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World Athletics Group Is Investigating 2 Belarus Coaches Over A Tokyo Olympics Flap

The two Belarusian coaches accused of trying to punish sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya by forcing her to fly home early from the Tokyo Olympics are now under investigation, the International Olympic Committee announced Thursday.

Coaches Artur Shimak and Yury Maisevich were also sent packing from the Summer Games just days after Timanovskaya's plight made international headlines. The IOC revoked their credentials and asked them to leave the Olympic Village immediately.

The two now face an inquiry into their actions, which were apparently sparked by Timanovskaya's criticism of them on social media. The sprinter had complained the coaches were trying to make her run in the 400-meter relay race in addition to the 200-meter race for which she'd prepared.

Timanovskaya, 24, said she was abruptly taken to the airport one day before her scheduled race; she refused to board a plane after grandmother warned her that her actions were being politicized in Belarus.

After telling a police officer she needed help, Timanovskaya hid out in a hotel and issued a plea for international aid. The athlete was eventually granted a Polish humanitarian visa, allowing her to seek political asylum.

Timanovskaya said she feared retaliation in Belarus under President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been called Europe's last dictator. At home, her criticisms were interpreted as a slap at both the Belarus Olympic Committee and the Lukashenko regime — the sporting body is led by the president's eldest son.

Mass protests have been mounted in Belarus against Lukashenko, and some athletes have taken part — and have been punished for their stances, according to the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation.

The investigation into Shimak and Maisevich will be handled by the Athletics Integrity Unit, the same organization that oversees anti-doping and other fairness issues. When the inquiry is complete, a full report will be made public, the IOC said.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.