Belarus' Olympian in Poland after seeking help from police at Tokyo airport

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Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, the Belarusian Olympic sprinter who was sent home from Tokyo after criticizing her coaches, has found refuge in Poland after seeking protection from Japanese police at the airport. 

Tsimanouskaya, 24, told Reuters on Thursday that while on the way to the airport with her coaches she was contacted by her grandmother who told her not to return to Belarus over fears that she would be sent to a psychiatric ward. 

Tsimanouskaya alleged her Olympic team tried to remove her from Japan in a dispute that led to a standoff Sunday, Aug. 1, at Tokyo’s main airport. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

After posting a message on social media that criticized the way her team was being managed, Tsimanouskaya said she was told to pack her bags. Team officials told her to say she was injured and had to go home early.

“… the head coach came to me with the team representative and they said there was a decision made to send me home, we are not the ones who made the decision, we are only executing it. You have 40 minutes. You have to pack your things and go to the airport.”

According to The Associated Press, Tsimanouskaya said she approached airport police and translated a plea for help using her phone. 

“They did not expect that in the airport I can approach the police. They think that we are scared to make a move, that we are afraid to speak, afraid to tell the truth to the whole world. But I am not afraid,” she told Reuters. 

“I am not of those people who are scared. I am always staying for truth. I respect myself. I respect my work. And I also want other people to respect themselves, to respect their work and stop being afraid and start speaking openly about what worries them.”

​​Tsimanouskaya has not publicly criticized Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, whose sixth term in office last year brought about protests and an ensuing government crackdown, but her criticism of her coaches would be of high interest to Lukashenko, who previously led the Belarus National Olympic before handing the role over to his son in February. 

“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,” she said. “I try not to do anything other than a sport in my life and I try my best to not be distracted by politics.” 

​​Tsimanouskaya is now in Poland where she was given a humanitarian visa. She hopes to one day return to Belarus where her family lives. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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