Belarus sprinter says she would have faced punishment

Belarus Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has told The Associated Press in a video interview that officials from her country “made it clear” that she would be kicked out of the national team and face punishment upon return to Belarus.

Tsimanouskaya, 24, had criticized how officials were managing her team. She said on her Instagram account that she was put in the 4×400 relay even though she has never raced in the event, after which Belarusian sports officials announced that she was returning home.

The runner was then apparently hustled to the airport but refused to board the flight.

“They made it clear that upon return home I would definitely face some form of punishment, and that if I were to refuse to return home and would run in the 200m race, I would be fired and kicked out of the national team,” Tsimanouskaya told the AP. “There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me.”

Poland granted Tsimanouskaya a visa Monday, and she will fly to Warsaw on Wednesday.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

MOSCOW (AP) — Belarus Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has told The Associated Press she hopes to continue her career, but for now her safety remains a priority.

“For now I just want to safely arrive in Europe … meet with people who have been helping me and make a decision what to do next,” Tsimanouskaya said.

“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 said. ”(But) for now, the only thing that concerns me is my safety.”

Poland granted Tsimanouskaya a visa Monday, and she will fly to Warsaw on Wednesday after her team’s officials tried to force her to fly home, where the autocratic government has been cracking down on dissent.

The current standoff apparently began after Tsimanouskaya criticized how officials were managing her team — setting off a massive backlash in state-run media back home, where authorities relentlessly crack down on government critics. The runner said on her Instagram account that she was put in the 4×400 relay even though she has never raced in the event.

The runner was then apparently hustled to the airport but refused to board a flight for Istanbul and instead approached police for help.

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