Athlete denies kiss was protest at law

The Guardian, MOSCOW

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 - Page 19

When two Russian athletes locked lips after taking gold at the World Championships, speculation was rife that the pair were protesting against the country’s recently passed anti-gay law.

After narrowly edging out the US team to win the 400m relay at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Saturday, Kseniya Ryzhova and Yulia Guschina celebrated their victory with a lingering kiss. They kissed again on the podium as their two teammates looked on.

However, in her first comment on the incident, Ryzhova said yesterday that the kiss was not a political statement and had nothing to do with the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

“It was just happiness for our team, which has trained together for many years,” Ryzhova said.

She declined to comment on her attitude toward LGBT rights.

“If people want to write all sorts of dirt about us, they should at least know that Yulia and I are both married,” she added.

Although former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was famous for kissing other leaders on the lips, including men, such platonic kissing is not a common occurrence in modern Russia.

The World Championships were widely seen as a trial run for next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, where Russian officials have repeatedly said that authorities will enforce the law against “gay propaganda.”

A growing international backlash against the legislation has led to a series of protests and calls for Russia to be stripped of the Games.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist Yelena Isinbayeva defended the legislation after she won the pole vault at the World Championships, saying two Swedish competitors who painted their nails with rainbows in support of LGBT rights were being disrespectful to Russia.