Russian gymnast explains 'Z' letter choice
Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak has explained the motives behind taping the 'Z' symbol to his leotard during a World Cup event in Doha, which was heavily criticized by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG).
The body blasted Kuliak for his "shocking behavior" on the podium as he picked up a bronze in the parallel bars event alongside Ukrainian gold medalist Illia Kovtun on Saturday.
Head of the Artistic Gymnastics Federation of Russia (FSGR) Vasily Titov pledged his support for Kuliak using the symbol that has been displayed on tanks during Russia's military operation in Ukraine, and in an interview with RT, 20-year-old Kuliak explained that he used the symbol due to the conduct of some Ukrainian rivals during the recent competition in Qatar.
"Their behavior at some points was completely unacceptable," Kuliak said. "During performances they would shout 'Glory to Ukraine!', or go out on the podium wrapped in the national flag while we were considered neutral athletes, and because of this we felt uncomfortable."
"Many different things happened," Kuliak went on. "But most of it all, it was frustrating because they asked for us to be removed from the [tournament] although we did nothing wrong to anyone.
"We came to perform, but in the end we didn't know until the very end whether we would be allowed to the finals or not."
Kuliak stressed that there was no personal aggression towards him at the event, but said that the Ukrainians' general behavior "greatly escalated the situation".
The FIG has also not contacted him yet amid announcing it would launch an ethics investigation, he confirmed. But from Kuliak, there are still no regrets for what he did.
"If there was a second chance and I would again have to choose whether to go out with the letter 'Z' on my chest or not, I would do exactly the same," he stated defiantly.
"I saw it with our military and looked at what this symbol means. It turned out [it means], 'for victory' and 'for peace'," Kuliak pointed out. "I didn't wish anything bad on anyone, I just showed [what] my position [was]. As an athlete, I will always fight for victory and stand for peace. Only [for that] and everything."
Kuliak confessed to suffering mild "jitters" in Doha given he was taking part in his first competition at adult level, but he reassured himself that he was worthy and capable on his way to a bronze medal finish.
"It's a shame that we no longer have the opportunity to continue to perform at international level. I hope everything gets better soon," he said, as per the ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes recommended by the International Olympic Committee (ICO).
"In the meantime, I am preparing for the Russian Championship, which will take place very soon – in three weeks," Kuliak revealed, though he declined to set any goals for the tournament.
"After all, the most important thing is to show everything that you can do," said the youngster, who thinks he performs best on uneven parallel bars where he found success in Doha.
As per increased media attention since his 'Z' tribute, Kuliak claims that it hasn't been too noteworthy or has caused him discomfort. "I try not to attach importance to what is happening around [me]. Everything is fine," he insisted.