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Taking second place, Israeli swimmer Gorbenko defiant after being booed at World Championship games in Qatar

Presence of Israeli swimmers at the championships has drawn criticism from some Doha media outlets and pro-Palestine groups

Israel’s Anastasia Gorbenko in action during the women’s 400m medley heats at the Doha World Championships, Feb. 18, 2024. (Photo: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)

DOHA, QATAR – Israel swimmer Anastasia Gorbenko was booed by portions of the crowd at the Doha World Championships after finishing as the runner-up in the women's 400-meter individual medley on Sunday.

Gorbenko's celebrations were spoiled as a chorus of 'boos' rained down from the terraces, drowning out her post-race interview by the floor presenter.

The jeers continued as Gorbenko left the Aspire Dome pool, and she was booed again at the Medals Ceremony, though there was also applause. Briton Freya Constance Colbert won the race.

The presence of Israeli swimmers at the championship games has drawn criticism from some Doha media outlets and pro-Palestine groups amid Israel's military campaign in Gaza in response to Hamas's Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Gorbenko smiled when she mounted the podium and sighed during the mix of boos and cheers from spectators. She later said it was not the first time she had been jeered at the event.

"I've been here a week, I heard all these noises but I'm with earplugs. I'm in my zone. I'm here to do what I love to do, which is sports," she told reporters.

"I'm here to represent my country... And I'm doing this with the Israeli flag and I'm proud of that. And whoever doesn't like it, it's just not my problem."

Swimming's global governing body, World Aquatics, did not provide immediate comment.

Gorbenko said she had no hesitation about mounting the podium but the booing had impacted her during the week.

"There was no way I was going to miss (the podium) just because some little kids are going to do whatever they want to," she added.

"It does affect me emotionally. It's been like a long week for me. I expected myself to do better than what I did."

She said she would not hesitate to swim at future events in Arab countries.

"At the end of the day, Israeli is in the Middle East as well; I hope one day we'll be able to make some peace with everyone."

Gorbenko, whose parents are Ukrainian, was born and raised in Israel.

She said that has relatives in Ukraine and was concerned for them during the country's war with Russia.

"I have relatives in Ukraine. Of course, it's hard as well. But there's nothing I can do," she said.

"Whatever I can do is do my best in the swimming pool and support my country and my family this way."

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