Pole vault great Yelena Isinbayeva condemned homosexuality Thursday after criticizing fellow competitors who painted their fingernails in rainbow colours to support gays and lesbians in the face of a new anti-gay law in Russia.
The Russian, who won her third world title Tuesday in front of a boisterous home crowd, came out in favour of the law which has drawn sharp criticism and led Western activists to call for a boycott of next year's Winter Olympics in the Russian resort of Sochi.
"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," Isinbayeva, a two-time Olympic champion, said in English. "We just live with boys with woman, woman with boys.
"Everything must be fine. It comes from history. We never had any problems, these problems in Russia, and we don't want to have any in the future."
Athletes paint nails in support of gays
At least two Swedish athletes competed Thursday at Luzhniki Stadium, the same venue that hosted the 1980 Moscow Olympics, with their fingernails painted different colours.
Emma Green Tregaro, who won a bronze medal at the 2005 worlds, posted a picture of her fingers on social media site Instagram, saying "Nails painted in the colours of the rainbow." She followed that with several hashtags, including ".pride" and ".moscow2013."
"The first thing that happened when I came to Moscow and pulled my curtains aside was that I saw the rainbow and that felt a little ironic," Green Tregaro said in a video posted on the website of Swedish newspaper Expressen. "Then I had a suggestion from a friend on Instagram that maybe I could paint my nails in the colours of the rainbow and that felt like a simple, small thing that maybe could trigger some thoughts."
Swedish sprinter Moa Hjelmer also had her nails painted in the rainbow colours when she ran in the 200-meter heats.
"Some teammates have done the same," Sweden team spokesman Fredrik Trahn said. "The federation has not discussed it. It is all up to the athletes."
The IAAF, the sport's governing body, said both opinions should be respected.
"The IAAF constitution underlines our commitment to principle of non-discrimination in terms of religious, political or sexual orientation," the IAAF said in a statement. "Allied to this is our belief in free expression as a basic human right - which means must respect the opinions of both Green Tregaro and Isinbayeva."
Swedes 'unrespectful,' says Isinbayeva
Isinbayeva said it was wrong for the Swedes to make such a statement while competing in Russia.
"It's unrespectful to our country. It's unrespectful to our citizens, because we are Russians. Maybe we are different from European people and other people from different lands," Isinbayeva told reporters. "We have our home and everyone has to respect [it]
. When we arrive to different countries, we try to follow their rules."
American middle-distance runner Nick Symmonds, who won the silver medal in the 800 metres on Tuesday, blasted Isinbayeva for her comments.
"Oh my god. I can't believe she said that. It's bad," Symmonds told the AP. "For Yelena to come out and say we are normal, standard Russian citizens — I'm paraphrasing here — and we don't stand for that.
"I want to say to Yelena, 'You understand a very large portion of your citizens here are gay and lesbian people. They are standard people, too. They were created this way. For you to tell them that they're not normal and standard, that's what we're taking an issue with.' That's why we have to continue to demonstrate and to speak out against the ignorance that she's showing."
Symmonds also said he dedicated his silver medal to his gay and lesbian friends, as he had said he would in a blog entry for Runner's World before the championships.
"While I was here I wanted to focus on athletics. I wanted to win a medal. That was my job," Symmonds said. "Now that I'm done doing that job, if there's something I can do, if this gives me a platform to voice my opinion and speak out about the atrocities that I've seen here, that's what I'd like to do."
Crowd cheers Isinbayeva
Isinbayeva has set 28 world records in her career and won seven major titles, including gold medals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. She was part of the team that helped Russia win the right to host the 2018 World Cup.
Isinbayeva, who said she plans to take a break from the sport to have a baby, was inside the stadium to receive her gold medal shortly after making her comments. The crowd roared when she stood on the top of the podium, and Isinbayeva thrust her arms in the air and jumped giddily.
IAAF treasurer Valentin Balakhnichev of Russia put the gold medal around her neck and kissed her cheeks. When the Russian anthem began, Isinbayeva started singing but soon broke down, burying her face in her hands. She quickly regained her composure and kissed her medal while the anthem continued.
Before posing with American silver medallist Jenn Suhr and Cuban bronze medallist Yarisley Silva, Isinbayeva dried her eyes and then checked the tips of her fingers for smeared makeup. She was all smiles in the ensuing photos, and then addressed the adoring crowd, speaking into a microphone as her image was broadcast on giant screens.
Isinbayeva's popularity in Russia is so great that she is to serve as "mayor" of one of the Olympic villages in Sochi. She is also an ambassador for the Youth Olympics.
Sochi organizing committee spokeswoman Svetlana Bobrova said the body had no reason to comment on Isinbayeva's statements.
"We like her and she is the mayor of the Olympic village," Bobrova told the AP.
It was unclear how many other Swedes or athletes from different countries made similar protests since the world championships started last Saturday. Hjelmer was eliminated from the heats in the 200, but Green Tregaro qualified for the final of the women's high jump and will return to the track on Saturday.
A rainbow flag is often used as a symbol of gay rights and gay pride, an issue that has gained attention from Western activists and entertainers since Russia's anti-gay law was passed in June.
The law does not explicitly ban participation in gay pride parades or promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality online, but anyone wearing a rainbow flag on the street or writing about gay relationships on Facebook, for instance, could be accused of propagandizing.
Both the International Olympic Committee and FIFA have asked the Russian government for more clarification. It remains unclear if the new law will be enforced during the Sochi Olympics or the World Cup.