'I feel bad for Linoy'

Russian gymnast tells trolls to back off Israeli rival after Olympic upset

Dina Averina says Linoy Ashram should not be blamed for winning the gold in contentious Tokyo competition, as Moscow continues to fume over shock second-place finish

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

Russian rhythmic gymnast Dina Averina came to the defense of Israel’s Linoy Ashram Monday, urging internet users to quit harassing both of them amid an outcry over what Moscow has claimed was biased judging at the Olympic Games.

Averina and her team returned to Moscow to a hero’s welcome on Monday, several days after Ashram shocked the sporting world by winning gold in Tokyo. Averina, a world champion who has consistently bested Ashram in previous competitions, had been the heavy favorite but took the silver medal.

Averina said she bore no ill will toward Ashram and urged people to stop going after the Israeli gymnast.

“I feel bad for Linoy. She didn’t do anything wrong. Stop poisoning her,” she said in comments carried by Russia’s Championat sporting news site.

Averina noted that she too had been subject to online bullying since the contest.

“Yes, not everyone supports me,” she said. “We’re not guilty of anything — it’s the judges’ business.”

Ashram, the first Israeli woman to win a gold medal at any Olympics, posted a video on her Instagram page on Sunday, showing herself and teammates emotionally celebrating her win as it happened.

The post was flooded with thousands of responses, many of which accused her of being unworthy of the prize and saying that Averina should have been crowned champion. Some messages followed a theme suggesting the judges deliberately marked down Averina’s score in order to make sure that Ashram won. Her win ended Russia’s decades-long dominance in rhythmic gymnastics and marked the first time since 1996 that Russia did not take the gold in the individual final.

“Aren’t you ashamed to share this?” wrote one Russian user in a comment that was liked by over 600 others. “Everyone knows that the medal is not yours.”

Israeli gold medalist Linoy Ashram competes in the individual all-around final of the Rhythmic Gymnastics event during Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, on August 7, 2021. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP)

Following the competition, in which Belarus’s Alina Harnasko beat out Averina’s twin sister Arina Averina for bronze, Minsk’s gymnastics association mocked Russia’s performance online, drawing official protests. On Monday, Belarus said it had been hacked and apologized. It was not clear if Averina had been referring to the Belarussian trolling.

Averina herself had blamed the judges after the competition and said she performed better than Ashram.

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

“It hurts and it’s painful that there was unfair judging today,” she told Match TV. “I got through all of the disciplines more or less cleanly, properly, and came in second. I’m hurt by the injustice, I support honest sport.”

Dina Averina, of the Russian Olympic Committee, awaits her final score, after competing in the individual all-around rhythmic gymnastics final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, in Tokyo, Japan, August 7, 2021. (Ashley Landis/ AP)

Russia’s Olympic team has expressed outrage because Ashram won the gold despite making a key mistake in one of her routines — dropping her ribbon — beating Averina on Saturday by a slim margin of just 0.15 points.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov joined the chorus of complaints out of Moscow on Monday, telling Match TV that “we have clean athletes, but we need clean judges. The rhythmic gymnastics competition proves this.”

Ashram told Israel’s Sport 5 radio on Monday that she was not upset with Averina despite the backlash.

“I’m not mad at her. Every athlete should take wins and losses with sportsmanship. There is no need to react to things incorrectly, but in the end, she did what she thought was right for her,” Ashram said.

In 2018, Averina dropped her own ribbon apparatus when competing against Ashram. Despite that, she clocked a 19-point score on the ribbon, while Ashram (who made no such fumble) received an 18.9. Averina went on to win the all-around gold, leaving Ashram with the silver at the 2018 Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.

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)

Ashram, 22, led the Tokyo finals for rhythmic gymnastics for the first three rounds with almost flawless performances and clung to her lead, despite the 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.

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