16:24 GMT14 April 2021
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    A group of Russian athletes who won medals at the Rio 2016 Olympics visited Hmeymim Air Base in Syria, where they met with Russian servicemen, according to RIA Novosti; one guest at the airbase was Russia's two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva.

    The group also included saber fencer Sofia Velikaya, foil fencers Arthur Akhmatkhuzin, Timur Safin and Alexey Cheremisinov, as well as wrestler Soslan Ramonov and rifle shooter Sergey Kamensky.

    Isinbayeva, for her part, heaped praise on what she touted as a fantastic trip to the Hmeymim base.

    "I never thought I would find myself here and see everything with my own eyes. We met with our soldiers, officers, generals, and they all are very easy to talk to. But at the same time, they are so self-assured and strong that one feels secure by their side," she was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying.

    Isinbayeva also said that during the visit to Hmeymim Air Base, she held morning exercises with Russian soldiers "who at first felt awkward but finally managed to loosen up", according to her.

    July 27, 2016. Two-time Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva addresses the meeting with the national Olympic team held by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin's Alexander Hall
    © Sputnik / Michael Klimentyev
    July 27, 2016. Two-time Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva addresses the meeting with the national Olympic team held by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin's Alexander Hall



    "We all were very pleased as the guys adhered to my commands. Then we held a kind of competition during which we tried to repeat each other's exercises," she said, admitting that she failed to perform the sol-called soldier's twirl.

    Isinbayeva also told reporters that she sees being elected to the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Athletes' Commission as a new stage in her life.

    "For me it is an opportunity and a chance to change attitudes toward Russia by informing the IOC firsthand. I will be the bridge between the athletes, primarily Russia and the IOC, and I will defend the interests of all 'clean' athletes across the world. I have an international status, and I should not defend the interests of only one country. But I'm a Russian citizen, which is why the interests of my country will be protected absolutely," she said.

    In 2015, the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) Independent Commission issued a report accusing Russia of numerous breaches of global anti-doping regulations, which led to Russia's suspension from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

    In July 2016, the IAAF banned all Russian track and field athletes, including Isinbayeva, from taking part in international competitions including the Rio Olympics, only making an exception for long jumper Darya Klishina.

    Speaking at a press conference in Rio in August, Isinbayeva confirmed her retirement from competitive athletics, saying that "today in Rio on August 19, 2016, Yelena Isinbayeva is finishing her professional career, this is my statement."

    The Hmeymim Air Base began operations in September 2015, when Russia started its counterterrorist air campaign against Daesh jihadists, as well as other affiliated radicals, in Syria.

    Now Russia plans to expand the air base in order to ensure that its operations run smoothly and to enhance its security by adding extra aprons, building barracks and a hospital, as well as assigning extra space for large transport aircraft.

    Russia conducted an air campaign in Syria for six months, between September 2015 and March 2016, at the request of Damascus. Moscow started withdrawing aircraft and personnel from bases in Syria after Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the goals of the campaign had been completed.


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    Hmeymim airbase, exercises, status, athletes, soldiers, competition, visit, IOC, Yelena Isinbayeva, Syria
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