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Belarus Olympian Kristina Timanovskaya Arrives In Poland, Which Offered Her Asylum

Updated August 4, 2021 at 3:23 PM ET

Sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya, whose Olympic dream was derailed after authorities cracked down on her criticism of her coaches, has arrived in Poland, according to a top Polish official.

Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz tweeted Wednesday about her landing in Warsaw and thanked everyone who helped her leave Tokyo, where she had been competing.

Timanovskaya insists that her quibbles with her nation's Olympic delegation were only about sports — not politics.

"I love my country and I didn't betray my country," the 24-year-old athlete told the BBC. "This is about the mistakes that have been made by our officials at the Olympics."

Timanovskaya received a humanitarian visa from Poland because she has said she feared retaliation if she returned to Belarus after her refusal to compete in an event for which she hadn't trained blossomed into a political firestorm.

The Belarusian Olympian is reuniting in Warsaw with her husband, who had already left Belarus and also obtained a humanitarian visa, according to ORF, the Austrian broadcast network.

Sprinter was taken to the airport for an early flight home

On Sunday, the Belarus Olympic Committee said its coaches yanked Timanovskaya out of all of her events due to "her emotional and psychological state." It did not provide details.

But Timanovskaya said that after she balked at running in 4x400-meter relay qualifying races — and discussed the situation on Instagram — her team tried to force her to fly back to Belarus before she could compete in her event, the 200-meter sprint.

At the airport, Timanovskaya told CNN, she used a translation app on her phone to tell a police officer that she needed help. And instead of leaving Japan, she then hid out in a hotel under police protection and issued an open plea for international help.

Sports get wrapped into Belarus' politics

The dispute is the latest high-profile incident involving the regime of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has been called Europe's last dictator. Belarus was widely criticized after it forced a plane carrying Roman Protasevich to land, so security officers could arrest the dissident journalist.

Mass protests have been mounted against Lukashenko, and some athletes have taken part — and been punished for their stances, according to the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation.

Timanovskaya's criticism of her coaches has been vilified on state media outlets. But Dmitry Navosha, founder of Belarusian sports outlet Tribuna, told NPR this week, "There wasn't an ounce of politics in her actions."

Still, sports and politics seem to be interwoven in Belarus. One year ago, hundreds of athletes and others in the sports community signed an open letter calling for last summer's elections to be declared fraudulent and for Lukashenko's regime to release political prisoners and cease intimidating the opposition.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.