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Two years after Olympic defection, Belarusian sprinter cleared to race for Poland

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, the Belarusian sprinter who defected at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago, has been cleared by World Athletics to compete for Poland after it waived the normal three-year waiting period for nationality changes.

Tsimanouskaya refused to board a flight back home from Tokyo when she was removed from the Olympics against her will after publicly complaining about national team coaches’ decision to enter her in the 4×400 meters relay, which was not her customary distance.

She defected to Poland, saying she feared for her safety if she returned to Belarus. Poland granted her citizenship last year.

A letter by the World Athletics Nationality Review Panel seen by Reuters on Monday said that Tsimanouskaya could represent Poland starting August 6, 2023.

“The National Review Panel agreed to waive the 3-year waiting period starting from the date of application (12.06.23) on the basis the athlete last represented BLR on 30 July 2021, at the Olympic Games, Tokyo (JPN) and that the athlete has not competed in national representative competitions for two years,” the letter said.

World Athletics referred questions to the Polish Athletic Association (PZLA), saying it was a confidential application process.

The PZLA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I’m extremely happy but I’m experiencing strange emotions because everything has happened so fast and suddenly,” Tsimanouskaya, 26, wrote on Instagram.

“There is a chance that I will go to the world championships in Budapest,” she added, referring to the competition starting on August 19.

Tsimanouskaya told Reuters last year she wanted another chance to compete at the Olympics. She hoped to race in the 200m at next year’s Paris Games, the event she had been set to run in Tokyo the day after Belarus removed her from the team.

Belarusians and Russians are currently barred from competing at international athletics meets because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for which Belarus is a staging area of what Moscow calls a “special military operation”.

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