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Russian pole vaulter says homophobic comments result of her poor English

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"I want to underscore that I am against any discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation," Yelena Isinbayeva says a day after saying gays were not normal.

Yelena Isinbayeva after winning the pole vault gold.
Yelena Isinbayeva after winning the pole vault gold.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva says the homophobic comments she made in Moscow at the World Track and Field championships were misunderstood and the result of her English being poor.

Here is what Isinbayeva said Thursday at a press conference after winning the gold medal and in response to two Swedish track athletes painting their fingernails in rainbow colors to show gay solidarity:

"If we allow to promote and do all this stuff on the street, we are very afraid about our nation because we consider ourselves like normal, standard people," Isinbayeva, a two-time Olympic champion, said in English. "We just live with boys with woman, woman with boys. Everything must be fine. It comes from history. We never had any problems, these problems in Russia, and we don't want to have any in the future."

Her comments were condemned in the West, with 800-meter silver medalist Nick Symmonds among those blasting her:

"Oh my god. I can't believe she said that. It's bad," Symmonds told the AP. "For Yelena to come out and say we are normal, standard Russian citizens - I'm paraphrasing here - and we don't stand for that.

"I want to say to Yelena, ‘You understand a very large portion of your citizens here are gay and lesbian people. They are standard people, too. They were created this way. For you to tell them that they're not normal and standard, that's what we're taking an issue with.' That's why we have to continue to demonstrate and to speak out against the ignorance that she's showing."

On Friday, Isinbayeva tried to clarify what she really meant:

"English is not my first language, and I think I may have been misunderstood when I spoke yesterday," Isinbayeva said in a statement issued Friday by the press office of the local world championships organizers.

"What I wanted to say was that people should follow the laws of other countries to which they come as guests. But let me explain, I respect the views of other athletes. I want to underscore that I am against any discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation."

Isinbayeva will be a torchbearer for the Sochi Winter Olympics and has been named "mayor" of the Olympics village. She is also an ambassador for the Youth Olympic Games and after her Thursday comments, British heptathlete Louise Hazel said this position should be reviewed. "Yelena Isinbayeva's ‘homophobic' comments have no place in our sport!" Hazel tweeted. "This is the 21st century!"

Either Isinbayeva simply used poor wording in a language not her own, or else she felt the heat and is worried about her future role and stature in the international sports community and is engaged in CYA-mode. Which option do you think is true?

Update: I'll leave the last word to prominent Russian gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev:

"She is a very recognized figure around the world. And I think she should be thinking of what she is saying. I am not surprised that the story is starting to develop and she has to find an excuse for what she said."