Olympic sprinter says officials told her she would be punished upon return to Belarus

Belarusian Olympic track sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya says officials told her she would be punished upon returning to Belarus.

Speaking to The Associated Press via video call, the 24-year-old Olympian said officials “made it clear that, upon return home, I would definitely face some form of punishment.”

“There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me,” she said.

Tsimanouskaya was granted asylum in Poland on Monday after expressing fears for her safety if she returned home.

A video circulating on social media showed the sprinter stating that Belarus was forcibly trying to make her return to the country after she criticized her team's officials for placing her in the 4x400 relay, which she had never competed in before. 

She says officials attempted to force her on a plane back to Belarus, the AP noted.

Tsimanouskaya told The Wall Street Journal that her husband fled to Ukraine, and they plan to meet in Poland. She plans to fly to Warsaw on Wednesday.

Tsimanouskaya told the Journal that she doesn’t think she could return to Belarus.

“I was just afraid for my life, afraid to go to jail,” she said. “I don’t think I can ever go back to Belarus.”

The International Olympic Committee said Monday that it has launched a “formal investigation” into the situation, saying "we need to establish the full facts, we need to hear everyone involved.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken blasted Belarus for trying to force Tsimanouskaya to leave Tokyo for “exercising free speech.”

“The Lukashenka regime sought to commit another act of transnational repression: attempting to force Olympian Krystsyna Tsimanouskaya to leave simply for exercising free speech. Such actions violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to basic rights, and cannot be tolerated,” Blinken said on Twitter.

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