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Why Belarus wanted to silence an Olympic sprinter

LONDON — For the man known as Europe’s last dictator, this is personal.

When Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, criticized her country’s sporting officials this week for entering her in an unfamiliar race, she said she was told to return home immediately and face the consequences of questioning the wishes of President Alexander Lukashenko‘s regime.

She left Tokyo on a flight bound for Austria early Wednesday after spending two nights in the Polish embassy in Tokyo. She is expected to head to Poland, which offered her a humanitarian visa on Monday.

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Experts say that the sports-loving Lukashenko, whose son runs the national Olympic committee and who inherited the role from his father, could not allow the sprinter’s criticism to go unpunished.

Lukashenko “is really very sensitive in terms of sports and even more so when there’s criticism — he likes to act as if he is a sports man, in such good physical shape, who takes care of sports people,” said Veronica Laputska, co-founder of the Eurasian States in Transition Research Center, a think tank based in Warsaw. “There’s a personal element here. It will have irritated him.”

This is the latest sign of what Belarus-watchers say is the nervous insecurity of a leader who has ruled with authoritarian zeal for 27 years but fears time may be running out.

Belarus athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya arrives at the boarding gate for Austrian Airlines 0S52 at Narita international airport in Tokyo on Wednesday.Yuichi Yamazaki / Getty Images

The episode began when Tsimanouskaya said on Instagram over the weekend that she was told to run in the 4×400-meter relay because other Belarusian athletes had not taken the required number of doping tests.

For this she and her husband, Arseni Zdanevich, who has fled from Belarus to Ukraine, The Associated Press reported, must now start a new life in a new country.

When boarding her flight she was wearing sunglasses bearing the message “I RUN CLEAN,” Reuters reported.

In an interview with the AP on Tuesday night, Tsimanouskaya said officials “made it clear that, upon return home, I would definitely face some form of punishment. There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me.”

Tsimanouskaya fled Tokyo almost one year after Lukashenko claimed victory in a disputed election, sparking a protest movement against his rule.

Tens of thousands joined marches calling for him to step down and hand over power to opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to neighboring Lithuania and has in the past week met with both President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Lukashenko rode out the protest movement — thousands were arrested and many remain in jail — but observers say it has left him more belligerent and sensitive to criticism.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya runs in the women’s 100-meter run at the Tokyo Olympics on July 30, 2021.Martin Meissner / AP

The intended audience for the action against Tsimanouskaya was very much ordinary Belarusians, according to Elena Korosteleva, a professor of international politics at the University of Kent in England.

“You can see how they blew this out of proportion — just a brief criticism by a sprinter of the Belarusian bureaucracy suddenly turned into an international scandal. It’s another demonstration of power,” she said.

“What Lukashenko aims for is ‘project fear,’ to show that even at these Games in Japan he can still reach out and punish all those who disagree or who dare to criticize.”

A murder investigation is underway in Kyiv, Ukraine, after a prominent Belarusian who helped compatriots flee persecution was found hanged in a park.

Belarus made headlines in May when a flight taking 26-year-old Belarusian journalist and activist Roman Protasevich from Greece to Lithuania was intercepted by fighter jets and rerouted to Minsk, the Belarusian capital, under the pretense of a false bomb threat.

Protasevich was arrested and later confessed to plotting to bring down the president in a TV interview. Opposition figures said he was coerced into taking part in a propaganda exercise.

And on Friday Lukashenko told state-run Belta TV that he was prepared to mobilize 500,000 troops to defend his borders against an unspecified enemy, with the backing of Russian forces if necessary.

The events of the last week show how the Lukashenko regime, short on international friends and with simmering resentment at home, is doing all it can to secure power, experts say.

Lukashenko “feels very vulnerable at the moment because he knows he’s very dependent on Russia, which seems to be the only protector of Belarus at the moment,” Korosteleva said. “He knows he remains very vulnerable against his own people, and of course against the international community.”

Though Lukashenko has said he will step down once the country adopts a new Constitution, experts say there is little chance of this happening soon. Meanwhile, the simmering resentment of Belarusians who feel he stole the 2020 election appears to be quietly growing stronger.

“Lukashenko succeeded in thwarting all the street protests directly, but the indirect resistance continues and it survives in all kinds of digital means, through social media,” Korosteleva said. “That means that one way or another, if not today, Lukashenko’s regime is definitely coming to an end.”

