Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya says grandmother warned her not to return to Belarus

"My grandmother, she called me and she said, 'you can't come back to home'."


Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who feared reprisals after criticising her coaches at the Tokyo Games, said her grandmother advised her not to return to her home country because of negative reports about her on television.

Tsimanouskaya left the Games and arrived in Poland on Wednesday, days after she accused team officials of trying to force her to fly back to Belarus, where an authoritarian government has relentlessly pursued its critics.

In Belarus, Tsimanouskaya's criticism on social media of how her team was being managed set off a massive backlash in state-run media.

Her grandmother told her there were reports on television that she was mentally ill and said it was best for her to not return.

"When I pick up my clothes and go to the car, my grandmother, she called me and she said, 'you can't come back to home' because on the TV they say a lot of bad words about you, that you have some mental problems, and maybe you can go to the some hospital in Belarus or maybe to jail we don't know," Tsimanouskaya said.

The sprinter said Belarus team officials told her to say she was injured and had to go home early, but she refused, she told reporters on Thursday.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya Credit: AP

"When I was in Olympic Village, some coach and some men from our team, they come to my room and they say that I should say that I have some injury and come back to home.

"If I will not do it, then I can get some problem in my country.

"And they don't know which one problem but after this day, they also come to my room and they say that I have no chance to run 200 meters and I should come back to home and it's not their decision, just to do it."

Poland has granted the sprinter a humanitarian visa.

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

Many of Belarus' activists have fled to Poland to avoid a brutal crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko's government.

Last week, Tsimanouskaya said Belarus team officials hustled her to the airport and tried to send her home early after she criticised how her team was being managed.

She refused to board the plane, and European countries that are critical of Lukashenko's rule offered assistance.

On Wednesday, Tsimanouskaya flew from Tokyo via Vienna, a circuitous route that Polish officials indicated was for security reasons.

She has urged the International Olympic Committee to look into the dispute and said she hopes to continue her running career.

But she added that her priority would be her own safety.

Tsimanouskaya's husband, Arseni Zdanevich, fled Belarus this week shortly after his wife said she would not be returning.

Poland has also granted him a visa, and he is expected to join her but she added she was worried about her remaining family.

"Of course, I worry a lot about my parents who stayed in Belarus, especially as my father is sick and he has heart problems. Last few days his condition got worse," she said

"But I have also talked to my parents today, they told me that they are doing fine. That's why I hope that nothing bad will happen to them."