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Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, the Belarusian sprinter who was removed from the Tokyo Olympics by her country after criticizing coaches, is auctioning off what she calls one of the most precious medals in her career to support the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF).
The BSSF supports Belarusian athletes jailed or sidelined for their political views. It said in an email to Yahoo Sports on Monday that Tsimanouskaya is auctioning the silver medal she won at the second-ever European Games in 2019. She was not able to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in the 200m after Belarus officials allegedly forcibly removed her from the Games and tried to fly her back home.
Monday is the one-year anniversary of the disputed presidential election in Belarus that kept Alexander Lukashenko in charge. Protests erupted after the election and the regime has arrested and jailed athletes who speak out.
Belarusian sprinter auctions off European Games medal
Tsimanouskaya, 24, won silver as part of the team relay at the 2019 European Games held in Minsk, Belarus. She told the BSSF the medal is one of her "most precious ones."
“Those competitions were extremely important for me as they were held at the home arena," Tsimanouskaya said. "Lots of people including my family and relatives came to cheer for me. I remember, when I was running the relay and only about 80 meters of the distance were left, I felt I was running out of power. At that moment I heard that the stadium was exploding by how loudly people were rooting for me. The people’s support helped me get a second wind and run with all my might to the finish line. I even remember crying after I had finished, because I had felt such emotions during the race for the first time. That moment I felt myself together with spectators as one. They do say rightly that sport is the thing that unites us."
The BSSF said the medal is auctioned off at her request "in support of free athletes of Belarus who suffered from the actions of Lukashenko’s regime." The proceeds will go toward the foundation to financially, psychologically and organizationally support athletes affected by actions of the Belarus regime.
The starting price on eBay began at $5,000. As of Monday at 12 p.m. ET the bidding was up to $20,600 on 31 total bids.
Tsimanouskaya urges athletes to speak out
Tsimanouskaya asked Japanese police for help when Belarusian coaches made her pack her bags quickly and tried to force her on a plane back home. Earlier in the week she spoke out against the coaching staff and their insistence she run the 4x400 relay despite never taking part in it prior. She was granted a humanitarian visa by Poland and flew to Warsaw, where BSSF offices are located, under diplomatic protection.
She said last week it was clear to her she would face punishment if she returned home. She said those higher up than the country's national Olympic Committee made the decision she would return early, which made her fearful for her safety.
On the one-year anniversary of the disputed election, Tsimanouskaya urged Belarus citizens to speak out against the regime as she did. But she also said her country was no longer safe for its citizens.
"People are afraid to go to any protests because they are afraid of getting beaten up, they are afraid of ending up in prison," she said.
"I would like my country to be free, I would like every citizen to have the right to free speech, for everyone to be able to live a normal life and to stop being afraid," she said.
She said it can "probably only be free" without Lukashenko in charge. Her parents and grandmother are still in Belarus, but her husband fled to Ukraine when he found out she was not returning to the country. He said he plans to eventually join her in Poland.
IOC takes action
The two coaches who told Tsimanouskaya to pack and head to the airport were stripped of their accreditation by the IOC on Friday. They were both asked to leave the Olympic Village in Tokyo. The IOC is investigating the incident on a larger scope.
Lukashenko is already under Western sanctions and the IOC had previously banned him from attending the Games. In March, it refused to recognize the election of his son, Viktor Lukashenko, to head of the country's Olympic governing body.
Athletes have been jailed since protests erupted. The BSSF said there are seven in jail as political prisoners and 36 athletes athletes and coaches who have been dismissed from national teams for their views.
Tsimanouskaya said she hopes she can continue to compete and hopefully be able to run for a different national team at future Games.
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