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Moscow protests 'forgery in front of the whole world'

Russia seeks probe into rhythmic gymnastics judging after Olympic win for Israel

Russian Olympic Committee president says organization wants ‘answers to a number of questions’ after Linoy Ashram edges out Dina Averina for gold medal

Israeli gymnast Linoy Ashram performs during the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, on Saturday, August 7, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP/Ashley Landis)
Israeli gymnast Linoy Ashram performs during the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, on Saturday, August 7, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP/Ashley Landis)

The president of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) announced on Saturday that the organization will seek a probe into the judging process for the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around event at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, in which Israel’s Linoy Ashram bested three-time world champion Dina Averina for the gold medal.

“We would like to have answers to a number of questions,” wrote ROC President Stanislav Pozdnyakov on his Instagram account, in a post cited by Russia’s Tass News Agency.

“We will seek a thorough probe into the judging situation at the Olympics by the relevant technical committee. We will make every effort to ensure the transparency of this process and make its results public,” he added.

Pozdnyakov said the country would lodge the complaint with the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG).

The ROC had earlier expressed outrage over Averina’s loss, calling it an “injustice.” On Twitter, the organization also posted a statement by Averina that read, in part: “My conscience is clear, I still believe that I won.”

Prominent Russians accused the judges of bias. “Dina didn’t lose, she won. But unfortunately the judging was egregiously unjust,” Irina Viner, president of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation, said in comments to RT, a Kremlin-backed TV channel.

“It was simply a disgrace to rhythmic gymnastics,” said the coach.

Viner claimed that the judges supported Ashram. “Enough, they got tired of Russia. And the judges decided to support this Israeli woman.”

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova fumed, accusing the judges of committing “forgery in front of the whole world.”

“Those who started the Russophobic war against the sport could not allow this victory,” Zakharova said on messaging app Telegram.

Ashram, 22, led the finals for rhythmic gymnastics for the first three rounds with almost flawless performances, and clung on despite a mistake in her closing ribbon routine to win with 107.800 points overall, just 0.150 ahead of Averina.

Averina had needed to score at least 24.15 points for her ribbon routine, but despite what the Russians said was an “excellent” performance, she scored 24 points and finished in second place.

Ashram’s win ended Russia’s decades-long dominance in rhythmic gymnastics, and she became the first Israeli woman to ever win an Olympic gold medal, Israel’s third-ever gold at the games.

Dina Averina, also 22, placed second, and her identical twin sister, Arina, fell to fourth place. The siblings were the favorites in rhythmic gymnastics heading into Tokyo. Alina Harnasko of Belarus won the bronze medal in the event on Saturday.

Russia’s Dina Averina, left, reacts next to her sister Arina Averina at the end of the individual all-around final of the Rhythmic Gymnastics event during Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics center in Tokyo, on August 7, 2021. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP)

“It’s what I dreamed of for all my life,” Ashram said after her victory. “It’s an amazing feeling to stand in this place, at this time, on the podium and in first place,” said the gymnast who has now been picked to carry the flag at the closing ceremony.

“It’s a crazy experience that I still haven’t fully digested,” Ashram said.

Ashram led through the first three rotations. A dazzling clubs performance, which scored 28.650 points, was the highlight.

In her final performance in the four-round competition, she danced to a techno remix of the Jewish celebratory folk song “Hava Nagila” as the crowd clapped along. Ashram, wearing a blue and white feathered bird leotard in the colors of the Israeli flag, missed a catch, and spectators gasped.

Averina, who was set to perform just after Ashram, saw her mistake and was hopeful it was a chance for her to take the gold medal back to Russia.

Israel’s Linoy Ashram poses with her gold medal during the podium ceremony of the individual all-around final of the Rhythmic Gymnastics event during Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics center in Tokyo, on August 7, 2021. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP)

Russia has swept the sports’ gold medals in every Olympics since 2000. Averina, a three-time world champion, said after the competition that she wasn’t expecting gold, but she’d been working hard to win it.

Following Ashram’s win, the ROC team lodged several inquiries into the scores including for the ribbon routine, but the points stood. Afterward, Averina lashed out at the judges.

“I don’t feel that it was fair today and it was obvious from the very first apparatus when… I got a lower score, so I can’t say that it was very fair,” said Averina, who has been nursing a back injury since last year.

Russia’s Dina Averina competes in the individual all-around final of the Rhythmic Gymnastics event during Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics center in Tokyo, on August 7, 2021. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP)

“I can’t spot any obvious mistake that I did. I was pretty consistent and clean compared to Linoy who lost the apparatus,” said Averina.

After the final Russian inquiry request, Averina was judged to have come up just short, with Ashram then confirmed as champion.

From left, silver medalist Dina Averina, of the Russian Olympic Committee, gold medalist Linoy Ashram, of Israel, and bronze medalist Alina Harnasko, of Belarus, stand on the podium after the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, on Saturday, August 7, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP/Ashley Landis)

In the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around competition, gymnasts perform with each of the sport’s four apparatuses — a hoop, a ball, a pair of clubs and a ribbon — tossing and catching them while dancing and spinning in leotards heavy with thousands of crystals.

Rhythmic gymnasts are judged on two criteria, the difficulty of their routines and how well they execute them.

Ashram’s medal was Israel’s fourth in Tokyo and its second gold in these Olympic Games.

She was visibly moved as Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, rang out through the gymnastics center as the flag was raised after the win.

Ashram has been competing in international contests since 2014. She now has 92 medals from various international competitions under her belt.

It was the first time a Russian gymnast has failed to win the event since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and was arguably one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history.

Russian gymnasts have also won 12 of the past 14 world championship all-around golds. One of the two times they missed out was in 2001, when Alina Kabaeva was stripped of her title after testing positive for a banned diuretic.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the performance of Russia’s Olympic athletes, who are competing in Tokyo under a neutral banner due to their country’s doping suspension.

Russia is banned from Tokyo 2020 after being found guilty of state-sponsored doping, meaning their athletes cannot use the Russian flag and anthem.

But more than 300 Russian competitors have been allowed to compete under the ROC moniker, and they have won 20 golds, placing them fourth in the medals table.

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