Who is Kristina Timanovskaya? A Belarusian Sprinter and Unlikely Dissident.
She sparked the biggest political crisis of the Tokyo Olympics, but Kristina Timanovskaya did not want to be a symbol of repression in her native Belarus. She just wanted to run.
Timanovskaya, a 24-year-old sprinter whose specialty is the 200-meter sprint, became the center of an international drama after her delegation tried to send her home after the Games. She complained in an Instagram video that her coaches signed her up for an event she hadn’t trained for, the 4×400-meter relay, because they hadn’t done enough doping tests on her. other athletes.
“I will not say that politics entered my life, because in general there was no politics,” she said in a telephone interview, declining to give her location for security reasons. . She said she had been offered asylum by Poland, who told her she could continue her sports career.
“I simply expressed my dissatisfaction with the technical staff, who decided to put me in the relay race without telling me, without asking me if I am ready to run,” she said. She was concerned that a poor performance at an unknown event could cause her injury or trauma.
After her Instagram video, which she later deleted, Belarusian national team head coach Yuri Moisevich and deputy director of the Belarusian Republican Athletics Training Center Artur Shumak came to Timanovskaya’s room to persuade her to retract and go home. The order, they said, came from above their pay level.
“Put your pride aside,” Moisevich can be heard on a partial recording of the conversation, later adding: “This is how suicide cases end, unfortunately.”
Timanovskaya is an unlikely dissident. Born in eastern Belarus, she said she was partially deaf as a child and underwent several operations until her hearing was restored at the age of 12.
It was then that she was allowed to start physical education classes. Soon her teachers realized that she had a knack for running and jumping. At 15, relatively late for an elite athlete, she was sent to a special training school for Olympic hopefuls. At the age of 18, she represented Belarus at competitions in Sweden, Qatar, Poland, Great Britain and Italy.
When protests erupted last fall after Belarusian strongman Aleksandr Lukashenko claimed victory in a widely contested election and was inaugurated for a sixth five-year term, Timanovskaya did not join the hundreds of thousands demonstrators in the streets. She continued her grueling preparations for Tokyo, training from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. with her husband, a former runner.
As the government cracked down on protests, around 1,000 athletes signed an open letter calling for new elections and an end to the torture and arrests of peaceful protesters. As a result, 35 athletes and coaches were expelled from the national team.
Timanovskaya was not one of them because she did not sign the letter.
“I just wanted to prepare for the Olympics,” she said. “I didn’t sign anything, so no one would bother me.”
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