Kacper Stokowski Takes NCAA Title & Pride In Solidarity With Ukraine As Rylov Gets Icy Blast From The ISL Over Putin War-Rally Role

2022-03-26 Reading Time: 4 minutes
NCAA champion Kacper Stokowski, of Poland, expressed solidarity with Ukraine in the war waged against it by Russia. Inset, Viktoria Gunes posted the red line she feels Russia should not have crossed; and Evgeny Rylov is being frozen out of the pool over his role at Putin's war rally. Main image, YouTube still

Overseas members of U.S. college teams continued to make headlines with victories at the NCAA men’s swimming championships in Atlanta, the most moving of them all that of Poland’s Kacper Stokowski, the North Carolina State University junior who topped the 100 yards backstroke.

Stokowski took the crown in 44.04 ahead of Brendan Burns, of Indiana, on 44.15, and Adam Chaney, of Florida, on 44.35. Later in the session, Luca Urlando swam faster that Stokowski’s winning time when he led Georgia off in the medley relay to take down the American, U.S. Open and NCAA records in 43.49. The standards were set by Cal’s Ryan Murphy since the 2016 championships on his way to double Olympic gold on backstroke at Rio 2016.

Murphy was back in the news in the past week as the 2016 champion who finished on the Tokyo2020ne podium behind Russian Evgeny Rylov, the Russian stripped of his Speedo contract and now facing FINA sanction over his appearance at Putin’s pro-war rally in Moscow a week ago. Rylov wore the nationalist Z symbol on his jacket.

Rylov, who cannot defend his World title over 200m backstroke because of a FINA ban on Russia, may also have forfeited his place in International Swimming League waters. One of the senior officers in the ISL project, Ukraine’s Dmitriy Kachurovskiy, posted the Rylov image at the Luzhniki Stadium on his Facebook page with a note suggesting that the Russian swimmer is no longer welcome in League waters. Kachurovskiy wrote:

“Meet Evgeny Rylov. Until recently a respected man. Now he will only swim from Kostroma to Vorkuta [a city north east of Moscow to the city just north of the Arctic Circle in the Komi Republic in Russia infamous for its forced labour camp]. Sponsorship contracts will be signed with the Bolshevichka factory [a old-style state menswear maker a million miles from the fashion world of Prada, Gucci and the leading sports brands around the world] and the swim trunks should be worn out of dog wool. In Ukraine, more than 100 children were killed by Z bombs and continue to die, and these athletes are proud to support it.”

Dmitriy Kachurovskiy. Image: Evgeny Rylov, second left, at the Putin propaganda rally on Friday, March 18, 2022 – there is no telling quite what is going through the hearts and minds of the athletes in a snap shot but it is fair to say that at the moment of the snap, there were significant differences between the moods of the athletes about to be paraded as symbols of nationalistic pride at a time when Ukraine is bathing in blood and destruction – Twitter

In Atlanta, Stokowski used his platform as 100 back champion to show solidarity with Ukraine, a sovereign nation under attack from Russia and acts of war now the subject of investigation at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Stokowski expressed pride in Poland’s role in providing home and shelter for Ukrainian refugees, including some the 4.5 million children (one in every two) displaced by the war on Ukraine inflicted by Vladimir Putin and a Russian regime now under the most severe sanctions seen in the world since the period after WWII, when Germany and Japan were excluded from normal engagement in the world, including a bar on their participation in the 1948 Olympic Games.

Stokowski referred to the news from home and the frustration of being so far away and nodded to the division the war has caused among athletes when told media in Atlanta:

“We are united with Ukraine. I think we have more than a million refugees right now. We give them a lot of help … It was a pretty tough time reading the news every day, but I was able to stay motivated. It was very hard for me to see Russian swimmers and Ukrainian swimmers divided right now, but I don’t want to comment on it anymore.”

Stokowski “United With Ukraine” At NCAAs:

After Speedo cancelled its sponsorship contract with double Olympic backstroke champion Evgeny Rylov, FINA called on the swimmer to explain to a disciplinary panel his appearance at Putin’s pro-war rally, the image of the moment making news around the world and likely to mean that Rylov will face sanction for “bringing the sport into disrepute” and “misbehaviour”, two specifics of the FINA Constitution.

Ukrainian-born Turkish swimmer Viktoria Gunes tweeted the image of Rylov with other Russian athletes serving as a warm-up act for Putin’s speech at the Luzhniki Stadium:

The image posted by Viktoria Gunes with her feet on the red line on the Russian flag she believes Putin and his regime should not have crossed – courtesy of Instagram

Gunes then posted a photo on her Instagram page standing on the Russian flag. That sparked response from Russian swimmers, including her Energy Standard teammate Kliment Kolesnikov, the Russian swimmer who has been sponsored by Ukrainian billionaire Konstantin Grigorishin.

Like Kacper Stokowski, Kolesnikov is a backstroke ace. The Russians reposted Gunes’ image with a question mark as if to ask what Russian teammate Vladislav Grinev asked on his Instagram page: “Where are the boundaries of the permitted behaviour of athletes? If you decide that it is humane to remove Russian athletes from participation in international competitions, then take action here as well. Nationalism is UNACCEPTABLE in any form.”

The Gunes images simply showed her feet standing on the red line of the Russian flag. Any interpretation of that as nationalist in the same way as Rylov’s war-rally appearance with “Z” on his jacket would take a stretch of imagination.

Russian athletes, even those free to talk, meanwhile, continue to avoid reference to Putin’s bloody and brutal war on Ukraine nor even the FINA ban on Russians and Belarusians from the World Championships. That is also the case at the NCAA, where silence is backed by U.S colleges working under and subject to the legal provisions of the First Amendment.

Russian winner of the 100m butterfly in Atlanta for Standard, Andrei Minakov opted not to comment on the war. “We’d like to focus on questions about the race today and the event,” a Stanford official told media.

Alongside Kacper Stokowski and Minakov, another overseas NCAA swim star to win on day 3 of the championships in Atlanta was Spain’s Hugo Gonzalez, who crushed the NCAA, championship, U.S. Open and Pool records with a 3:32.88 victory in the 400y medley ahead of Léon Marchand, the ASU and French winner of the 200y yesterday. Marchand, sixth in the Olympic final in Tokyo last year, clocked 3:34.08.

Other winners on the day included Drew Kibler, of Texas, on 1:30.28 in the 200y free and Max McHugh, of Minnesota, on 49.90 ion the 100y breaststroke.

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