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Two Belarusian coaches in sprinter drama booted from Olympic village

"I never imagined this situation would turn into a political scandal," runner Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said.
Image: Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya attends a news conference in Warsaw
Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya at a news conference in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday.Darek Golik / Reuters

TOKYO — Two Belarusian coaches were stripped of their accreditation and booted out of the Olympic Village on Friday, just days after a Belarusian sprinter refused to go home and found sanctuary in Poland.

The coaches, Artur Shimak and Yury Maisevich, “were requested to leave the Olympic Village immediately and have done so ... in the interest of the wellbeing of the athletes,” the International Olympic Committee said in a statement.

New details emerged about how quick-thinking sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was able to escape from her handlers Sunday by using Google Translate to communicate with Japanese police — and by claiming to have left something behind at the village to buy herself more time when police, at first, didn’t understand that she needed help.

The IOC identified Shimak and Maisevich as the coaches who took Tsimanouskaya by car to Haneda Airport outside Tokyo and tried to stick her on a plane to Minsk when she bolted to the police.

“They will be offered an opportunity to be heard” by the IOC disciplinary board, but for now they’re out, the IOC said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the coaches had left Japan. NBC News has reached out to the National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus for comment.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry blasted Belarus for their treatment of Tsimanouskaya and thanked the IOC and others for helping her reach safety in Poland.

"The fact that Ms. Tsimanouskaya, an athlete participating in the Olympic Games, which is a festival of peace, had to face forcible return to her country against her will under pressure from the authorities of Belarus due to expression of her personal views on the competition, is wrong and unacceptable," they said in a statement.

Tsimanouskaya, 24, said at a news conference Thursday in Warsaw, Poland, that “I never imagined this situation would turn into a political scandal.”

“This was a dispute over the coaches forcing me to run a race I was not prepared for and which I had not trained for," she said in Russian.

Asked how her teammates were reacting, Tsimanouskaya said, “I imagine most of them are trying not to end up like I did.”

Tsimanouskaya, who had competed in the women’s 100-meter heats, got into trouble after she criticized her coaches on Instagram for scheduling her to run the 4x400-meter relay. She revealed that the athletes who were supposed to run the race hadn’t completed the mandatory drug tests.

That didn’t go over well in Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko has been widely criticized for brutally cracking down on political opponents trying to remove him from an office he had held since 1994. Lukashenko’s son Viktor is president of Belarus’ Olympic committee.

Tsimanouskaya said she didn’t decide to defect until she spoke with her grandmother by cellphone on the ride to the airport. She said her grandmother warned her about a backlash in the state-run media, some of which reported that she was mentally ill, and told her not to come home.

Her parents, Tsimanouskaya said, urged her to flee to Poland, which has long cultural and historical ties to Belarus and has provided shelter to dozens of dissidents opposed to Lukashenko.

Polish media reported that Tsimanouskaya took off from Japan on Wednesday and flew first to Vienna to avoid flying over Belarusian airspace. Three months ago, Lukashenko forced a Ryanair flight carrying a dissident to land in Minsk; authorities arrested him and his girlfriend.

Tsimanouskaya's husband, Arseni Zdanevich, fled Belarus after word of her escape got out to avoid arrest and is with her in Warsaw. She said she fears for the safety of her family still in Belarus and has a message for her country.

"I want to tell all Belarusians not to be afraid and, if they’re under pressure, speak out," she said.