Olympics not about politics, it’s about sports, says Russian skier caught on camera hugging Ukrainian competitor at Beijing 2022

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Ukrainian silver medalist Oleksandr Abramenko (right) and bronze medalist Ilia Burov of the Russian Olympic Committee celebrate after the Men’s Freestyle Skiing Aerials Final 2 during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at Genting Snow Park A& M Stadium in Zhangjiakou, China. Photo: AFP

“It’s very nice that we were filmed showing mutual support and friendship between peoples,” Russian freestyle skier Ilia Burov told the Global Times after a photo of him hugging Ukrainian Oleksandr Abramenko has gone viral on the internet. “The Olympics are not about politics. First and foremost it’s about sport,” said the Russian athlete.

The embrace between athletes from the two countries who are currently at odds happened last week when Abramenko finished second in the men’s free ski jump and won Ukraine’s first medal at the Winter Olympics in Beijing 2022. Burov won a bronze medal in the same competition. The photo of the hug between the two athletes also appeared in the short video released on Sunday during the closing ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Burov told the Global Times on Monday why he hugged Abramenko. “Because we are friends. I warmly congratulated him on his Olympic medal. Just like how we were on the podium in South Korea [in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games]where we also said friendly and kind words to each other.”

“It all started in South Korea, when Sasha [a nickname for Oleksandr Abramenko] hugged me with the flag of his country,” said the Russian athlete.

Burov mentioned that he and Abramenko contact each other quite frequently. “We write to each other and we call each other,” he said.

The Russian athlete noted that they met for many years.

“We met when we started freestyle skiing. We all knew each other […] and to this day, we still have this fraternal friendship between brotherly peoples. We are still friends and we support each other,” he said.

This hug touched many hearts in China as the hashtag “The hug between Russian and Ukrainian athletes” has been viewed 130 million times, many hoped that this hug is a signal of peace, as relations between Russia and the Ukraine are currently tense.

The Moscow Times reported in January that Ukraine’s sports minister said Ukrainian athletes should avoid standing next to their Russian rivals at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

“There is a political point of view, saying what we did was wrong,” Burov mentioned, noting that the Olympics is not about politics. “It’s all about sport first and foremost. There shouldn’t be politics. It’s always nice to have the support of the Olympics and sport. […] It’s very nice, of course, that we were filmed showing mutual support and friendship between people.”

Burov’s brother, Maxim, is also a freestyle skier who competed in the Beijing Winter Olympics. Talking about his brother, Burov said: “It’s great to come to the Games with your family. Also, coming with my brother to the Olympics, sibling competition can always be boosted.”

Burov, 30, has three children, including a daughter who has just started freestyle skiing.

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