: AP: Torn between two places, some Crimean athletes may miss Rio

15:29 Jun. 14, 2016

AP: Torn between two places, some Crimean athletes may miss Rio

The official logo for the Rio 2016 Olympics games displays during a press conference of Two Years to Go to the Rio 2016 Olympics Opening Ceremony on August 4, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Getty Images)

Athletes from occupied Crimea may be banned from participating in Olympics 2016

Crimean Artur Ayvazyan won gold in rifle shooting at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, competing under Ukraine's flag. After Russia's annexation of Crimea, like many athletes, he switched his allegiance from Ukraine to Russia.

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The decision may have cost him his last chance to win an Olympic medal.

While Russia offers better living conditions and financial support for athletes, Ayvazyan, 43, is now stuck. A three-year "quarantine" period demanded by Ukraine means he can only compete within Russia. So while Russia and Ukraine's top shooters are preparing for the games, Ayvazyan is staying put in the Crimean capital, Simferopol.

And in Ukraine, he says, he is mostly considered a traitor.

Two years after Russia's annexation of Crimea, athletes from the Black Sea peninsula are split between Russia and Ukraine and could win medals for both countries at August's Olympics in Rio.

Associated Press interviews with athletes on both sides of the divide show that whichever country they represent, all have had to sacrifice something.

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Those who stayed with Ukraine must live outside Crimea, some fearing for their safety if they return, while athletes who took Russian nationality have struggled to convince international sports bosses to let them compete. A Crimean swimmer on Ukraine's team told the AP he was harassed by other athletes at a meet in Moscow.

Crimean gymnast Anna Rizatdinova, who still competes for Ukraine, saw firsthand how her country slipped into turmoil while she trained in Ukraine's capital, Kiev.

As police clashed with protesters against then-President Viktor Yanukovych — eventually resulting in over 100 deaths — officials urged Rizatdinova to stay away from training for a month for her own safety.

When shots rang out in Kiev one afternoon, Rizatdinova's coach Irina Deriugina led a hurried evacuation of young gymnasts from a hall near the Maidan square, where protesters were camping.

Read also Russia's sports minister is 'ashamed' of drug cheating athletes

Soon after, Yanukovych fled the country and was replaced by pro-Western politicians. Russian troops took control of Crimea and local pro-Russian politicians staged a vote which reported a much-disputed 96 percent of Crimeans voted in favor of joining Russia.

Rizatdinova was competing in Hungary on the day of the vote.

"They took my homeland," she says. "I fell apart at that competition because all my thoughts were with my parents."


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