Defiant Ukrainian hugs Russian rival at Olympics
Ukrainian freestyle skier Oleksandr Abramenko delivered on his pre-Olympic Games comments about athletes from his country and Russia by hugging long-time rival and Russian Olympic Committee rival Ilya Burov after the pair placed on the podium.
2018 champion Abramenko won silver in his defense of his aerials crown, finishing ahead of Burov for a second successive Games as the Yaroslavl-born 30-year-old took bronze again.
That was not the only scene from the previous Olympics that repeated itself on the podium. Just as they did four years ago, Burov and Abramenko celebrated their success by enthusiastically embracing with the Ukrainian flag in a move that may not have impressed some politicians.
Ukraine’s minister of youth and sports, Vadim Gutzeit, appeared to confirm before the Games that the nation's athletes had been told not to pose with Russians because of "provocations".
The development came amid political tensions between the countries and followed a high-profile incident at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, when Ukrainian high jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh and Russian gold medal winner Mariya Lasitskene endured fierce criticism in some quarters for posing together.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar promised to speak to Mahuchikh and claimed that her behavior alongside her fellow army athlete could become “the object of the enemy’s information special operations.”
“Everything is possible," Abramenko said of that warning, speaking in November 2021.
"But I explain that it is difficult to think when you are overwhelmed with emotions. You act as you feel.
“What to say? Unfortunately, no-one understands. We are people from the same planet.
"I don’t know what to do. I don’t understand how It’s clear that people have different opinions. I’m just for world peace."
Abramenko, who saw Burov compete under a neutral flag as part of a WADA anti-doping ruling, said that athletes' "true feelings are manifested" in their moments of "euphoria".
"You show who you really are," he said. "It's OK when you congratulate and hug your comrades. And I don't care what nationality he is. Here is a man."
The four-time Olympian finished 1.57 points ahead of Burov with a total of 116.50.
Qi Guangpu, of China, scored a comfortable victory with a colossal winning tally of 129.
The result ensured China finished in a medal position in the event for a fifth straight Games, with Jia Zongyang finishing between Burov and Abramenko in 2018. The 2022 edition continues until February 20.