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Russian gym coach who criticized Olympic judges banned

The Gymnastics Ethics Foundation barred Irina Viner from coaching or officiating at any competitions in international gymnastics for two years

Russian President Vladimir Putin presents a medal to Head of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation Irina Viner, in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on May 1, 2015.
Russian President Vladimir Putin presents a medal to Head of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation Irina Viner, in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on May 1, 2015.Mikhail Klimentyev (AP)

A top Russian gymnastics coach whose athletes won numerous Olympic gold medals has been suspended following vehement criticism of judges who ended Russia’s winning streak in rhythmic gymnastics at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Gymnastics Ethics Foundation, which handles international disciplinary cases, barred Irina Viner from coaching or officiating at any competitions in international gymnastics for two years, in a decision published late Monday.

That followed an investigation into statements made after Russian gymnasts took the silver medal in the individual and team all-around rhythmic competitions in Tokyo in 2021. Those were surprise defeats which ended a streak of gold medals for Russia going back to 2000 in both events.

In comments to Russian media, Viner suggested the judges were motivated by anti-Russian prejudice and called the situation a “disgrace.” Viner also allegedly retaliated against an International Gymnastics Federation official from Russia who oversaw the judging at the Olympics by blocking her from running for re-election, and allegedly failed to cooperate with the inquiry.

A summary of the ruling on the FIG website didn’t specify exactly which of the accusations were upheld but said Viner was found “liable for breach of the FIG rules.” Her comments after the Olympics were “deemed abusive and in violation of FIG rules,” the statement said.

Viner’s two-year suspension won’t begin until current measures excluding Russia and its ally Belarus from international gymnastics over the invasion of Ukraine are lifted, or else five years pass.

Viner, who was formerly married to billionaire businessman Alisher Usmanov, is head of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation and widely seen as a leading powerbroker in Russian sports. She raised the issue of the Olympic judging at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in 2021, Russian state news agencies reported at the time.

Responding to the decision to suspend Viner, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko accused the FIG of “discriminatory policy against Russia,” in comments to the Tass state news agency.

Russian agencies reported that Viner, who can appeal the ruling, was presented with a letter of gratitude from Putin at an awards ceremony for women in sports in Moscow on Tuesday. She thanked her supporters and said, “We will keep working,” Tass reported.

Viner’s coaching style came under scrutiny in a documentary, “Over The Limit,” which followed her and gymnast Margarita Mamun ahead of the 2016 Olympics, where Mamun won gold. The documentary showed Viner repeatedly criticizing Mamun in stark personal terms.

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