Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya arrives in Poland to seek refuge

Belarusian Olympian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya boarded a flight to Vienna earlier on Wednesday before flying on to Poland

A plane carrying Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystina Tsimanouskaya, who feared for her safety at home after criticising her coaches on social media, has landed in Warsaw after she travelled to the country under Polish diplomatic protection.

Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz confirmed the 24-year-old had arrived in the Polish capital on Wednesday evening after flying from the Tokyo Olympics via Vienna.

In a statement, the diplomat said he “wanted to thank all the Polish consular & diplomatic staff involved, who flawlessly planned and secured her safe journey.”

The plane the Belarusian sprinter was travelling on was directed to a separate airport building used by government officials, and could not be seen, according to reports.

We are very happy that she is here safe,” said Magnus Brunner, a top Austrian government official, after Tsimanouskaya’s plane arrived Wednesday afternoon from Tokyo.

"But she is scared about her future and about her family."

Police officers guard outside the Poland Embassy Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. Credit: AP

Tsimanouskaya had refused her team's demands to return home early from the Olympic Games in Tokyo, seeking refuge in the city's Polish embassy instead.

She claimed Olympic team officials had tried to force her on a flight back to Belarus after she criticised coaching staff- she had been put in the 4x400m relay in the Games despite never racing the event.

The sprinter had been expected to board a flight to Warsaw after Poland granted her a humanitarian visa on Monday, but she was seen boarding a flight to Vienna instead.

Vienna Airport said the direct flight from Tokyo landed at 3.08pm local time.

Vadim Krivosheyev, an activist with the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, said Tsimanouskaya took the flight to Austria on the advice of Polish authorities "for security reasons".

Tsimanouskaya is expected to head to Warsaw later Wednesday, according to Krivosheyev.

Tsimanouskaya had been due to compete in the women's 200 metre heats on Monday.

But her criticism in an Instagram post of how officials were managing the team set off a massive backlash in state-run media in Belarus.

The athlete said the head coach turned up at her room on Sunday and told her she had to leave.

She said officials tried to remove her from Japan, but the athlete did not board the flight and summoned Japanese police to Haneda Airport.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya Credit: AP

“I was put under pressure and they are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent,” the 24-year-old runner said in a video on social media.

The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday it had launched a formal investigation and has asked for an explanation from the Belarusian team.

Tsimanouskaya had been seeking diplomatic protection and she said on Tuesday team officials "made it clear" she would face punishment if she returned home.

She added: “There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me.”

The athlete said she wants to continue her sporting career and had plans for at least two more Olympics.

Her husband Arseni Zdanevich left the country when Tsimanouskaya told him she wasn’t coming back. But the sprinter is still worried for her parents in Belarus.

Amid Tsimanouskaya's rift with her team officials, two other Belarusian athletes announced their intention to stay abroad.

Heptathlete Yana Maksimava said she and her husband Andrei Krauchanka, who won silver in the decathlon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, would remain in Germany.

“I'm not planning to return home after all the events that happened in Belarus,” Maksimava said on Instagram, adding that “you can lose not just your freedom but also your life”.

Belarus Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya speaks during a zoom interview with the Associated Press in Japan Credit: AP/Daniel Kozin

Belarus’ authoritarian government has relentlessly targeted anyone even mildly expressing dissent since a presidential election a year ago triggered a wave of unprecedented mass protests. It recently diverted a Ryanair plane to the capital of Minsk and arrested journalist Roman Protasevich.

The Belarus National Olympic Committee (BNOC) has been led for more than 25 years by authoritarian state president Alexander Lukashenko and his son, Viktor.

Both Lukashenkos are banned from the Tokyo Olympics by the IOC which investigated complaints from athletes that they faced reprisals and intimidation in fallout from protests since last August after the country’s disputed presidential election.