officials Tell Sprinter To Leave Olympics
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Tsimanouskaya’s troubles began when she said her coaches told her she would be participating in an event she had never competed in. She then criticized the move on social media and accused officials of an attempted kidnapping to forcibly repatriate her.

Tsimanouskaya dismissed any notion that she had planned to seek a way to depart to a third country.

"Everything that is happening now absolutely wasn’t in my plans," Tsimanouskaya told AP.

The sprinter, however, declined to link her problems to the political struggle in Belarus.

"I don’t want to get involved in politics," she said. "For me, my career is important, only sports is important, and I’m only thinking about my future, about how I can continue my career."

She added that she expects to be kicked out of the national team but said for now "the only thing that concerns me is my safety."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, AFP, AP, and Reuters
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