Coaches commented on track cyclist Mikhail Yakovlev’s decision to change nationality
Russian national team track cycling coach Sergey Kovpanets said the departure of 21-year-old Mikhail Yakovlev to represent Israel would be a blow for his country.
Yakovlev won bronze in the keirin event at the 2021 World Championships and was considered one of his country’s top cycling prospects.
The youngster is said to have already obtained Israeli nationality and informed Russian coaches of his intention to change nationality during international competitions.
Yakovlev had set a new world record as recently as May when he competed in the 200m flight event at the Moscow Grand Prix.
Russian coach Kovpanets called him a “big loss for us” as young emerging talent leaves.
“Imagine, a leader has grown that has just started showing results in 2021. And there has been movement forward, the level of competition has increased,” Kovpanets told RIA Novosti.
“I am very sorry. We have made many attempts to save the team, including through additional financial means that encourage athletes to win the Russian championship, to set Russian records.
“Nothing predicted such a decision, because at the end of July [Yakovlev] participated in the Russian Championship. So everything was planned for them earlier,” added the coach.
Kovpanets said the cyclist made behind-the-scenes moves to change citizenship, without revealing his intentions along the way.
“Everyone is free to make their choice, but for us it’s a loss. I did not speak to him about this subject, he did everything very secretly, at the beginning of August he called the president of our federation and told him that he was changing nationality. says Kovpanets.
“Having received a second passport, he will change sport citizenship in the near future, I think.
“Mikhail will miss the European Championship in August and the World Championship in October, and from 2023 he can compete for a new country.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to follow his example. Maybe he will come to his senses, maybe the climate will be difficult for him. Dual nationality does not hurt anyone.
Some Russian media cited Yakovlev’s possible political views, as he shared photos with the Israeli and Ukrainian flags on social media.
Yakovlev’s exit was described in Russian media as potentially the first major loss since sweeping sports sanctions imposed on the country after the start of the military campaign in Ukraine.
Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, announced in early March that it was banning Russian and Belarusian teams from its competitions until further notice due to the conflict in Ukraine.
Riders from both countries were, however, allowed to compete for teams registered outside Russia and Belarus, and under neutral status provided they were allowed to do so as individuals.
The bans imposed on Russian sport have sometimes led to heated discussions inside the country about athletes potentially seeking to change their nationality to enable them to compete.
State Duma deputy Roman Teryushkov proposed that athletes be considered guilty of “treason” if they swap allegiances, although the Kremlin has suggested it is not aligned with that thinking.
Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin said he did not fear an exodus of sports stars, expressing his belief that the support given in their home country would be sufficient and that the current bans would sooner or later be lifted.
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