Updated at 14:48,20-09-2021

Belarusian Olympian Tsimanouskaya Plans To Represent Poland After Defection

RFE/RL with reporting by RBC

Belarusian Olympian Tsimanouskaya Plans To Represent Poland After Defection
Sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya flashes the victory sign during a track competition at a stadium in Szczecin, Poland, on August 15.
The Belarusian sprinter who appealed for international help to avoid being forced home prematurely from the Tokyo Olympics says she wants to represent Poland, the country she defected to with her husband less than three weeks ago.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya told the RBC television channel on August 18 that she plans to apply for Polish sporting citizenship so that she can run for that country.

"We will now try to change my sporting citizenship so that I can compete for the Polish national team. It usually takes three years to change sporting citizenship, but we will ask to expedite the process because my situation is special," the 24-year-old sprinter said.

Tsimanouskaya took refuge in the Polish Embassy in Tokyo on August 2 after refusing to allow Belarusian team officials to force her onto a flight to Minsk after she criticized them. Two days later she boarded a plane to Europe, reaching Warsaw via a stopover in Vienna.

Poland has granted the sprinter and her husband, who fled there via Ukraine, humanitarian visas.

Tsimanouskaya's plight became a major story from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and refocused international attention on repression in Belarus since protests erupted when authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed victory in a disputed presidential election one year ago.

Several protesters have been killed and thousands arrested during mass demonstrations demanding Lukashenka's resignation. There have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.

While Tsimanouskaya has said she has never met Lukashenka, she has also noted that "terrible" things have been happening in Belarus.

Lukashenka's son Viktar took over the leadership of the Belarusian National Olympic Committee recently from his father in a move that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not recognize.

Other Belarusian athletes, including a former Olympic-medal-winning decathlete and his wife, have reportedly fled Belarus since Tsimanouskaya's ordeal began and after Ukraine announced a murder investigation when an exiled Lukashenka critic was found dead in Kyiv.

Earlier in August, a coach of the Vitsyaz handball club in Minsk, Kanstantsin Yakauleu, fled for Ukraine weeks after he served 15 days in jail for taking part in an unsanctioned anti-government rally.

Belarusian heptathlete Yana Maksimava and her Olympic-medalist husband Andrey Krauchanka have also announced that they have decided to stay in Germany with their child due to the ongoing crackdown in Belarus.