Yulia Gushchina and Kseniya Ryzhiva exchange a kiss after winning gold for Russia in the women's 4x400m at the world championships.
Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Yulia Gushchina and Kseniya Ryzhiva exchange a kiss after winning gold for Russia in the women's 4x400m at the world championships.

Story highlights

Russian athletes deny their 'kiss' was a symbol of gay defiance

Kseniya Ryzhova and Yulia Gushchina caught on camera on victory podium

Two athletes part of Russia's women's 4x400m relay gold medal team

Russia has invoked strict new law concerning gay propaganda for minors

CNN —  

Two Russian athletes issued angry denials Tuesday that their exchange of a kiss on the victory podium at the world championships was a protest against their country’s strict new anti gay propaganda law.

Kseniya Ryzhova and Yulia Gushchina were part of the Russian quartet who won the women’s 4x400m relay Saturday in the Luzhniki Stadium, beating the favored United States team.

All four embraced as they received their gold medals, but Ryzhova and Gushchina were pictured kissing each other on the lips, prompting reports that it was a symbol of defiance in face of the controversial new laws.

Ryzhova told a media conference in Moscow that she and the three other members of the team had merely been overcome with emotion after finally topping the podium after a series of near misses.

“For eight years we have not won a gold medal. You can’t even imagine what it was like, when we understood that we’d won,” she said, addressing reporters in Russian.

Read: U.S. runner Nick Symmonds blasts Russia on gay rights

“It was a wave of unbelievable feelings and if somehow, completely by chance, while we were congratulating each other, our lips touched, I don’t know in whose fantasy this all gets thought up.”

She added: “Myself and Yulia are both married and we are not having any kind of relationship.”

Earlier in the championships, Russia’s pole vault gold medal winner Yelena Isinbayeva defended the new legislation, speaking in English at a press conference.

“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.

“We just live boys with woman, women with boys.”

She also criticized two Swedish competitors who had painted their fingernails with rainbows in support of gay rights, claiming them to be “disrespectful.”

Isinbayeva, an ambassador for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, later back tracked and said her comments had been “misunderstood” as English was not her first language.

Read: Isinbayeva qualifies controversial comments

They prompted a storm of international criticism, but Gushchina claimed Tuesday that she had not been aware of the controversy.

“I simply did not hear or read about it because I was totally focused on my performance at the championships,” she told gathered reporters.

Both Russian athletes complained that the media spotlight on their kiss had taken the shine off their victory celebrations.

“These victories are hard to come by and we were happy. I don’t understand how everything could be tarnished in such a way,” Gushchina said.

The legislation banning the promotion of “gay propaganda” among minors came on to the Russian statute book in June as Vladimir Putin embarks on his third term as president.

It has prompted calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Games and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which is also to be staged in Russia.