NEW: Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva issues statement trying to clarify controversial comments
Pole vault champion says she respects the opinions of her fellow athletes
Isinbayeva had criticized two Swedes for highlighting gay rights issues
American 800-meter runner Nick Symmonds expresses surprise at her initial comments
Yelena Isinbayeva, the golden girl of Russian sport, has sought to clarify her controversial comments about gay rights and her apparent criticism of fellow athletes for highlighting the issue at the world championships in Moscow.
Isinbayeva reclaimed the women’s pole vault title in front of her adoring public on Tuesday, then two days later defended her country’s anti-gay propaganda law after receiving her medal.
“If we allow to promote and do all this stuff on the street, we are very afraid about our nation because we consider ourselves like normal, standard people,” Isinbayeva said in English at a press conference.
“We just live boys with woman, women with boys.
“Everything must be fine. It comes from history. We never had any problems, these problems in Russia, and we don’t want to have any in the future.”
She criticized two Swedish athletes who defied the anti-gay law by sporting what could be seen as “propaganda” under the new regulations.
High jumper Emma Green Tregaro and sprinter Mao Hjelmer wore rainbow-colored fingernails in their events in support of the gay rights movement.
Green Tregaro posted a picture on her Instagram account captioned: “Nails painted in rainbow sign #pride #moscow2013.”
“It’s unrespectful to our country,” Isinbayeva told reporters. “It’s unrespectful to our citizens because we are Russians.
“Maybe we are different from European people and other people from different lands. We have our home and everyone has to respect (it). When we arrive to different countries, we try to follow their rules.”
However, on Friday Isinbayeva released a statement via athletics’ ruling body claiming that she had been “misunderstood.”
“English is not my first language and I think I may have been misunderstood when I spoke yesterday,” said the 31-year-old, who is an ambassador for the International Olympic Committee and will be mayor of the athletes’ village at the Winter Games in the Russian city of Sochi next year.
“What I wanted to say was that people should respect the laws of other countries particularly when they are guests.
“But let me make it clear I respect the views of my fellow athletes and let me state in the strongest terms that I am opposed to any discrimination against gay people on the grounds of their sexuality (which is against the Olympic charter).”
Russia’s recently implemented law, which bars “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors,” has led to calls to boycott the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Russia hosts another massive sporting event in 2018, soccer’s World Cup.
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke about the issue last week, saying that “nobody’s more offended than me” by the anti-gay legislation “you’ve been seeing in Russia,” and some bars around the world have also stopped serving Russian vodka in protest of Russia’s stance.
U.S. runner Nick Symmonds was quoted in the New York Times criticizing Isinbayeva’s comments.
“It blows my mind that such a young, well-traveled, well-educated woman would be so behind the times,” said Symmonds, who spoke out against the law after winning a silver medal in Tuesday’s 800 meters event.
He told the BBC Thursday that he had wanted to compete wearing a rainbow sticker, but was afraid of being arrested.
In his blog for Runner’s World prior to the world championships, Symmonds said he disagreed “with the laws that Russia has put in place.”
On the track, Trinidad and Tobago’s Jehue Gordon edged American Michael Tinsley in Thursday’s 400-meter hurdle final in a finish reminiscent of the women’s 400m three days earlier.
In the latter race, Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu chased down Botswana’s Amantle Montsho and won by four-thousandth of a second.
Gordon’s margin of victory was a little greater but not by much – 47.69 seconds compared to 49.70.
Felix Sanchez, the 36-year-old from the Dominican Republic who was seeking his third title, came fifth.
Kenya’s Ezekiel Kemboi claimed his third consecutive world title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase – adding to his two Olympic gold medals – with a time of eight minutes, 6.01 seconds.
Had there been 10 more meters, he might have been caught by younger countryman Conseslus Kipruto but Kipruto had to settle for the silver.