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Ukrainian skier Bogdana Matsotska withdraws from Olympics

Thursday, February 20, 2014 | 8:41 p.m. CST
Ukrainian skier Bogdana Matsotska speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on Thursdayin Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. The International Olympic Committee said Thursday that Matsotska is leaving the Olympics in response to the violence in her country.

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — A Ukrainian skier has withdrawn from the Olympics in response to the deaths of anti-government protesters in her country.

"I don't want to participate when in my country people die," Bogdana Matsotska told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Black armbands

Ukrainian Olympic chief Sergei Bubka said he has "great sympathy" with the desire of his athletes to wear black armbands to remember those killed in the political unrest in Kiev.

But he says it was agreed "after consultation with the IOC" that wearing armbands would not be in line with the Olympic Charter.

"Both parties agreed that another way of allowing Ukraine athletes to mark their respects should be found," he said.

Bubka issued a statement Thursday following "erroneous reports" that he had prevented athletes from wearing armbands. The IOC denied that it had received a request from the Ukrainians to wear armbands during the games.



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The 24-year-old skier is refusing to ski Friday in the women's slalom, which is her third and best event at the Sochi Olympics.

Matsotska wants to leave the Olympics immediately to join protesters in the camp known as Maidan in Kiev's Independence Square, but said she has been unable to book a flight home.

"I am in Maidan but just with my soul," she said.

The two-time Olympian explained her frustration with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in an interview conducted in English and Russian.

"I think as a minimum he has to be jailed, and for a long time," Matsotska said. "For all the lives that he took, for all the lives of innocent people that came peacefully to stand for their opinion.

"I hope that I will be heard by the world and that probably somebody will step in and will help," she said.

Matsotska is remaining with Oleg Matsotskyy, her father and coach, in the athlete's village in the mountains above Sochi.

"We made this decision together. It is really hard for a sportsman and coach," she said. "The people are dying and my friends and family are there, and I cannot race after all this in Ukraine going on."

In a message he posted in Ukrainian on his Facebook page, Matsotskyy assailed Yanukovych's actions.

"Instead of resolving the conflict through negotiations (which we had hoped he would when we left for Sochi), he has drenched the last hopes of the nation in blood," the message read.

Matsotska was alerted to the fresh escalation of violence in Kiev by friends Tuesday, hours after she raced to a 43rd-place finish in the giant women's slalom. She finished 27th in super-G last Saturday.

She said she could not sleep Tuesday night while worrying about friends and watching footage from Kiev online.

"As every person (in Maidan), I am afraid for my life, but I hope I will never, ever be sorry about this decision," said Matsotska, who wore Olympic team clothing in Ukraine's national colors of yellow and pale blue, with her fingernails painted pale blue.

Pole vaulting great Sergei Bubka, the head of Ukraine's national Olympic committee, told the AP on Thursday that he met with all the Ukrainian athletes still at the games and they plan to stay in Russia and return home as a team Monday.

"It's not easy," Bubka said. "We are trying to show to the world that Ukrainian athletes are competing. We try to show the glory for Ukraine."

International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said the Olympic body has been in touch with Ukraine's Olympic officials following a deadly clash between anti-government protesters and police in Kiev.

Ukraine is divided over whether the nation of 46 million will have closer ties to the West or to Russia. The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal for closer ties with the European Union.

Matsotska said her national Olympic committee and the IOC respect her decision. Ukraine's national Olympic committee posted a statement on its website saying that it was shocked by the violence at home toward "loved ones" and is doing its "best to honor them on the fields of play here in Sochi."

Bubka said he met with Matsotska and her father for an hour and a half to discuss their decision. He said half of the team has already gone home in compliance with their original schedule, not related to the trouble in Kiev. The remaining athletes do plan to participate in the closing ceremony Sunday and are discussing what they can do to appropriately address the violence back home.

"We want to look and see, try to settle all the issues," Bubka said. "What uniform should we wear? I am asking, 'What is comfortable for you?' We will see later. Let us think. We have two days."

The Ukrainians were not represented at the team captains' meeting Thursday night ahead of the women's slalom Friday. Sarah Lewis, the secretary general of the International Ski Federation, told the AP that Matsotska's decision was a matter for the Ukrainian national Olympic committee to address while the federation focused on the games.

"Clearly the scenes from Ukraine are shocking for us all, and clearly it has a big effect on the athletes," Lewis said. "Judging from it, it's more important to her than Olympic participation. It's a personal decision that she's taken that she feels is her way of dealing with the matter. But we'll focus on getting the competition done."


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