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Ukraine’s former Olympian weightlifter Oleksandr Pielieshenko killed in action

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Ukraine’s former Olympian weightlifter Oleksandr Pielieshenko killed in action

Oleksandr Pielieshenko of Ukraine competing in the 85kg category at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Oleksandr Pielieshenko of Ukraine competing in the 85kg category at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images© Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The first Olympian to die in the war in Ukraine has been announced. The weightlifter Oleksandr Pielieshenko, who finished fourth in the 85kg light-heavyweight category at the Rio Games in 2016, was killed defending his country on Sunday.

The news was confirmed by the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine, who said Pielieshenko died during combat operations.

“From the first days of the full-scale invasion, Oleksandr joined the ranks of the Armed Forces. Yesterday we received the sad news of his death,” it said on its Telegram page.

The Ukrainian Weightlifting Federation also paid tribute to the 30-year-old Pielieshenko, who was also a two-time European champion but had not competed since being banned for failing a drugs test in 2018.

“It is with great sadness that we inform you that today the heart of the honored master of sports of Ukraine, two-time European champion in weightlifting, Oleksandr Pielieshenko, has stopped beating,” it said in a statement alongside a picture of Pielieshenko in military attire. “We express our deepest condolences to the family and everyone who knew Oleksandr!”

Another Ukrainian Olympian, Vladyslav Heraskevych, said that around 450 Ukrainians related to professional sports had now died in the war.

“These people should be developing sports in our country and living their lives, but now they are being killed,” he said. “At the same time Russian athletes who support the war are now competing in international sports. I can’t understand how that is possible. This is madness.”

The death of Pielieshenko will raise further questions over the International Olympic Committee’s decision to allow some Russians to compete as “neutral” athletes at this summer’s Paris Olympics despite Ukraine’s opposition.

The IOC expects that 36 Russian athletes – and possibly as many as 54 – will qualify for the Games. However Russians who publicly supported the war in Ukraine or have links to the military will be banned from competing.

Those Russians who do go to Paris will also not be allowed to attend the opening ceremony, use their country’s flag or anthem, or participate in team sports such as football and basketball. The same restrictions will also apply to Belarus. 

It is expected Russia’s team will consist of around 10-12 judo competitors, as well as several wrestlers and some of the world’s top tennis players, including the former US Open champion Daniil Medvedev. At least three Russian cyclists and one trampolinist are also likely to be included.

Russia sent 335 athletes to Tokyo in 2021 – winning 20 golds among 71 total medals. They competed without national symbols at that Olympics and at the Winter Games in 2018 and 2022 after a state-sponsored doping scandal was unearthed. 

Story by Sean Ingle: The Guardian: 

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