Fencing is usually among the least visible Olympic events, but one year after the Paris Games it provides political, sporting and family drama related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Three Russian fencers who renounced the 2022 invasion in written statements and now live in the United States were granted qualification to compete as neutral athletesrepresenting no country, in the American summer national championships that end Sunday in Phoenix.

And that’s just the beginning of the drama. A top Russian coach was fired after a star couple left three weeks ago for the United States. And a high-profile fencing divorce touched the upper echelons of the Russian Olympic Committee and even led to the entry of “raspberry frappé” into the lexicon as a sword fighting takedown.

One of the Russian fencers now training and coaching in San Diego, Konstantin Lokhanov, 24, is a former son-in-law of the president of the Olympic Committee of Russia and the ex-husband of a two-time Russian Olympic fencing gold medalist. He won the men’s saber competition at the American summer championships after competing for Russia at the 2021 Tokyo Games.

After winning in Phoenix, the 6-foot-5 Lokhanov posed with a Ukrainian fencer as the two held a Ukrainian flag in a defiant show of support. Lokhanov had the word “freedom” tattooed on his right forearm shortly after he arrived in the United States in May 2022.

The invasion represented a tense turn in the personal and professional life of Lokhanov, who had married into the first family of Russian fencing and seemed embedded in a life of athletic royalty.

In 2020, Lokhanov married Sofia Pozdnyakova, 26, who later won gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics in the women’s individual and team saber events. She is the daughter of Stanislav Pozdnyakov, 49, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee and himself a four-time Olympic gold medalist in fencing.

But the marriage quickly dissolved, and the breakup became public last September. Lokhanov said that the divorce happened for several reasons, the ultimate one being the war. “I just said I’m not going back to Russia,” Lokhanov said in a Zoom interview from Phoenix, which he called his first in English. In subsequent written remarks, he added, “I decided that I could no longer live in a country that kills innocent Ukrainians.”

Both Lokhanov and Pozdynakova said she declined his invitation to leave Russia with him. She said that she had asked for a divorce and that she was grateful to Lokhanov for many things but that the couple had entered. “different directions.”

Pozdnyakov, the Russian Olympic champion – speaking to Match TV, sports channel owned by Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled energy corporation — confirmed the dissolution of his daughter’s marriage. With an apparent jab at Western frivolity, he said Match TV last September that his daughter’s education and “love of country” allowed her to avoid “the sad fate of frightened lovers of raspberry jam and yellow scooters”.

Lokhanov said he thought the remark was funny and unsurprising, even if he wasn’t entirely sure why it was made. “I’ve never had a scooter,” he said with a smile. “I’m a big coffee lover, but not frappé.”

In an Instagram post last December, Lokhanov said he entered a “really black period” after his mother died of Covid-19 at the age of 43 at the end of 2021. After finishing a disappointing 24th in the saber competition at the Tokyo Olympics, he also faced the second of two. surgeries in Germany for a hip injury that threatened his fencing career.

He flew to Munich for the second operation on February 23, 2022. A day later, Russia invaded Ukraine. During weeks of recuperation in Germany, Lokhanov considered whether he should return to Russia. Instead, he flew to Atlanta in May 2022 to stay with a friend and then received an invitation to join a fencing club in San Diego.

He said he didn’t consider himself brave, just that he made a natural decision that he doesn’t regret. To stay in Russia, he said, “You have to forget that killing other people is bad.”

When the invasion began, “everything was divided into black and white” for him, Lokhanov said, adding: “When I hear that everything is not clear, what is not clear? It is as clear as possible. Killing other people is wrong. “

Another Russian fencer now in the United States, Sergey Bida, 30, won gold in the team epee event at the American championships, two years after winning a silver medal for Russia in the same event at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

“American athletes go to Russia and end up in prison,” said Jack Wiener, a New York attorney who represents Lokhanov and Bida, referring to basketball star Brittney Griner. “Russian fencers come to the US and wake up with gold medals.”

A third Russian, Oleg Knysh, 25, also competed in the American championships.

Among fencing powers, Russia and the former Soviet Union trail only Italy, France and Hungary in winning Olympic medals. So embarrassing was the departure last month of spa stars like Bida and his wife, Violetta Kraphina Bida, also a Tokyo Olympian, that Russia fired its national team coach, according to Tass, the state news agency. (Kraphina Bida did not compete in the US championships.)

The highly regarded coach, Alexander Glazunov, was fired “for flying his athletes to the United States without the consent” of the Russian Fencing Federation, Tass reported on July 1.

International federations for some sports, including fencing, have begun to qualify athletes from Russia and Belarus – a close Russian ally that provided a venue for the invasion of Ukraine – to compete as neutrals without national symbols, following a path created by the International. Olympic Committee.

That path is expected to extend to the Paris Games. If so, athletes from the two countries might be able to compete if they have not publicly endorsed the Russian invasion and are not affiliated with the Russian military or state security agencies.

But Lokhanov and Sergey Bida have given up a lot to leave Russia, including perhaps their immediate Olympic dreams. They are not American citizens, so they are not eligible to compete for the United States at the world fencing championships, which begin July 22 in Milan. And barring extraordinary government intervention, it is highly likely that they will obtain US citizenship before the Paris Olympics.

There seems to be zero chance that Russia would welcome them back. Lokhanov said he had no desire to compete for Russia again. The best options for him and Bida, according to Wiener, their lawyer, appear to be finding a third country that will grant them citizenship for the Paris Games or seeking to compete for the Refugee Olympic Team.

Or, Lokhanov said, maybe he can postpone his dream and compete in the 2028 Olympics up Interstate 5 from San Diego to Los Angeles.

“I dream of going to the Olympics, driving my own car,” he said.

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