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Pop mogul Simon Cowell was a racing flop with ‘awful’ £35,000 horse he owned with Ant and Dec – that didn’t win a penny

SIMON COWELL conquered the music world – but his foray into racing ended in disaster with an ‘awful’ £35,000 horse he owned with Ant and Dec.

The music mogul, 62, has done it all with bands like One Direction, Little Mix and solo acts Olly Murs and James Arthur, to name but a few.

Cowell owned an 'awful' £35,000 horse with Ant and Dec - but the runner didn't win a single penny in six races

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Cowell owned an ‘awful’ £35,000 horse with Ant and Dec – but the runner didn’t win a single penny in six racesCredit: PA:Press Association
Cowell remains a massive racing fan and loves Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby

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Cowell remains a massive racing fan and loves Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby

His Syco label – plus shows such as Britain’s Got Talent – have dominated the entertainment industry and brought him an estimated net worth of £385m.

A lover of Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby, he looked perfectly poised to strike a knockout blow in the world of thoroughbreds.

But it turns out his runner was far from No1 in the charts – and never even finished better than fifth during a doomed six-race career.

Things looked promising at the start.

Named It’s A Yes From Me, the runner was trained with the respected James Fanshawe and sent off at 8-1 for his first race in June 2014.

But coming last of five by 13-and-a-half lengths was unfortunately about as good as it got for the gelding.

A month’s rest followed before he was sent off at 40-1 in a six-furlong sprint at Doncaster.

But there he could only manage fifth again, and it was same at Redcar the next month.

‘Dreadfully slow’

By October that year – with further finishes of sixth and tenth – It’s A Yes From Me came second-last in a one-mile race at Kempton.

One analysis of the race warned punters the horse was ‘one to tread carefully’ with.

Well, Cowell and Ant and Dec took that advice to heart as they never raced him again.

The horse was penniless from six races, never finishing high enough to recoup some of that £35,000 investment.

It’s doubtful Cowell, with hundreds of millions in the bank, lost any sleep over that.

But Ant and Dec revealed just how bad things has got with the horse during an interview last year.

Dec said of It’s A Yes From Me: “It was awful, it was a dreadfully slow horse.

“It wasn’t a racehorse it was just a horse, because it didn’t race.

“Every time we got to the BGT studio Simon would say, ‘I keep paying stable fees on this horse, but I’ve never seen it run’.”

Cowell originally wanted to name the nag after himself, but they settled on It’s A Yes From Me when they bought it in 2013.

‘It was awful’

Dec revealed its eventual fate: “I think it got rehomed.”

Of course it’s not all been bad for Cowell at the races.

He was one of the exclusive few at the Epsom Derby in June, having a great time with partner Lauren Silverman and Piers Morgan.

And two weeks later he was at Royal Ascot – where he first discovered his love of racing.

Cowell told SunSport’s Matt Chapman during a chat at Epsom: “I’ve got my son Eric with me today.

“My mum and dad years ago used to take me to Ascot and I was probably about his age – seven or eight.

Cowell with partner Lauren at Epsom earlier this year

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Cowell with partner Lauren at Epsom earlier this yearCredit: Getty
It's A Yes From Me trails behind in last during one of his six races

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It’s A Yes From Me trails behind in last during one of his six races
The music supremo tweeted about his horse's bad start... which never got much better

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The music supremo tweeted about his horse’s bad start… which never got much better

Most read in Horse Racing

“So the fact I can now bring him to the races as well is brilliant. It brings back a lot of good memories.

“Making TV shows is my passion. But racing is actually my second passion.”

He hasn’t made that passion the money-maker his music label is, but don’t rule out Cowell staging his own comeback at the track in the near future.

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Commercial content notice: Taking one of the bookmaker offers featured in this article may result in a payment to The Sun. 18+. T&Cs apply. Begambleaware.org


Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chases their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
  • Gamcare – www.gamcare.org.uk
  • Gamble Aware – www.begambleaware.org

Commercial content notice: Taking one of the bookmaker offers featured in this article may result in a payment to The Sun. 18+. T&Cs apply. Begambleaware.org


Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chases their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
  • Gamcare – www.gamcare.org.uk
  • Gamble Aware – www.begambleaware.org
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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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