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Russian champions refused to play for Russia and fled to the United States to represent America at the 2024 Olympics

Maksym InshakovSport
Athletes are leaving Russia en masse

Three elite Russian fencers who fled Russia after the invasion of Ukraine want to become US citizens to represent America at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. According to USA TODAY Sports, these are four-time world junior champion Konstantin Lokhanov, 2020 Olympic silver medalist in team epee and two-time European champion Sergey Bida, and his wife Violetta (2010 world vice-champion).

"These champions have made sacrifices at great personal cost and risked their lives to be able to represent our nation, and we ask you to make every effort to support them in this emergency," Phil Andrews, CEO of USA Fencing, wrote in a letter to the Congress.

Russian champions refused to play for Russia and fled to the United States to represent America at the 2024 Olympics

Jack Wiener, a New York-based lawyer representing the fencers, has already asked senators to issue them with a new passport.

According to Wiener, in order for the fencers to become American citizens before the Olympic Games, which begin on July 26, the Senate and House of Representatives must pass a bill granting the fencers US citizenship. The bill must then be signed by President Biden.

Russian champions refused to play for Russia and fled to the United States to represent America at the 2024 Olympics

Wiener said that Russian fencers have already signed all the documents condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Last month, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that it would allow Russian athletes to compete at the Paris Olympics as neutral, provided they do not support the war in Ukraine.

Russian champions refused to play for Russia and fled to the United States to represent America at the 2024 Olympics

According to USA Fencing's Director of Public Relations, fencers will still not be able to qualify for the 2024 Olympics in individual tournaments, as the US Fencing team qualification began in July, meaning that Russians will have less than half the allotted time.

Russian champions refused to play for Russia and fled to the United States to represent America at the 2024 Olympics

But Andrews pointed out another way to qualify - a discretionary seat for the team competition.

"We'd like to emphasize that the spot must be earned and is only available to those who excel in competitive events, making the congressional proceedings relevant to those individuals who have given so much to support our great nation," Andrews added.

Russian champions refused to play for Russia and fled to the United States to represent America at the 2024 Olympics

The Russians also face other potential problems, said John Mason, vice president of strategic communications for the USOPC.

According to him, for the purposes of Olympic competition, athletes are allowed to change their nationality only once. As a rule, the first country, in this case Russia, has to grant permission.

Russian champions refused to play for Russia and fled to the United States to represent America at the 2024 Olympics

However, citing an exception to the Olympic Charter, Wiener said Russia's permission for the fencers to compete for the United States would not be required because the fencers had not represented Russia in competition for three years.

Sergey Bida, 30, and Violetta Bida, 29, married for less than two years, arrived in northern California last weekend. They were both dressed in US national fencing team apparel.

Russian champions refused to play for Russia and fled to the United States to represent America at the 2024 Olympics

"We're ready," Violetta Bida (née Hrapina) said with a smile about the opportunity to represent the United States. She later added: "When I stepped on the ground, I felt free."

The 29-year-old noted that she is 6 months pregnant and will not be competing for the 2024 Olympics.

Russian champions refused to play for Russia and fled to the United States to represent America at the 2024 Olympics

However, the Bida couple asked that their exact location not be disclosed. Russian media reported on December 27 that the Ministry of Internal Affairs had put the two fencers on the wanted list.

Russian champions refused to play for Russia and fled to the United States to represent America at the 2024 Olympics

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