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Fleeing the Games, Sprinter Made a Last-Minute Switch

Wary of security, Belarus sprinter changed flight plans from Warsaw to Vienna at last minute
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 4, 2021 7:39 AM CDT
Belarus Sprinter Flees Tokyo for Poland, Via Austria
In this file photo taken on Friday, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, of Belarus, runs in the women's 100-meter race at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.   (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

(Newser) – Change of travel plans for Krystsina Tsimanouskaya—she's headed to Vienna instead of Warsaw, at least initially. The Washington Post reports on the continuing drama swirling around the 24-year-old Olympic sprinter, who boarded a plane bound for Poland on Wednesday, less than three days after Belarus authorities took her to the airport and tried to force her to return home from the Summer Games in Tokyo. Tsimanouskaya refused that trip on Sunday, noting she feared retribution from the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko for criticizing her coaches on social media. Instead, she holed up in the Polish Embassy in Tokyo, and after Poland offered her a humanitarian visa on Monday, she made plans to flee to that country's capital. Per Reuters, Tsimanouskaya did show up at Japan's Narita airport on Wednesday, donning sunglasses that read "I run clean"—but instead of getting on a flight to Warsaw, she switched to one bound for Austria at the last minute, citing security concerns.

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Sources from the airport and Polish government say she'd gotten wind of a Reuters reporter having a seat on the same flight, as well as other journalists. A Reuters spokesperson says two of its reporters were indeed booked on the flight, but that they'd been in touch with Tsimanouskaya about their plans to simply document her arrival in Warsaw. Concern, however, was "high," per Reuters, especially after a May incident in which Belarus forced a passenger flight down so it could seize a dissident journalist on board. Marcin Przydacz, Poland's deputy foreign minister, says Tsimanouskaya is in the care of Polish diplomatic services, noting, per the Guardian: "For safety reasons we do not provide details of the flight route." Tsimanouskaya is expected to catch a flight to Warsaw from Vienna, a Belarusian opposition leader based in Poland says. An investigation into the incident on Sunday is underway by the International Olympic Committee. (Read more Krystsina Tsimanouskaya stories.)

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