Timanovskaya claims new country Poland is ‘in my heart’, auctions medal as exiled athlete runs to support ‘suffering’ Belarusians
9 Aug, 2021 11:20 / Updated 1 hour ago
Belarusian athlete Kristina Timanovskaya © Lucy Nicholson / Reuters | © Darek Golik / Reuters
The Olympic exile who has moved to Poland after escaping repatriation to Belarus has called her new home "forever in my heart", auctioned a medal in support of athletes from her birthplace and made her return to running.
Kristina Timanovskaya, the sprinter who was involved in an abortive attempt to fly her back to Belarus after she criticized her Olympic team's organizers, is selling the silver medal she won in the team event at the 2019 European Games in Minsk.
Now living in Poland after receiving a humanitarian visa following the scandal last week, Timanovskaya is continuing to keep her followers updated via social media, where she explained she was auctioning the medal in support of the "large number of athletes" who have "suffered" under president Alexander Lukashenko's regime in Belarus.
Athletes have faced sanctions, jail terms and loss of employment for taking part in protests against the Belarusian government, and Timanovskaya has admitted that she feared being incarcerated when she was taken to the airport in Japan and pressured to board a plane.
The order for Timanovskaya to be returned from the Olympics is said to have come from the Belarusian Olympic Committee, which is headed by Lukashenko's son, Viktor.
"I still remember all of those emotions that I experienced at the moment when I ran the baton for my team," recalled Timanovskaya, who has produced a t-shirt bearing her increasingly familiar 'I just want to run' slogan, directed fans to a fundraising page and highlighted a new campaign, 'Marathon for Freedom'.
"I remember how it would seem that I no longer had the strength to run, but the support of the crowd and their energy opened a second wind in me.
"I felt an incredible surge of strength and rushed to the finish line. It was the most emotional start in my career: tears of joy, tears of unity with the people. After all, Sport is what unites us."
Timanovskaya plans to run a symbolic 2,334 meters on Monday as part of the marathon, which she said would support "doctors, journalists, artists, students, workers, political prisoners, our mothers and fathers, grandparents, friends and neighbors".
The high-profile 24-year-old's own grandparents and those of her husband have been the subject of concern from followers of her ordeal, with Timanovskaya voicing her fears that they could be targeted in her absence in Belarus.
"I invite you to support this important initiative and run kilometers of freedom with me," she added.
"At the press conference, I was asked if this [t-shirt] message meant that I wanted to run away from someone. No, I don't want to run from someone.
"The meaning of this message is that I just wanted to run at the Olympics. This has always been a dream of mine and I believe it will come true."
The 200m race Timanovskaya had been due to take part in was held the day after Belarus ousted her from the Games and attempted to fly her home.
It is thought that she could now represent Poland, which holds happy memories for the Olympic hopeful.
"My first and most significant award is the silver from the European U23 Championship, which I won in Poland," she said. "That is why this country is forever in my heart, like athletics.
"Even when I was little, I could not even think that I would connect my life with sports. Then our family had other tasks.
"I lost my hearing and all we wanted was to get my hearing back. I spent five long years in hospitals, went through four difficult operations and, finally, when my hearing returned to me, I received permission to take physical education lessons at school. This is how my story began.
"Our teacher was an excellent specialist who could immediately figure out talented people and I am grateful to him for paying attention to me and bringing me to sports.
"I started my career in the small town of Klimovichi and grew up to reach the very main aim in the life of every athlete – the Olympic Games.
"I will forever keep in my memory all ten years of my sports career in Belarus – and I will keep every medal I won for my country."