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Russian pole vaulter does U-turn on gay remarks

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MOSCOW -- Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva's comments on her country's law against gay "propaganda" seemed as unequivocal as the bar-clearing jump that won her the world championship: She supported the law and derided gays.

But on Friday, Isinbayeva said her comments, in somewhat fractured English the day before, may have been misunderstood and she opposes any discrimination against gays.

The "clarification" underlined the sensitivity of the issue for Russia as international criticism of the law persists and calls continue for a boycott of February's Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The Olympics, like the world championships where Isinbayeva won gold and made her comments, are part of a series of major sports events that Russia hopes will showcase the country as sophisticated and forward-looking. The propaganda law has instead provoked criticism that Russia is retreating from the modern world.

Isinbayeva's comments were especially dicey for Russia's image. Not only is she an internationally popular athlete, but she is also the "mayor" of one of Sochi's two Olympic villages, an honorary but symbolic and visible role.

Thursday, the two-time Olympic gold medallist supported the Russian law and criticized two Swedish competitors for their rainbow-colored fingernails in support of gay rights.

"If we allow to promote and do all this stuff on the street, we are very afraid about our nation because we consider ourselves like normal, standard people. We just live with boys with woman, woman with boys," she said.

But on Friday, after her comments attracted international attention, Isinbayeva said in a statement, "English is not my first language, and I think I may have been misunderstood when I spoke yesterday...

"What I wanted to say was people should respect the laws of other countries, particularly when they are guests. I respect the views of my fellow athletes, and let me state in the strongest terms that I am opposed to any discrimination against gay people."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2013 C6

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